On the eve of the 152nd Gandhi Jayanti on 2 October, in tandem with Azadi ka Amrut Maha Utsav launched on the 75th Independence Day what thoughts flood our hearts as we survey happenings and events in the country and the plight of humanity? On the one hand is the “India of My Dreams” that Mahatma Gandhi had expressed and on the other the clarion call of Sabh ka Saath, Sabh ka Vikas, Sabh ka Vishwas, Sabh ka Prayas, by the Prime Minister as he addressed the nation from the ramparts of the Red Fort on 15 August.
At the macro-level there are five major challenges and in that context I would like to offer my thoughts for the consideration of every concerned citizen because these also shape our lives at the micro-level. The list is as follows: 1. Protection of our national boundaries; 2. Overpopulation, at 135 crore, India is the second most populous country of the world; 3. Strengthening the institutions of governance; 4. Environmental degradation and climate crisis, and 5. Religious intolerance.
First, let us take a brief look at how nation-states advanced after obtaining freedom from the yoke of colonialism. Today, despite global tensions each sovereign state represents the most powerful and effective social unity ever achieved. Citizens have learnt to coordinate human qualities and possibilities to an unprecedented degree, liberating themselves from servitude to nature to lay the foundations for orderly progress by reconciling the political claims of the state with the social and cultural needs of the individual.
Powered by multiple revolutions in science and technology, especially in the latter half of the 20th century, all aspects of life are bombarded by the forces of globalization. These cover politics and economics, trade and commerce, industry and communications, media and infotainment, religion and culture, sports and entertainment, dance and music, family and neighbourhood, food and drink, environment and ecology. Indeed, life on earth is underpinned by a competitive drive towards economic growth.
“True economics are economics of justice”, wrote Mahatma Gandhi. But sadly, the supremacy of the market and the ever-increasing control exercised by the multinational corporations are causing many people to yearn for societies inspired by different values.
What was Gandhiji’s dream: “…an India in which the poorest shall feel that it is their country, in whose making they have an effective voice, an India in which there shall be no high class or low class of people; an India in which all communities shall live in perfect harmony… An India [where there is no room] for the curse of untouchability, or the curse of intoxicating drinks and drugs, women will enjoy the same rights as men…[An India] at peace with all the rest of the world…”
Compare this with the five macro-level challenges that I would like to elaborate. Even after 75 years of our independence, our geographic frontiers remain unclear resulting in frequent tensions with neighbouring countries and an enormous expenditure on defence and security. With an increase in population of 2.2 crore annually, how shall we take advantage of the demographic dividend? Thanks to the many excellent Government schemes, systematic efforts are being made to harness the full potential of the masses by providing basic literacy, quality education, proper skilling, better deals for agricultural produce, enhanced employability, encouraging start-ups, ensuring there is no brain-drain, upgradation of institutions of higher learning to bring them on par with the best of universities around the world.
Building an efficient, corruption-free governance system is a daunting task. India’s experiences in the past 75 years clearly underscore the need for a far more holistic and coherent approach to analysis and decision-making and parliamentary functioning. Swayed by global powers what choices contribute to the well-being of all citizens and sustainable peace? Internationally we have consistently advocated our willingness to treat each country as a genuine partner in the stewardship of the planet and in securing the prosperity of all inhabitants.
Climate crises weigh heavily on the agenda of every nation, including India. Here again, certain values advocated by Gandhiji would be most beneficial for both policy-makers and citizens at large. A significant percentage of the population in the country is dependent for their survival on sustainable environment and eco-friendly lifestyles. Recent technological successes in tackling natural disasters must be further strengthened while providing time-bound aid to the afflicted.
Despite our ethos of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (the world is a family) religious intolerance is rife in the country causing sporadic setbacks to sections of the society and resulting in fresh obstacles in our path to progress. Firmly rooted in all religious belief is the notion that the pursuit of power and wealth, particularly at the expense of others, can never lead to contentment or economic justice.
The pressure of historical circumstances caused by Covid-19 and the manifold crises in every aspect of life besetting our nation in particular and humanity in general should persuade all citizens to dispassionately reflect upon the sacrifices of those who gave us our independence as we collectively walk the path for swadeshi-based social transformation. As an optimist, I believe Gandhiji’s principles are reawakening in response to some of the challenges.
The author is an independent researcher and social worker based in New Delhi. He can be contacted at [email protected]