India’s 75 years celebration list recreates Indianness
In the pre-Indian Independence era famous Urdu poet Mirza Ghalib wrote a couplet in which he laments that his beloved would take a lifetime to realise he loved her.
It goes like this - Aah ko chahiye ek umr asar hone tak…Kaun jeeta hai tere zulf ke sar hone tak… Ghalib wrote this couplet for a beloved. But there is a message in these lines for patriots-you need to have patience in every relationship.
As India celebrates 75 years of Independence next year, the Government under the chairmanship of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has formed a committee that will give its recommendations for the road map to celebrations ahead of Independence Day on 15th August.
A galaxy of stars from various walks of life have been hand-picked in the list of 259 eminent persons. The list is very interesting, it includes some stalwarts from politics like L. K. Advani, H.D. Devi Gowda, Sonia Gandhi, Mulayam Singh Yadav, Prakash Singh Badal and other politicians.
Names of cabinet ministers and people belonging to various political backgrounds, religion or caste have been included in the list and they have been announced in the public domain in the form of a gazette.
Sceptics will always argue that some important names have been excluded. But there will be no end to such complaints. It’s important to understand at least an effort has been made to prepare this kind of list.
The people who were involved in the struggle for Indian Independence belonged to diverse religions, castes and culture. The list of the names for planning the mega event, it appears seems to have been prepared quite thoughtfully, to recreate the feeling of Indianness.
It includes personalities such as National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, among the people who have dedicated their lives for keeping India safe. Contribution of such people have been consistent in the post-Independent era. Doval's achievements are many- from taking on rogue Pakistan and showing the neighbouring country the might of India to building bridges at the right time, negotiating with China to make them realise their blunder in Galwan. His four decades of proactive and selfless service in the Indian security set up has been a roller coaster ride, while he successfully negotiated security challenges India has faced. His achievements are legendary.
The elaborate list also includes names of some eminent Muslims belonging to diverse backgrounds such as Najma Heptullah, Arif Mohd. Khan, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Farooq Abdullah, Muzaffar Husain Beg, Maulana Wahiuddin Khan, Sayadana Muffadal Saifudin, Dalip Kumar, Amjad Ali Khan, K.K. Mohammad, Syed Zainul Abedin, A.R. Rehman, Ustad Zakir Hussain and last but not the least Azim H Premji. The inclusion of Muslim names is a recognition of the fact that Muslims like any other community have done their bit for their country.
As we look forward to celebrating Indianness in the upcoming event, let’s not forget our memorable past. When we read about the historic journey India has had since Independence, one realises how much it has gone through. What an eventful journey it has been?
Elite Idea of India
Other than Mahatma Gandhi, who we so fondly describe as Father of the Nation, the idea of India was primarily conceptualised by elites, who were heavily influenced by ideas of modernity, European colonial expansion, state, nationalism, democracy and economic development.
Noted scholar Sunil Khilnani in his book, The Idea of India has brought out the realities of independence of India succinctly. He says in the first instance the history of independent India can be seen, most narrowly but also most sharply, as the history of a state: one of the first, largest and poorest of the many created by the ebb of European empire after the end of Second World War.
The arrival of the modern state on the Indian landscape over the past century and a half, and its growth and consolidation as a stable entity after 1947, are decisive historical facts. They mark a shift from a society where authority was secured by diverse local methods to one where it is located in a single, sovereign agency.
Seen in this perspective, the performance of the Indian state invited evaluation by external and comparative standards: for example, its ability to maintain the territorial boundaries it inherited from the British Raj, to preserve its domestic authority and the physical security of its citizens, to act as an agent of economic development, and to provide its citizens with social opportunities.
Unlike the states of modern Europe, which acquired these responsibilities in gradual sequence, new states like India have had to adopt them, and to be seen to pursue these heavily instrumental criteria is undoubtedly crucial to the life chances of its citizens. But these responsibilities have raised expectations often very distant from the state’s practical capacities. These lines are very significant and thoughtful. In these lines there is a suggestion to Indians to be realistic in what they expect politically, socially and economically.
Before we go into the expectations let’s recount the eventful journey of India. And I dare to say her journey at the expense of hurting the sentiments of male chauvinists. The reason being India has truly been like an accommodating mother since it was born.
After the birth pangs it had to struggle with food scarcity, there was wide-spread starvation and poverty, that has now been reduced to a great extent. We have come a long way, have we not? But not enough to ensure that not even a single person dies of poverty.
Thanks to M.S. Swaminathan, geneticist and administrator, Green Revolution ensured food security as Indian agriculture flourished with his ideas and able implementation to make India self-sufficient.
In between many other revolutions took place, we have almost forgotten about them. Such as one initiated by social entrepreneur Kurian Varghese, it was known as- Operation Flood, which ensured a national grid for milk. Today we enjoy regular and uninterrupted supply of milk at our doorsteps.
