India@70: Editorial Ruminations

U Atreya Sarma
It is exactly 70 years since India achieved Independence, albeit an unfortunately truncated one. The country has gone through a multitudinous mill of vicissitudes and developed on various fronts, even as it seems to be irreconcilably torn along certain ideological, linguistic and geographical lines. India is also a pluralistic society which presents itself a unique evolutionary advantage, considering the diversity of its religions, languages, cultures and political perceptions – yet with a strong enough thread of underlying national unity.
God, or the scheme of things, has endowed us with an arabesque of diversity, perhaps with an understanding that none of the individual components is complete in itself; so they need to interact with one another in the national crucible, sublimate their foibles, identify their commonalities, appreciate and adopt one another’s fortes – and finally meld together as a salubrious and compatible whole. The gargantuan process is naturally beset with lots of friction, given our epistemological immaturity and lack of statesmanship and foresight that impulsively resists an attitude of dispassionate, holistic and ongoing dialogue. It is alright, for after all, we are only a seven-decade old toddling modern multi-party democracy.
Secularism and Religion
An apparent paradox in our body politic is, we are secular by law and religious by ethos. And Indian secularism is so amoebic in interpretation that the distinction between secularism and religion is totally blurred. Wisdom lies in seeing the significance and vitality of both. While secularism behoves the State not to discriminate between citizens and citizens on their religious lines in matters of polity and development; religion is a multilevel exercise in seeking and searching a way to balance one’s physical, psychological, aesthetic and spiritual being and also to identify one’s connect with the neighbourhood, with the environment and with the creation. In certain quarters, it has become a religion to blast religion and god both generally and selectively – and this goes against the millennia old national ethos. That explains the colossal failure of certain political parties which claim an international aura.
Religion is a vital and indispensable factor in the Indian psyche over millennia, no matter how much you would like to wish it away. It is inseparably interwoven with culture and language and geography. Religion per se is not anti-secular or anti-progress. Our religion didn’t hinder us from being a treasure trove which attracted hordes of plundering enemies over centuries. It doesn’t, however, mean that religion doesn’t have its failings. Like any other large and dynamic institution, religion is also an evolutionary process, not frozen or static. A constant churning by way of intra- and inter-faith dialogue at various levels of hierarchy becomes an imperative from the syncretic viewpoint of communal harmony. And if one cares to perceive, there are any number of common denominators across the religions. If that commonality is tapped, it creates a more tolerant and more harmonious society. While the political representatives assemble and discuss in the constitutionally established political parliament; why not the representatives of all religions come together and form  a non-governmental institution of parliament of religions – to exchange and harmonise their views – at periodic intervals, in a sustaining format?
It would be worthwhile here to recall the words, as under, of Swami Vivekananda who saw life more incisively and more holistically than anyone else in the recent times.
“To the other nations of the world, religion is one among the many occupations of life. There is politics, there are the enjoyments of social life, there is all that wealth can buy or power can bring, there is all that the senses can enjoy; and among all these various occupations of life and all this searching after something which can give yet a little more whetting to the cloyed senses – among all these, there is perhaps a little bit of religion. But here, in India, religion is the one and the only occupation of life” (Swami Vivekananda, Colombo address, Jan 15, 1897).
And he continues:
“I have seen a little of the world, travelling among the races of the East and the West; and everywhere I find among nations one great ideal which forms the backbone, so to speak, of that race. With some it is politics, with others it is social culture; others again may have intellectual culture and so on for their national background. But this, our motherland, has religion and religion alone for its basis, for its backbone, for the bed-rock upon which the whole building of its life has been based” (Swami Vivekananda’s address at Kumbakonam, Jan 1897).
Political Scenario
Politics being the most visible and effective factor in our country, as everywhere else, we expect that it should be eclectic and not acutely parochial or partisan. Politics being the most potent and constitutionally sanctioned medium to decide the destiny of the country and its people, we are, naturally, all eyes and ears to what is happening about it, especially in the parliamentary and legislative proceedings and in the pronouncements of various political leaders. Hardly has a government been formed with a clear popular mandate before the disparate opposition huddles up together not only to disrupt the due parliamentary process but also to dislodge the government. If the fractured opposition is so virulently motivated on the plank of a durable and viable commonality on the basis of their brand of secularism, why don’t they dissolve their separate identities into a single homogenous party – which would be good, in fact, for the country with such a political bipolarity? Pranab Mukherjee, as President of the Indian republic, rightly read the situation and famously observed that the parliament’s duty to the people is to discuss, debate and then decide – but not disrupt, because a government has been elected to rule not to be thwarted. The excuse of the opposition parties is, the ruling dispensation has come to power with far less than 50% of the popular vote. Yes, it is what happens in a multi-party contest, what with the inevitable ‘first past the post’ system. It also raises the question: What has prevented the opposition from forming a pre-poll alliance so as to garner more than 50% of popular vote?
