Independence, Freedom and the Greatest Era
Seventy-five years ago, the dawn of this Fifteenth Day of August symbolized the end of our prolonged spell of subjugation, debilitation, loss of national pride and unity. Seventy-five years thence, while having coursed many leagues through the sea of progress, much remains to be done, and the perennial dawn of this day must remind us that we yield to none in our desire to secure for our masses such economic, political and social freedoms as to be a glowing exemplar to the rest of the world.
A civilization, with systems of governance much wrinkled in age, repurposed itself into a democratic polity, and defying the prophesies of utter disintegration, has marched on. But its voyage has been laborious, for it is accustomed to the balmy pill of a state-run economy, and the brisk but regrettably inept cultivation of a myth of unity, which impelled the equally brisk hiding of the psychological scars of its long sufferings. In due course and consequence, there seemed to grow a chasm between an aristocratic elite that constituted the government observing an abstruse philosophy, and the staple, subconsciously discerned realities of the Indian civilization.
When in the nascent years of our Republic, we incorporated from the Mundaka Upanishada the timeless apothegm Satyameva Jayate as our national motto, we may not have conceived of its full implications. We, as would any newly independent nation-state, created a national literature in pursuit of national unity, in a quest to accustom an illiterate populace with the fruits and wisdom of a democratic polity. But the patrons of such literature, the denizens of the corridors of power in the national capital, misjudged the vituperation of the past and a disconnect therefrom as progress. They sought to foist their conception of unity on a populace long riddled with social feuds and splits. Whether owing to consummate callowness or to a vested interest in the faithful discharge of such callowness — we may never know which — we seemed to forget that very timeless aphorism of the truth alone triumphing. The elite, often censorious in its desire to see its vision prevail, effectively silenced dissenting opinion, and coined spurious epithets for dissidents.
The advent of the internet in general and social media in particular has given the people a platform to voice reality as they see it. It is by means of this democratization of the lines of communication that India’s latent civilizational consciousness received a fillip, and the consciousness manifested as a potent, alluring tide of cultural nationalism. Yet, the old elite is fanatically committed to its demoded philosophy, its intrigues are yet perseverant, and its potency in shaping opinion is quite unmatched. In its quest to regain its primacy, it shall yield to naught, and it affirms no reticence in finding allies in renegades, rapscallions and reprobates. It is an implacable nemesis of this groundswell of cultural nationalism, the result of the perpetuation of which enmity can only be prolonged embitterment, which can by no means be salutary to our Republic.
Herein lies the significance of our national motto. Satyameva Jayate — those words must now assume a form far more concrete, far more potent and far more alive than mere words indited on paper, engraved on emblems and conveyed through insipid, banal utterances. Our Pavlovian response to the legacy of our freedom struggle is one of profuse veneration. Yet, in light of the revelation of disquietingly numerous instances of imprudence, we must be candid in our admission, that for all their unimpeachable ardour and sacrifice, those flagbearers of our freedom struggle who went on to form the government, certainly did not constitute our nation’s Greatest Generation. Many of their principles were topical, not eternal. They founded a nation free of colonial misgovernment, but one that patronized mendacity, not probity; pusillanimity, not courage; apathy, not the fire of national reconstruction. No wonder we must dwell in eternal fear of being harmed, by one identity group or another, for being so bold as to write the truth. The victim must be silenced more often than not. No wonder the groundswell is purported to be a tide of tyranny, whereas the partisans of the elite claim to be the resistance. We have secured our independence, but we have secured not our freedom.
On this momentous day, some vitiate our independence. But unlike the sentiment of a yearning for change that tethers my seeming trenchancy, their intent seems singularly to sully a day of jouissance with their appalling rejection of our voyage so far. Our foundations were tenuous, but we endured. We dwelled in crippling indigence, but we roared our way to progress, and with any degree of prudence, shall do so again. Our politicians widen our social fissures, and yet the unifying force of nationalism seems to pervade our nation. One must be alacritous in responding to such forces of vitiation that, regardless of intent, slowly but steadily potentiate the tides of undermining confidence in the nation’s destiny.
This must be the day on which we affirm a few principal objectives: to call for efficient upkeep of the law; to act in consonance with civic good; to renounce our reticence in discussions concerning the past; to strive for academic probity; to shed national pusillanimity; to not be allured by promises of state largesse, economic or otherwise; to repose confidence in private industry; to strive for stellar education; to discard the manacles of our fissures; to call for efficient healthcare; to reserve lawful allegiance to the nation first and nation alone; to strive for and call for perfect equality of opportunity and legal treatment; to call for state indifference and observe ourselves social indifference to caste and religion; to embrace scientific temper; and to instill within posterity the eloquence of language and erudition of eclectic knowledge to act, whether formally or informally, as ambassadors for our nation’s hope and destiny.
The Western world regards the generation that defended the West and made sacrifices in World War II as the Greatest Generation. Regardless of the verisimilitude of that epithet and the extent of its acceptance, it endows the Western peoples with memories to cherish and a much-needed civilizational myth of being the peoples of liberty that alone could impel them to defend it once again should need so implore. Here in India, while we may be tempted to regard the flagbearers of our freedom struggle as our Greatest Generation, the light of retrospect reveals in stark brilliance their numerous errors and the tenuous foundations of our independence. The accomplishment of our principal objectives may nonetheless never usher in the ‘Greatest Generation’ to claim credit for it, for unlike World War II, this endeavour is not an immediate conflict whose end may be signified with an instrument of surrender. It is a steady and laborious voyage to noontime, which shall not be marked by a precise date or hour. Several generations may toil and pass before we substantially achieve these principal objectives. We shall never have a ‘Greatest Generation’, but we can certainly usher in an era, the denizens of which could justifiably regard as ‘the greatest thus far in the millennia of our civilization’s existence.’
Towards the sunrise of such accomplishments, may we labour, undaunted, united and with fairness of character. Happy Independence Day!