We have stopped thinking about such things which have made our lives so easy but a lot of effort has gone into making it happen.
In recent times we can give example of a living legend E Sridharan, who has made his contribution by his remarkable and extraordinary journey in Indian railways and has created some of the most dauting rail networks in India and conceptualised and executed Metro rail projects. These efforts have made life easier for the masses.
Who could forget former President A P J Kalam’s contribution in Indian aerospace? His efforts in building nuclear capability under his leadership and building advanced missile technology are legendary. India has achieved major feats in the satellite programmes as well. Now it is gearing up for Chandra Yan project. Indian democracy is almost as new as its independence.
Legends in Art and Culture
Arts and Culture has also played a big role in protecting Indian democracy. It flourished in the post-independence era. Soon after independence a group of six artists including K.H. Ara, S.K.Bakre, H.A.Gade, M.F. Hussain, S.H. Raza and Francis Newton Souza founded a club in Mumbai which set the tone for fine arts in India. Writers like Harishankar Parsai, Sumitranandan Pant, Ritwik Ghatak, Subramania Bharti, Rahi Masoom Raza and Sahir Ludhianvi have played significant role in post- independence literature.
Indians should also be proud of its cinema legends like Satyajit Ray, Bimal Roy, Guru Dutt, Shayam Benegal, V Shantaram, Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Balraj Sahani, Dalip Kumar and Amitabh Bachchan, more recently A.R. Rehman.
Musicians like Ustad Mushtaq Hussain, Ahmed Jan Thirakva, Ustad Allahrakha Khan, Pandit Ravi Shankar, Hariprasad Chaurasia, Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma, R.D. Burman also made great contributions. Melodious rendition of singers of Mohd Rafi, Manna Dey, Lata Mangeshkar, Kishore Kumar, Mukesh, Asha Bhosle, Yesudas and Jagjit Singh we still enjoy. These people have become brand ambassadors of India.
After the independence when we kind of became self-sufficient we turned to other ideas, we then started thinking about our identity as a nation. Identity as a political, social and economically vibrant nation.
After independence earlier decades were steered by the Nehruvian Congress. Nehru was a modernist and is identified by many as a visionary. He was jailed nine times by the British. But he is often criticised for his error of judgement in the 1962 war with China.
As India asserted its national identity such territorial problems were bound to happen. In 2020 we saw a fresh round of issues with China in the form of border skirmishes. After casualties on both sides, good sense prevailed and now on track of a peaceful resolution.
It would not be incorrect to say in the last six years India has asserted itself as a nation like never before. The outreach by Prime Minister Modi has been extra-ordinary and consistent.
Jamini Bhagwati in his book The Promise of India notes that Modi achieved most incredible high and sustained energy in reaching out to rest of the world, which had begun right from the start of his tenure. He visited countries that no PM has visited in a long time such as Fiji, Nepal, Mauritius and Australia.
He was able to have frequent high-visibility interactions with the heads of government of the US, Germany, France, UK and Japan in bilateral and multilateral forums such as G20, SCO, BRICS. His outreach was marked by high-octane speeches in the foreign locations with one-to-one connection with the heads of government he met.
Modi’s role also comes into play for successful implementation of direct cash transfer for the poor and GST. His initiatives like Ayushman Bharat and Swachh Bharat have been much lauded.
During his regime efforts are being been made to bring in power reforms to ensure every hold gets electricity under ghar-ghar bijili scheme and energy to cook food under Ujjwala Yojana. However, Modi’s one of the biggest achievements has been digitisation of India. And more recently deftly handling of global pandemic Covid-19 and streamlining of the vaccination drive.
Now let's go back in time when Nehruvian Congress politics evolved into Indira’s Congress, which also gave us unforgettable events in history such as Emergency. Though, Indira made India proud by leading a historic victory over Pakistan in 1971. This war led to independence of Bangladesh.
When it came to protecting its territorial integrity, India has been uncompromising. India fought four wars with Pakistan. But the more recent the First Surgical Strike and 2019 air raid in Balakot was a watershed. Indeed, one of the most daring military manoeuvres against the nuclearized neighbour Pakistan. In all these battles India emerged as victorious; and it remembered its martyrs.
Soon after independence Sardar Patel, a great visionary leader played a significant role in making India a strong nation. His persistence played a crucial role in integrating thousands of princely states into the idea of a nation state.
In the 80s Rajeev Gandhi took over as PM and brought in some path-breaking changes in the country. He is remembered for bringing about the computer revolution in India. He is the one who brought about this change in spite of stiff resistance from babus. Later he died a tragic death. During this era Congress was criticised for not having done enough to save the massacre of Sikhs.
