To Jawaharlal Nehru, India is an idea which has influenced the people who have lived here and who have come here from other countries and found a home here since the beginning of civilization. Through long ages, during which the world slowly emerged from darkness, the idea developed…clinging to its old foundations. In The Discovery of India, he wrote: “India is a cultural unity amidst diversity, a bundle of contradictions held together by strong but invisible threads… She is an idea, a dream and vision.”
Nehru was responsible for transforming a very backward traditional society – divided on caste, religious and ethnicity – into a modern democratic state, subscribing to the rule of law and liberal values. His idea of India reflected the best in the Indian thought and philosophy. It is all encompassing, absence of discrimination of any kind. He nurtured democracy and empowered people, securing justice – social, economic and political; liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship and equality of status and of opportunity.
Secularism means equality of religions, separation of religion from state and accepting diversity of people and their way of life. It is misleading to suggest that secularism meant to “appeasing minorities.” In a liberal democracy, it is important to ensure the religious minorities feel safe and secure in the country of their birth and not live at the mercy of majority community. In a country that gave birth to four religions, where all the religions are practiced and where some 100 languages and 1800 dialects are spoken, secularism, as an article of faith, is the best bet to safeguard its unity and integrity.
The rise of right-wing extremism poses serious challenge to very idea of secular India. Projecting the Hindus as victims of “appeasement of minorities” is a ploy to polarise to derive electoral dividends. Even after 70 years, the Muslims are still at the bottom of social pyramid – the most deprived and vulnerable. The intolerance of Muslim has crept into the psyche of a section of Hindus, leading to hatred and communal polarization.
The RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat says people living in ‘Hindustan’ are Hindus as the ancestors of non-Hindus were the Hindus. The secularism is sought to be replaced by the Hindutva ideology and convert India into a ‘Hindu Rahshtra’. To Buddha, relying on unquestioned faith rather than on reasoning can be a big obstacle to leading an enlightened life. Amartya Sen believes, “India has been fortunate in having a particularly argumentative culture. The argumentativeness of Indians encouraged the tolerance of heterodoxy, with debates and discussions restraining violent confrontation”.
There is a growing hyper-nationalism. If you are not with the establishment, you are anti-national, scuttling any reasoned debate, discussion and dissent. In an open letter, June 10, to the highest constitutional authorities, some eminent persons like Julio Rebeiro, expressed concern about “the growing climate of religious intolerance; the behavior of vigilantes – who act as if they are prosecutor, judge and executioner rolled into one”. If this remains unchecked it would endanger national unity.
The democratic institutions, that Nehru so judiciously built, are undermined. Parliament is no longer a temple of democracy. Modi has scant respect for democracy and parliament. He doesn’t attend Parliament sessions. His shocking announcement last year, demonetizing 86% Indian currency overnight – the most atrocious decision – has crippled the Indian economy, leaving the unorganized sector and workers paralyzed. It was “an organized loot and legalized plunder”.
Prithviraj Chavan says, “the demonetization decision was a result of the work of multinationals” and demands a probe to unearth the truth. The PM refused to answer the Parliament what made him to take such drastic decision. None of its objectives – elimination of black money, terror funding and counterfeit currency – is realized.
Democracy is reduced to contesting and winning elections. Every election has become a prestige issue to Modi. Mesmerising people in a colloquial monologue with half truths is his trade mark. He said that the Union Government developed cold feet whenever he sought its help for completing the Narmada Dam Project. Manmohan Singh has clarified that Modi never met him to discuss the Narmada Project. Denigrating the past and denouncing the opposition demonstrates his contempt for political morality. He thinks India achieved nothing under the previous regimes.
At the time of independence, India’s lifespan was 31 years and now 71, its literacy 18% as against 76% cent now. The greatest achievement was making India a flourishing democracy because of which a person like Modi, with his humble background, could become the Prime Minister of the largest democracy. A.P.Rawat, Election Commissioner, observed: “Democracy thrives when elections are free, fair and transparent. However, what we have been scripting a narrative that places maximum premium on winning at all costs — to the exclusion of ethical considerations”.
There is double standard when it comes to fighting corruption. The Lokpal Act was brought into force in January 2014. And yet, for the past 42 months, no Lokpal is appointed. No inquiry is ever ordered against Ministers and elected representatives of the ruling party for alleged corrupt practices, while the CBI, IT and ED conduct raids and register FIR against the opposition leaders.
Nehru’s idea of India got drubbing by political rabble rousing, violent mob lynching culture, infringement on individual freedoms and reducing democracy to majoritarianism that attempts to impose a monolithic culture. India is regressing and lapsing into medievalism with divisive and communal forces taking the centre stage. His welfare state is pushed to backburner. As per the UN World Happiness Report 2017 – half of the Indian population languishes in deprivation – India ranked 122 of 155 countries. In the face of massive poverty, malnutrition and under nourishment, poor quality of primary education and public health services the programmes like Digital India, Cashless Economy, Bullet Train etc. are a misplaced priority. The development is not benefiting the deprived and marginalized sections. As Amartya Sen says, “We do not have leadership of a kind that of Gandhi — or Jawaharlal Nehru…the battle that has to be engaged in India now is one of vision…not one of looking for some super-cunning tactics…a vision, particularly of democracy, tolerance and even-handed treatment of all…”
The writer is Professor of Political Science and retired Principal,who published his autobiography
‘The Trial by Fire: Memoirs of a College Principal’.