What happened in Parliament on July 22 and in Bangalore, Ahmedabad and Surat a few days afterwards and what is now happening at Jammu show the direction in which the Indian democracy has been moving during the last 61 years of country'sIndependence. Things are truly falling apart, and no one seems to know how to collect the dismembered threads of national fabric and reweave them into a strong and soothing texture.
In fact, the journey of Independence itself commenced on a false note. ?At the stroke of mid-night when the world sleeps, India will wake to life and freedom?. These historic words, spoken by Jawaharlal Nehru on mid-night of August 14-15, 1947, have their own fascination. They sparkle with passion and poetry and enthrall a number of Indians even today. But are these words true? Was the world sleeping or watching India? And did she wake up fully? In fact, most of the Indians slept in the darkness of their homes in distant towns and villages. Some remained awake, not because they wanted to hold the lighted candle of freedom in their hands, but because they were trembling in fear with knives of blood thirsty mobs around them. The main architect of the freedom?Father of the Nation, as he came to be called?looked lonely and forlorn. His ?heart was burning? and he felt as if he had been ?thrown into a fire-pit?.
The light of freedom about which Jawaharlal Nehru spoke so eloquently was too weak to pierce through the darkness created by the heaps of garbage which India had collected in her courtyards during the long period of her social and cultural degeneration. Standing over a pedestal, glittering with artificial lights, declarations could be made: ?We would create a mighty India?mighty in thought, mighty in deeds, mighty in culture and mighty in service to humanity?. But no one seemed to know, or even cared to know, how that ?might? would be created or how those mountains of garbage would be swept away. Poetic fancy and wishful thinking could create no more than a few luminous wings which could flutter in the void, without flying. The atmosphere required for the wings to attain pressure to fly to ?destiny? did not exist.
In any case, what was that ?destiny? that was being talked about so passionately? The ?appointed day??the day appointed by destiny?as Nehru called it, was also the day which was preceded by one of the worst tragedies known to the Indian history, a tragedy that was caused by the acts of commissions and omissions of those whom that very destiny had put at the helm of affairs, a tragedy that had led to the Partition of the country, riots, rape, plunder and loss of life and property on an unprecedented scale.
?It is a fateful moment for us in India?, said Nehru in the same speech. Undoubtedly, it was so. But it demanded more than idealism; it demanded ?resolute practicality? to inject meaning and content in that idealism. Jawaharlal Nehru could provide the inspiration; but this inspiration had to be accompanied by a strong and sustained action.
For declarations to get translated into ground realities, a powerful motivating force and leadership with extraordinary courage and commitment was needed not only in the arena of politics but also in the intellectuals, social, cultural and spiritual spheres. Regrettably, neither the requisite motivating force nor the requisite leadership was forthcoming. India, at a momentous period of her history, failed to acquire a Great Inspiration and produce a Great Helmsman who could churn the stagnant pools of the Indian society and remove its dirty mud and slush through constructive and fearless work.
It was a comparatively easy task to provide, by way of a liberal and democratic constitution, a pattern of polity whose aims and objectives were to create both purity and productivity in public life. But it was difficult to inject the ethos of purity and productivity in the system. There was no one to undertake this task. The clay of the people who had to run the system and the social and cultural environment in which it had to function essentially remained the same as before. And it did not take long for a fairly sound constitution to look like a grammar of democratic anarchy in practice.
From the very first day of our independence, the people in general and the national leadership in particular have developed a propensity to keep aside the hard crusts of the problems and remain content with breaking softer grounds. Even now, while chronic problems mount and infections in the system strike deeper roots, we continue to nurse illusions and derive satisfaction from short-term gains and outward glitter.
These days, one often hears about Indian'simpressive foreign exchange reserves, her outstanding performance in the area of Information Technology, her rising volume of trade and her high rate of savings and investments. But comparatively little is said or done about the ever widening income-gap between the rich and the poor, worsening problems of unemployment and under-employment, continuance of acute poverty and mal-nutrition, rapid increase in the number of squatters and slum dwellers in cities and sharp deterioration in both rural and urban environment.
Let me provide you with an insight into the agonising reality that 61 years long ?tryst with destiny? has put in the lap of the nation. India today has the largest number of poor, the largest number of illiterate and the largest number of malnourished people in the world. On account of low purchasing power, over 250 million men, women and children go to bed hungry every day. One out of three Indian women is underweight. About 40 per cent of total low birth weight babies, under the age of five years, in the world are Indians. 57 million children of this age are undernourished; its percentage (48 per cent) in this regard is even worse than that of Ethopia (47 per cent). Six out of seven Indian women are illiterate.
In the cities, the slums and squatters? settlements have been proliferating, growing 250 per cent faster than the overall population. Mumbai with about 12 million living in such settlements has become the global capital of slum dwellings. India is still reckoned as one of the most corrupt nations in the world. Terrorism, subversion and Naxal violence have brutalised the atmosphere and bloodied a substantial part of the Indian landscape. While the problems of internal security are mounting, the efficacy of governance has been going down.
What is more disconcerting than the depressing economic, social and political scene is the growing loss of whatever little is left of India'sancient wisdom, her basic nobility, her sense of balance and harmony and her understanding of essential oneness of all elements of universe. Of all the maladies from which India at the moment is suffering, it is the malady of inner decay that is most serious.
It is the culture of casualness, callousness, corruption and conceit that now dominates the Indian public life instead of the much needed culture of care, Compassion, catholicity and commitment.
The inconvenient reality to which the nation has chosen to close its eyes is that, after the initial period of Independence, the post-1947 Indian has been badly let-down by her people and by her leadership in almost all walks of life.
The Indians mind and soul have remained dry and are getting drier by the day. The super-structure erected upon such a mind and soul is bound to develop cracks. No wonder it has. These cracks, to a discerning eye, look ominously wide and dangerous. The tryst with destiny?, so poetically and so sincerely visualised on the night of August 14-15, 1947, has turned out to be a fantasy. India must revisualise her destiny and fix a new tryst with it.
(The writer is former Governor of Jammu and Kashmir and a former Union Minister.)