Initial decades after independence saw dominance of Hindi speaking Prime Ministers. Later India got its first Prime Minister, who couldn’t speak in Hindi- eventually through he tried to learn the language, his name was Deve Gowda, incidentally he also figures in the list of people prepared by Government for 75 years of Independence celebration.
We have also had great leaders like Atal Bihari Vajpayee as Prime Minister, who is remembered for daring Pokhran 2 nuclear tests. This act clearly defined India as a strong state, which would not be bogged down due to any international pressures when it came to securing itself. It laid the foundation stone for India to become a super power. Work is still in progress.
After the nuclear tests India had to face several hardships due to the international sanctions but we sailed through in flying colours. Vajpayee and his government were also credited for another revolution - laying down a network of national highways.
While travelling back and forth in time, observers noted the shift from Nehru’s concept of mixed economy to opening up of our economy in 1991. This credit went to Prime Minister Narsimha Rao, who is remembered as an able leader, who ushered a new era in Indian economy. He was a learned man and could speak several foreign languages, he had several other feathers on his cap.
Since independence India has seen a substantial political activity. Its people empowered several political parties. A multitude of parties started asserting themselves on the basis of caste and religion. In between V.P. Singh brought in the concept of Mandal Commission, which was aimed at giving parity to the underprivileged by bringing about caste-based reservation in the government jobs.
Political parties like Samajwadi and BSP, which were brought to power on the basis of their caste vote bank. The federal nature of India became more vibrant. Contrast between parties ruling the centre and those in the states became quite apparent.
Contribution of Congress Party
Congress during Dr Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi made good contribution in the nation building. They will be remembered for the historic Nuclear Deal with the US and for bringing in bold legislations such as the Right to Information Act.
Most recently Aam Aadmi Party, which was an offshoot of an anti-corruption crusade in India started by a few activists like Anna Hazare evolved has matured as a political party. Earlier it had several standoffs with the BJP at the Centre. But now it has started concentrating on good governance rather than focussing on the political rift.
Socially too India’s journey has been quite turbulent. Some noted scholars believe at the time of independence the majority Hindu community concerns of being a nation were not properly taken into account. As a result, eventually we saw resurgence of Hindu nationalism, it was manifested through the Bhartiya Janata Party.
In 1992 Babri Masjid demolition became an aberration in the strong bonds between Hindu and Muslim community living in the geographical boundaries since centuries. The clash of religion led to Mumbai riots and the gap widened. In 2002 burning of a train in Godhra where 58 Hindu pilgrims died led to violent riots in Gujarat. With time wounds are healing. And thankfully the Babri Masjid chapter has now been amicably resolved after Supreme Court judgment on the disputed structure.
Since 2000 onwards a disturbing trend emerged. Some Indian Muslims were indoctrinated into terrorism, in which Pakistan and some other international extremist Islamic activities played a big role. India has been dealing with this problem with a heavy hand and continues to do so to safeguard its sovereignty.
Nineteen years later the country was hit by anti-Citizen Amendments Act protests. More recently we have been seen violent farmers protesting against the new farm laws. The standoff continues.
So, if you look at the journey of India, it is simply amazing. Its resilience has been a wonder for the world. While a number of democracies world-wide have disintegrated due to poor political management, India truly remains a wonder of diversities.
While the Government’s efforts of drawing up a list of people cutting across caste, creed, religion or occupation are commendable. The nation will only strengthen when every Indian will realise, we exist because of our nation.
The mantra for a happy existence lies in the participation for a strong nation-building. Indians will have to make a conscious effort to forget and forgive, let bygones be bygones. And make a fresh beginning of love for fellow citizens.
In 2019 there were 900 million eligible voters in the general elections of April-May 2019. It was by far the largest anywhere in the world. The voting was 67.11 per cent, was the highest ever in any Indian general elections.
A significant lesson from the mandate also proved that if Congress remains coterie ridden and feudally run, its days are numbered. For a vibrant democracy, India needs at least two truly national parties.
Going forward systemic efforts will be necessary to meet India’s social, economic and foreign policy challenges. A mere changing of the political elite would achieve little in addressing the glaring inequalities and discrimination in part-obscurantist, semi-feudal, rural India and its congested slums. Indian leadership should be less cynical and more open in discussing and arriving at remedies based on consensus.
India’s history has shown two broad possibilities of dealing with the diversity, a theoretically untidy, improvising, pluralistic approach, or a neatly rationalist and purifying exclusivism. The present generation has the responsibility to choose between them.
Some quarters may like to rush into changes towards equality but it would only be unfair and impractical. American, British and French democracies are much-much older than India. But even these developed countries, which claim to be land of equal opportunities will have to go a long way.
India as a nation need to have patience. It’s just 75 years old. Every good thing takes time to happen.