There is a rampant tendency of generalising, magnifying and politicising stray incidents that vitiates our political environment. And such stray incidents had happened, and do happen, in every regime given the size of our country and its complexity. Our political parties and leaders have yet to learn to acknowledge one another’s positive points and accomplishments, without totally tarring one another’s face.
For all the bad things said, let us give our politicians their due, for politics is not that easy a game or vocation; it has its own difficulties and dangers. In fact, to me it appears, politics is the toughest job in the country - since the politicians have to continually contend with a flux of varied conflicting forces and walk on a tightrope. We, the common people, including poets and writers, can only air our views, extend our support, level our criticism, or organise and take part in demonstrations. An engineer doesn’t know the job of a physician; so also a physician doesn’t know the intricacies of geology. Likewise, let us, by and large, leave politics to the politicians, like how we should leave the soldier’s job to himself without trying a backseat driving. If some of us are so obsessed with politics, let them take a headlong plunge into electoral politics and prove themselves as ideal politicians.
It also hurts one to see that a section of our politicians and intellectuals are always selective in their criticism of things – being vociferous on some issues, and silent like a sphinx on some other issues. The voice which is wildly raucous over other issues including petty, is not loud enough against secessionism and religious terrorism, the latter having spread its deadly tentacles across the globe and wreaking havoc everywhere.
Freedom of Expression: Need for Dialogue
One man’s meat is another’s poison. So it appears with the ongoing tolerance-intolerance debate in the country. If Tom criticises Dick it is Tom’s democratic right to freedom of expression; but if Dick criticises or rebuts Tom, it is bashed as intolerance and suppression of Tom’s freedom of expression. This is not to rule out the importance of dissent and criticism, but they have to be democratic. Dissent strengthens democracy only if it is not forced on others and when the majority view is finally respected and accepted; and only when an objective and dispassionate dialogue is on, on an ongoing and sustainable basis; monologic criticism doesn’t strengthen democracy – it leads us nowhere except into a cycle. In the name of absolute freedom of art and expression, let us not try to create or invite social anarchy.
Historical Paradox
There are several dualities where we have to come to terms with. For example, regarding historical memories, certain groups counsel that we should forget the past and coexist in harmony – now that everybody is equal in the eyes of the Constitution; while some other groups say, they have a right to hark back to the historical injustices and to bitterly thrash those whom they see as the inheritors of their historical exploiters. History, an objectively chronicled history, is meant to learn from, and not to do the impossible task of setting the things right with retrospective effect.
There is no gainsaying that the country has developed a lot in various fields all these 70 years, but many would agree it has not been systematic but patchy or topsy-turvy. The political economy has only to create the necessary infrastructure and facilities. Barring the constitutional reservations, it is not supposed to resort to any vote-bank gimmicks of splurging a plethora of asked or unasked subsidies, concessions and freebies – which only makes more and more people and sections clamour for more and more. Is there really a need to shower a hive of sundry sops? There are certainly economic inequalities, but is there poverty at all in the real sense – for nowadays almost everyone owns a two-wheeler, a TV set, a mobile phone, and when many people at the lower rung afford to see the movies in the cinema houses, despite the high prices of the tickets? Beggary is the only visible face of poverty, but even here too, it is mostly a mafia organised racket. The duty of the governments is to cull and rehabilitate them.
Civic Venality
Our civic bodies are notorious for venality, apathy, sloppy civic works and utter lack of accountability. They are supposed to first create the necessary facilities – like enough and well-maintained public conveniences, and well-laid and smooth road network shorn of encroachments, before itching to impose penalties with a sense of hypocritical righteous indignation.
Extensive application of user-friendly digital technology would help the ease of administration and also bring down levels of corruption, even as the grey area of concomitant cyber criminality looms large and has to be tackled separately by a focused mechanism.
Citizens’ Role
Citizens’ rights are no doubt important but they will be meaningful only if accompanied by duties and responsibilities – having civic consciousness, working hard and honestly, and sincerely and correctly paying taxes, without resorting to black money.
Let us march ahead
Overall, as a country, we have got our pluses and minuses. The pluses should encourage us further; the minuses should warn us against them. After all, which country or society is free of problems and defects? Problems are ordained so that we take them as a challenge, probe them deep, and unanimously strive to resolve them. Let’s look back, review, re-plan, and march ahead.
This is the sum and substance of the array of articles making up this Feature: India@70, and reflecting the complexity and diversity of the country. I thank each and every contributor for their stimulating presentations, perceptions, and projections – which when considered in totality would help bridge our differences and connect us up.
Finally, I am grateful to the SETU editor-duo - Sunil Sharma and Anurag Sharma – for having reposed their trust and confidence in me, despite my humble situation, and entrusted me with the responsibility of bringing out this timely and significant Feature. Jai Hind!


  1. Dear Editor

    Let me congratulate you on an all-embracing summing up of the articles that have appeared in the India@70 anthology. India's diversity in every area of public life is so exasperating that any search for a common adhesive is as frustrating as achieving adhesion between water and fire. Your editorial is a call for sanity. I wish you all success.

    Dasu Krishnamoorty

  2. Thank you dear Dasu Krishnamoorty garu. A kind gesture of compliments like this from a veteran of your age and stature - is indeed a golden blessing, and also a sound suggestion to always try to be objective and impartial. Best regards.


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