As Indians celebrate the nation’s 76th Independence Day today, they are no doubt looking forward to an era of peace and prosperity. In the seven-and-a-half decades since our founding fathers bravely fought for our freedom and delivered it, India has made great strides. It is touted as the fifth largest economy and is on the cusp of being a world leader.
It is a fancied investment destination and a medical tourism hub, providing world class facilities and medical professionals of the highest calibre.
However, amidst this celebration of the country’s progress, the undeniable reality is poverty, income inequalities, joblessness and agricultural distress still haunt large sections of the population. Oppression of the lower castes, patriarchy, attacks on minorities and women continue unhindered. A false narrative of strident nationalism attempts to whitewash all societal evils and anyone who questions this gung-ho patriotism is dubbed anti-national. The spirit of enquiry has taken a back seat. Amidst an infrastructure boost and great strides in our economy, there are also the harsh truths of poor health infrastructure and lack of educational opportunities for the underprivileged. The Swachh Bharat Abhiyan and Ujwala scheme of free gas connections for those below the poverty line have no doubt made a difference but large swathes of the country remain bereft of the progress that urban India has seen. That is why farmers’ suicides and distress sales of crops are still a recurring phenomenon.
On India’s 76th Independence Day, Manipur remains a blot on the nation. More than ninety days after violence first broke out in the north-eastern state, there is no sign of normalcy returning. The rift between communities appears to be unbridgeable and neither the Centre nor the state government seem to be working to restore calm. An entire session of Parliament was virtually washed out on the issue of Manipur. After the viral video showing two Kuki women being paraded naked and gangraped in a Manipur village, ostensibly by Meitei men, shocked and outraged the nation, the Prime Minister spoke of his anguish and disgust outside Parliament, breaking his 79-day silence on the Manipur situation. The Opposition demand that he speak in Parliament was vetoed by the treasury benches. With both sides remaining intransigent no meaningful discussion was possible.
When the hugely outnumbered Opposition finally opted to move a no-confidence motion to force PM Narendra Modi to speak on the issue in the House, the outcome was far from satisfactory. Opposition speakers failed to pin down the government while the treasury benches resorted to whataboutery and name-calling. The PM devoted very little time to Manipur in his reply to the motion, merely pledging to bring peace but not spelling out the modus operandi. As is his wont, the bulk of his speech was targeted at the Congress, particularly the Nehru-Gandhi family. Thus the Northeastern state which is reeling under ethnic violence got no reassurance from the people’s representatives that peace would be restored to their land.
After the recent communal violence, Haryana, too, continues to be on the boil. Despite the court and administration’s warnings, a rally in Palwal attended by many right-wing groups saw speaker after speaker making hate speeches directed at Muslims and an open call to arms. The impunity with which such groups function raises questions on whether they are receiving tacit support from the powers that be. Polarisation has been the preferred template in electoral battles in the last few years and there is nothing to show that 2024 will be any different. The recent shooting spree targeted at Muslims by a Railway Protection Force jawan on a train bound for Mumbai is further proof of the vicious communalisation of our society. The G-20 summit in Delhi next month will host a bevy of world leaders and will be an opportunity for India to showcase its achievements. However, it will be held against the backdrop of hate politics and ethnic violence. Till the country achieves freedom from casteism, communalism and patriarchy, Independence Day will remain a mere platitude. India’s tryst with destiny will continue.