Bliss was it that midnight to be called an Indian when Jawaharlal Nehru, in an emotionally surcharged voice, declared that the time had come to redeem the pledge taken in our tryst with destiny long years ago. In the euphoria that Independence created, no one was mundane enough to ask which pledge Nehru had in mind. Presumably it was the “complete independence” resolution taken at the Lahore Congress towards the close of 1929. But the pledge to free India from foreign domination was taken longer years ago by large numbers of our revolutionaries who had sacrificed everything, including life, in their efforts to redeem their pledge. All those pledges came to fruition on 15 August 1947, and people forgot, at least for the moment, that Independent India was not the India for which people had made pledges and often made the supreme sacrifice. The first sentence of Nehru’s address to the Constituent Assembly, and through it to the people of India, has passed into history.
Very few remember that Nehru spoke not only of the old pledge that was being redeemed, but also of the new pledge that the nation would have to take and then fulfill. He said, “It is fitting that at this solemn moment we take the pledge of dedication to the service of India and her people and to the still larger cause of humanity.” And then he spelt out the new pledge, as that of “ending of poverty and ignorance and disease and inequality of opportunity,” and quoted Gandhi’s wish “to wipe every tear from every eye”. Then on the Silver Jubilee of Independence in 1972, Indira Gandhi said accurately enough that India’s greatest achievement in the 25-year period was to have “survived in one piece.” It is sad to notice that this doesn’t continue to be so five decades later. We would be untrue to ourselves if we fail to recognize that the evil and diabolical forces, busy tearing apart the fabric of national unity with slogans like hum ladke lenge Azadi, Bharat tere tukde honge, have been showing a degree of tenacity and persistence which is worrisome.
The truth is that never before has there been such a concatenation of malign and awesome challenges to India and its future as today. And unhappily, the country’s response to them remains inadequate, to put it no more strongly than that. Glorious was the day when people of India pledged for a free and independent India, an India without poverty, unemployment and starvation, and with education for all and socialist direction for the country. If today’s Azadi slogan roars like a tirade, it reaffirms the view that the post- independence generation hardly values its freedom. Or are we too cosmopolitan to be chauvinistic? But the fact remains that India is still in search of an identity. Admittedly, seventy five years ago while the rest of the world slept, India awoke to a new life of enchanted freedom. Should a nation born at the magic midnight hour, conceived of the nightly dreams of millions of oppressed people nurtured by the starlit visions of those who think Indian, breathe Indian and are Indian, ever be doomed to despair? Not at all.
We may take solace in our redeeming paradoxes: the fact that we have scientists, doctors, intellectuals and professionals of proven prowess; that we are, albeit on a low key, a self-sufficient common market economy, not at the mercy of the vagaries of international commerce as many countries are. The Indian peasant may not compare in productivity with his Canadian brethren, but he is no lotus eater. He knows hardship with harrowing intimacy but at the same time has an innate and innovating sense of philosophy; an awareness that money and materialism do not mean everything. His is a simple faith without depravity and there is no imminent fear of moral bankruptcy. The under-thirties of the present generation would not be able to perceive the tremendous excitement and the skyrocketing hopes generated by the historic midnight utterance of an ebullient Nehru who gave an inspiring call for a “tryst with destiny.”
But who could imagine the disillusionment to follow ~ the killing of the Mahatma, the avalanche of refugees, three wars in close succession, lack of technological expertise, the population explosion, the black economy. Problems like corruption, undue profiteering, unemployment, dwindling productivity etc. made matters worse. Perhaps, the generation in question is a cynical lot. They can hardly think that whatever be the confounding malignancy, it will certainly threaten the fabric of our society. It is a setup where some parties are exploiting the mass on cheap socialist slogans and some formed on individual popularity without any ideology, are thriving on linguistic, religious and parochial issues. Whenever they talk of democracy, they look to the West and then further West, and then hang their heads in despair. Yet the comparison is odious. Britain had an empire slaving for her while Messrs Gladstone and Disraeli played eloquent musical chairs at Westminster. For a hundred years, the Americans had Blacks snapping their backs, scraping and kowtowing to King Cotton. Besides, the United States was peopled by immigrants who, by their very act of immigration, gave a demonstration of enterprise and determination.
And what was the Indian heritage on 15 August 1947? Poverty, hunger, illiteracy, communal strife et al. If despite all this, an elected representative of the people can still unfurl the tricolour on the ramparts of the Red Fort on Independence Day, it must offer nothing but pride and hope. Only a sick man regrets the day he was born; only a sick nation regrets the day it was reborn. One must not be apologetic about our brand of democracy. Granted, it lacks the textbook finesse of the British and the American models. It is personality dominated. But it is so because it suits the Indian genius and overcomes our hurdles of geography and history. The personality cult notwithstanding, our system is democratic and if one personality becomes too painful or, if an alternative appears, we have learnt to exercise our choice and will continue to do so. And just recall what we have achieved since Independence? We continue to produce giants in every walk of life. Our life expectancy and literacy have improved significantly, and we are participating in all major activities of the globe, not excluding the peace-making process.
The thickening forest of uplifted arms demanding Azadi threatens, like in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, the castle of the Indian democracy. To avert that fall, the connotation of the word Azadi should be linked with the eugenic ideas of dignity and virtue. Freedom from ignorance should reign supreme where the mind is without fear. Freedom should not merely mean a word or an abstract theory but the most effective instrument for advancing the welfare of man. What if this Independence has not been as good as it had promised to be? We will surely spend a day full of hope for the future, interspersed with moments of despair for the lost yesterdays.