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Wednesday, December 9, 2009

India’s quest for…

At the stroke of midnight hour on August 14, 1947, when India “awakened to life and freedom” from years of suppression, Pandit Nehru, the architect of modern India, preparing his fellow citizens to be “brave enough and wise enough” to seize the challenge of sudden freedom and its accompanying responsibility, pondered: 
“The future beckons to us. Whither do we go and what shall be our endeavor? To bring freedom and opportunity to the common man, to the peasants and workers of India; to fight and end poverty and ignorance and disease; to build up a prosperous, democratic and progressive nation, and to create social, economic and political institutions which will ensure justice and fullness of life to every man and woman.”

This ‘unending quest’ that Pandit Nehru launched 62 years back and navigated for the first 17 years assiduously, leaving behind a certain ‘something’ about his midwifery to the nation’s cause that even to date smells sweet, is still firing the nation’s zeal, but one is not sure if we have ended “poverty and ignorance and disease and inequality of opportunity.” Nor could the nation wipe out “every tear from every eye,” for worries continue to haunt rural India, as nearly 200 districts in the country are today experiencing drought, and the resultant spike in food prices are throwing their lives into disarray. The government, of course, promised to “do everything possible” to stabilize the situation, but such event-triggered reactive measures as postponement of repayment of bank loans by farmers and granting support to farmers for payment of interest on short-term crop loans will not prevent the situation from getting steadily worse year by year.

It is equally sad that the current drought in the country is being dismissed by the elite as a phenomenon that cannot impact GDP, for the farmers in drought-affected districts contribute hardly 3% to GDP. Can we afford to forget the fact that agriculture in India “is not a mere food-producing machine,” but also the very backbone of the livelihood of over 60% of our population and any letup in it would only lead to social unrest—Naxalite movement being one such kind of its manifestation. Even after 62 years of independence, it remains an enigma how our civilized society could stomach the fact that India is the home of the largest number of poor and malnourished people in the world and be insensitive to such “mass rural deprivation and suffering.”

This only reminds us of a poet and a professor from Jawaharlal Nehru University, for whom “Gandhiji’s
Swaraj is still a distant dream,” for, “we are not yet a nation of highly evolved, self-regulating citizens...” and “Antodaya, the welfare of the last citizen of India, is still not our priority.” Encouragingly, he also sees a ray of hope: “while notions of inferiority and mental colonialism still dog us ... our ability to create wealth through the application of skills and knowledge is one of our great leaps forward as both a nation and a civilization.”

“I can hear the distant roar already” is what a nuclear scientist and cosmologist says enthusiastically, foreseeing what India could become in the coming 20 years if only it gets liberated itself  “from the shackles of ‘don’ts’ but ... plunges into the world of ‘dos”. It is this duality—the underlying despair and a newfound hope across the nation—that is telling us subtly that all is not lost; indeed, it echoes: India has come of age and can as well become a nation of prosperity if only we pull up ourselves collectively to make our governance “transparent and accountable to the citizenry—the common people with a common cause of common good.”

Evidently, it is not enough just to pass acts granting right to education, right to employment, or for that matter right to food. What is urgently needed is to act—act on these Acts and make things available to the intended citizens. It is only such concerted action that would enable India to redeem the pledge that its founding fathers had made at the stroke of the midnight hour in the Constituent Assembly and light up the darkness that still encases India. It alone keeps our “unending quest” to “ensure justice and fullness of life to every man and woman” on track.


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