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India: Democracy Has Survived, Will The Optimism?

By Avneesh Kumar

15 August, 2013

It was the forty-ninth anniversary of the Independence Day when H.D. Deve Gowda, the then Prime Minster, addressed the Indians from the Red Fort in Hindi, India’s national language. There was an unusual aspect about the Independence Day speech he delivered – H.D. Deve Gowda delivered his speech in a language he didn’t know, asserting that you can rule India without knowing its ‘national language’. And only in India is it possible to have a language as a national language that more than half of its people cannot speak and a good number of people cannot understand.

As India moves towards its sixty-seventh anniversary of its first stop – the end of the colonial rule on 15th August 1947 – the centuries of backwardness that she inherited from British is yet to be overcome, the promises of the independence struggle are yet to be fulfilled. Also, the optimism that was prevalent in the early years of independence seems lost. And the disappearance of that optimism has made way for frustration and desperation.

The founders of India, against all odds, decided to build a democratic and secular society, despite having any experience of democracy, and at a time when people were sceptical about the success of it. Exceptional was the idea to have democracy from the first day of independence and bestow franchise to people irrespective of their religion, gender and caste. And by doing that they also took a stand against the then-popular rice-bowl theory. Democracy in India was a message to the world and the supporters of the rice-bowl theory. It falsified the claim that the poor cannot have democracy because of their interest in food. And undaunted by the partition, the unyielding intent to build a secular state is also worthy of applaud.

If there is one achievement India can boast about, it is the persistent sustenance of democratic political system in the face of failures. But the country has reached a stage where the fragility of governance and the political system seems enormous. There will not be a complete breakdown even in the near future but the crisis in governance is deepening. The country is going through a leadership crisis. The divide is growing, based on different lines, including religion and caste. The alarming rate of increase in inequality and rampant corruption are also perplexing, including many other grave issues.

Perhaps the last decade has been too problematic and has produced more negatives than positives. And at the centre of the problem is the dearth of quality and skilled leadership. The government is more apprehensive about passing new laws instead of the effective implementation of the old ones. The leaders seem more interested in the game of politics, the game that has corrupted them and disabled them to perceive the realities. What India now has is the politics without principles, morale and ethics.
The decent and sophisticated ideas that were applied to build India have disappeared. In fact the country has lost those ideas. The complete collapse of economy, governance, agricultural and industrial development and so on has deteriorated the mood of the common man. The feeling of exploitation and deprivation is visible, perpetuating immense despondent and disenchantment, everywhere. However, despite all the cynicism and the sense of despair prevalent in the country, India is a shining example for many in the world, and for a number of things, including democracy, secularism, diversity and so on.

And here it becomes mandatory to quote scholar and activist Verrier Elwin, a British who took up Indian citizenship. He wrote in 1963, in the last days of his life: “All the same I am incurably optimistic about India. Her angry young men and disillusioned old men are full of criticism and resentment. It is true that there is some corruption and a good deal of inefficiency; there is hypocrisy, too much of it. But how much there is on the credit side! It is a thrilling experience to be a part of a nation that is trying, against enormous odds, to reshape itself.”

And Nehru too was optimistic about the success of India as a nation: “There is the breadth of the dawn, the feeling of the beginning of a new era in the long and chequered history of India. I feel so and in this matter at least I think I represent innumerable others in our country.”

There is a question for Indians now, as they celebrate their sixty-seventh Independence Day – can they sustain the optimism that the country’s first Prime Minister, Nehru, nurtured and propagated throughout his life?

Avneesh Kumar is a copy-editor by profession and loves writing and reading. (atulavneesh@gmail.com)






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