Shady connections

The human mind, rational or religious, has an uncanny passion for dates as milestones on the eternal highway of time. In fact, even when there is no diary entry of a noteworthy event, ‘Days’ pop up every day, so to say: Valentine’s Day, Friendship Day, Father’s Day, Mother’s Day etc. Of course, Independence Day is supposed to be intrinsically different. But thanks to a commercial-cum-consumerist millieu, the I-Day too has become one among many with every part of that hallowed day being ‘brought to you’ by someone. Soulful patriotism has indeed morphed into sponsored patriotism.

So, come 15 August this year, it would be celebration time again as it marks free India’s sashtiapthapoorthy – sixty years since the sun finally set on the British empire and our country was born along with a twin called Pakistan conjoined at the head, Kashmir. Re-born, rather, for many including this writer firmly believe that Bharata-varsha, as ‘Vishwaguru’ — world’s teacher — and the land of Sanatana Dharma, is timeless: It represents a tradition that is as old as the world. But a stroll down those ancient memory lanes can wait for some other occasion. So, sixty, it shall be, for the official record. An apt age for the nation to judge the quality of its promised tryst with destiny.

Much of the present generation, unlike their immediate progenitors, was born free –for them the perks of political freedom are taken for granted as inviolable birthrights. For this gen, the freedom struggle and the dawn of freedom itself are distant historical events. A sense of history and an appreciation of the toils and turmoils of those times depends on an individual’s aspirations and attitudes. For him, whatever his worth, life as a citizen begins the day he was born and his outlook of the country is rooted in the present with eyes firmly fixed on future. His idea of freedom would therefore depend largely on the inhibiting factors and impediments that presently lie in his path to personal prosperity and peace. National consciousness and macro issues are relevant only to the extent they impact him. So, is today’s citizen free in that respect?

Yes and no, for it is a freedom with strings attached. It is not a question of if we are free, but how free we are. Freedom imposes responsibilities and they have mounted. The white man’s burden has shifted to our own shoulders. If eternal vigilance is the price of freedom, then inflation is telling on that price too. This is not to undermine the achievements. If the world today is perceiving India as a future super-power, it is not without reasons, though Indians themselves may not be aware of them. Its economic engine is at full throttle and would likely eclipse several developed nations soon. Its demography, once touted a bane, is now a boon, with the most youthful and vibrant populace on the globe, doubling up as a potent workforce and a fertile market. The Indian genius is at full play in the knowledge sectors. There are many such success stories. Yet, the flip side too stares: Inequitous growth, infrastructural bottlenecks, manipulated stock markets, to name a few. A free nation, eager to celebrate should also feel free to contemplate such lapses that can make freedom a farce for huge multitudes.

Manmohan, the man in charge of the nation, in a way, symbolises the shackles that bind the citizen too. For the sixtieth year on the trot, a PM of free India would address the nation on I-Day. But it is not what he says that will make news that day. None will miss the irony of the PM’s grandiose freedom speech being delivered under the highest security cover ever! The PM of free India would have to constantly look over his shoulder, for a bomber or a sniper. And as we advance more into our freedom-sixties, the blanket is only set to bloat. Need we add that a sleepless PM and his ilk’s secular urges and misplaced sympathies have contributed no less to this state of affairs wherein terror is knocking at every door?

And terrorists are not the only ones reining in the freedom of the PM and people. The Constitutional concept of a PM’s prerogative is now the butt of jokes, thanks to the super PM lording over him from 10 Janpath. The scenario also mocks at our notion that we are free from ‘foreign rule’. But besides Sonia, the PM’s freedom woes are compounded by coalition partners. With friends like the Leftists and Karunanidhis, does the PM need enemies? And such allies themselves are not living in peace. They get paid back in kind in their own home turfs for the pranks they play on the PM. But such rampant politicking, done with eyes on not just votes but also spoils, is killing enterprise and employments in many States. Lofty public postures hide shady deals; reason why today’s coalition governments are always shaky but rarely crash!

Corruption, criminalisation, caste and cronyism give ample company to coalitions in undermining the freedom of the country and its institutions. Global transparency surveys point to India as one of the most corrupt countries in the world and in that we have beat even China, our most feared competitor. The ease with which criminals get elected makes one suspect if a secret tunnel has been dug between prison and Parliament. Judges get to see our legislators more than the people. Caste politics has ensured that merit would ever remain a slave of well reserved vested political interests. The on-going legal tussles are only about the quota percentages over and above the fifty mandated by Mandal. But the fifty itself looks set to stay for eternity, despite the Constitution intending quotas only for a limited period. Again, for a country priding itself as the world’s largest democracy, the presence of a dynasty in power for decades is a huge blot. Family politics and crony culture are rampant everywhere and rational TN is a leader on this count. Uprooting such well-entrenched family mafias looks impossible. Getting rid of the Brits was a lot easier.

Mature democracies and civil societies have achieved true internal freedom primarily through citizen’s activism. Only a vigilant and vibrant citizenry can ensure that the fruit of political freedom tastes sweeter. But do we have any free time for that? Or will we have to check with the TV schedules for the I- day to decide if we can spare some time for our free nation?

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Jawahar T R