Think Big and Act Boldly
The country will soon be celebrating the 66th anniversary of it’s freedom. Much has happened since India became independent. Great strides have been made in the industrialization of the country. India has leap-frogged into the 21st century in certain sections, like information technology. But let us accept that much more has to be achieved. Poverty, unemployment, sickness, droughts and floods stalk the country.
When the founding fathers framed a constitution for our country, they did so keeping in view what had happened throughout the world during the preceding centuries. They drew valuable lessons from these experiences. For example, the French Revolution gave us the ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity. The Russian Revolution of 1917 taught us the value of social and economic justice. The years of the Cold War and the dictatorial regimes in many countries taught us that without a democratic set up, economic and social justice would not take us very far. So putting together all these experiences, the founding fathers gave us a democratic, republican constitution based on universal suffrage and informed by justice, social, economic and political. There were many critics who felt that universal suffrage against the background of very low literacy rates would be dangerous and lead to mob rule. But the founding fathers answered that limiting the franchise in any way would create elite governments, which would be no different from the ruling elites during the feudal and colonial past of the country. The solution, they suggested, was to educate the populace as quickly as possible so that the country could have an informed public which could hold intelligent discourse on matters affecting their lives.
The feudal and colonial past of the country had given rise to hierarchical systems of caste and class, with the highly privileged well-to-do on one hand and the woefully underprivileged, ill-educated and poor on the other. To bridge this gulf, the founding fathers created a system of reservation of seats in the legislature and public appointments for the less privileged classes. This reservation was meant to be only a temporary measure, for some years, within which time the playing field could be leveled for these under privileged classes.
These were the dreams of our founding fathers. But what is the reality today? Compared to these fond wishes, the country seems to be in a sorry state. The country is facing many menacing problems. The first one is a Naxal problem. The second is a menace of fundamentalism both of the green and saffron varieties. Then there is the big menace of corruption and nepotism. Last but not least, is the problem of poverty, and economic and social deprivation. Unless these problems are tackled on a non-partisan level, the problems can never be solved. Some of us who had the good fortune of being alive and old enough to take part in the last phase of the Freedom Struggle in 1942, are still around. Soon we will disappear with our dreams unfulfilled, with the hope that our children, and our children’s children may see better days. But unless action is taken now, the freedom of the country is in jeopardy. So our call to the present leaders across the political spectrum, before the next general elections, is loud and clear: “Think big and act boldly” without thinking of narrow partisan interests.
Let’s examine the problems and possible solutions. First the Naxal problem. When Dr. Manmohan Singh first took over as prime minister, and when Shivaraj Patil was the home minister, the government of India announced that they would treat the Naxal problem as much as a socio-economic one as a law and order one. This was a bold and encouraging statement. But unfortunately, this was not followed up by action. Some talks began between the government and the Naxal leaders, but soon broke down on the question of completely disarming the Naxal groups before the talks began in earnest. Here, the country can take a lesson or two from how Great Britain solved the Irish problem. There also the IRA refused to disarm. Great Britain took the bold step of starting the talks with no conditions. Both sides persevered honestly and with resoluteness. Lo and behold today, there is a coalition government in northern Ireland with the Irish Republicans and Protestant Unionists together in the same government. So there is no need to give up hope and try to accomplish the impossible task of crushing the Naxal revolt. The need on the other hand, is to realize that the country owes basic justice to the tribals of our forests, something which has been denied to them all these 60 years and more. Even before the country became free, Indian planners had given top priority to land reforms in free India. To this day those reforms have neither been uniform nor complete. The forest areas form the homeland of the tribals. The country has to recognize that these communities have a right over the forest land. Unless this is done, and legalized, the Naxal problem will continue to menace the country. Once this is done and other consequent steps are taken to ensure these rights, these menacing tribals could be converted into allies and brought into the mainstream. This will release enormous police and para-military forces which are now engaged in fighting this threat in the heartland of India.
As far as the menace of fundamentalism is concerned, it is fortunate that we have a secular constitution. We should guard it very carefully and not allow it to be diluted on considerations of gaining a few votes. This will be a fatal mistake. India’s secularism must be accompanied by equally fervent devotion to minority rights. Such recognition will bolster the strength of our secular democracy.
Nepotism and corruption have grown like cancer in the country, undoing much of the good that has been achieved. This can only be resolved by complete transparency in governance and decentralization of power to as large an extent as possible. The father of our nation, Gandhiji, forever talked of Gram Panchayats being the ultimate centers of authority. Perhaps that is the way forward now.
The problem of poverty and social deprivation can be removed only if the ills of state controlled economy is lessened and private enterprise’s activities are properly regulated. Those who are vociferously pleading for unfettered private enterprise would do well to look at what unfettered capitalism has done in the western countries and learn a lesson from them.
Once again, the call from a vanishing band of freedom fighters like me is “Think big and act boldly!” or else this dear land of ours as we know it, is likely to perish.