60 years on, India’s tryst with destiny continues

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Political parties have still to come to terms with the empowered civil society employing technology to make its voice heard through the Internet and by TV channels taking up issues and replaying old segments of pronouncements later repudiated by politicians. There is still a long way to go to empower the poor and the unfortunate while a beginning is being made to move towards a more inclusive society.

If secularism, socialism and non-alignment were the three pillars of the Indian state on the proclamation of the Republic 60 years ago, non-alignment has lost its relevance with the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, socialism lost out to  globalization and consumer society and secularism survives in a battered state.

The truth is that 60 years is a long time in the grooming of a new nation state, with Jawaharlal Nehru’s memorable words of a tryst with destiny then still ringing in our ears. And it must surely be to the credit of the Indian state and people that, but for a brief aberration during the Emergency, democracy has not merely survived but also been invigorated by the flowering of civil society and its empowerment through private television channels and the Internet and its progeny, Twitter and Facebook.

But we have lost out in some of our values. Consider the levels of corruption prevailing in the political and bureaucratic fields and in civil society. Partly, it is the result of the temptation of a new consumer society, the can-do mood of sections seeking success and the mounting expenses involved in contesting elections. If election money is the root of evil, no one has found a solution to the malaise, with the proposal for state funding of parties worse than the disease because it would denude the exchequer of considerable amounts while candidates  and parties would top up campaigns with surreptitious money.

Perhaps the most abiding changes we have seen in the political landscape in these 60 years are in the field of secularism and the rightward tilt in the political spectrum. Both these phenomena are linked to the rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) out of the ashes of the Jan Sangh. Once the BJP achieved power for the first time in New Delhi as the leader of a coalition, it had arrived. The fact that parties that claimed to be secular were prepared to join the BJP in a government meant that the communal stigma that had been attached to it was largely washed away. Even the Congress Party became wobbly on occasion in holding aloft the banner of secularism.

The first party to achieve power at the Center on the basis of an alternative anti-Congress ideology would inevitably leave its mark. The BJP did not believe in the merit of a “socialistic pattern of society” and although it flirted with vague concepts such as “Gandhian socialism” to make itself more acceptable, it was the Ayodhya fuse lit by L.K. Advani and his infamous rath yatra that brought it the votes to lead a coalition in Delhi.

The BJP has waxed and waned in expounding its Hindutva concept, but its essence is in invoking Hindu India and its values to make the modern nation state in the image of its picture of a distant past. In the process, as Advani so graphically demonstrated during his original rath yatra, the BJP was tapping into the tragedy of the Partition and the bloodshed accompanying it to demonize the Muslim in India and its neighborhood. Together with the vague longing for an India of a supposedly golden age, the mainspring of the party’s urges was a regressive social philosophy confining women to an inferior status (under the guise of worshipping them) and banning and demonizing any progressive form of art if it was interpreted as denigrating Hindu sensitivities. This brew was matured in the cask of nationalism and policed by members of the Sangh Parivar.

The surprise is the root these pseudo-concepts have taken among sections of the urban middle classes. Recurring waves of terrorist activities inspired by and emanating from Pakistan serve  to buttress the BJP’s propaganda over the large Muslim population in India. The urban Indian today is certainly more conscious of religion and caste than it was at the birth of the Republic. Yet the electorate rejected the BJP twice in national elections since its stints  of six years in power.

A young Indian today is far more self-confident than his parents and his outlook is tinged by an optimism that older folk can only marvel at. He is largely free from colonial complexes but, despite flashes of revolt, he remains socially conservative. Political parties have still to come to terms with the empowered civil society employing technology to make its voice heard through the Internet and by TV channels taking up issues and replaying old segments of pronouncements later repudiated by politicians.

There is still a long way to go to empower the poor and the unfortunate while a beginning is being made to move towards a more inclusive society. But the concept of democracy has held up, warts and all. The answer is that there is no viable alternative to governing a multi-religious, multi-ethnic and multi-regional society of innumerable linguistic groups. The BJP’s rejection in elections is proof that people do not wish to tilt the nation to a philosophy of no return.

Courtesy: Deccan Chronicle

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