AT the dawn of India’s Independence, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru had, with resolute intensity, declared: “We would create a mighty India – mighty in thought, mighty in deeds, mighty in culture and mighty in service to humanity.” But have we done so? Have we not instead created an India which is superficial in thought, deficient in deeds, shallow in culture and poor in service to humanity?
With no less fervour and poetic passion, Nehru, in his historic speech, delivered on August 14-15 midnight, had said: “At the stroke of midnight, when the world sleeps, India will wake to life and freedom. A moment comes, but which comes but rarely in history, when we step from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, find utterances.” Did India really wake-up and give a renewed expression to her soul? Is it not true that her wakefulness has turned out to be another kind of slumber which has pushed her soul into deeper layers of suppression?
We gave ourselves a Constitution which, in all earnestness, resolved to make India a sovereign, socialist, secular and democratic republic. How is it that in this democratic republic, considerations of dynasty are acquiring ascendancy, sovereignty is being exercised by electing criminals to the legislatures, secularism is being practiced by taking practically every political decision on ground of caste and creed and socialism is being brought about by causing highest income disparities in the world?
Underneath our national emblem is written Satyameva Jayate – Truth alone triumphs. Why is it that there is a plethora of slant, slander and lies in our public discourse? The wheel on our flag is a symbol of our ancient culture. But with what respect do we look at our ancient culture these days?
We aspired to build a clean, cohesive, creative, constructive, compassionate and committed machinery of governance. But how is it that what we find around us is a corrupt, casual, callous and conflict-ridden machinery which is unable to cope with any of the serious challenges that confront the nation today, be they in area of subversion, terrorism or dispensation of social and economic justice? And why is the state of our complacency such that we continue to tout our 8 to 10 per cent growth, forgetting all the time that this growth has benefited only 4 to 5 per cent of our population, that India has even now the largest number of poor, largest number of illiterate and largest number of malnourished people in the world and that in the UNDP Human Development Index, we still rank at miserable 134.
Maybe, we have progressed in a few areas. But is this progress not far below our potential as well as our requirements, and have we not in the process exposed ourselves to the risk of losing our stability, integrity and even whatever little is left of the noble traits of our culture? Why is it that our intellectual and moral landscape is so barren today? And why are we no longer producing great reformers and conscience-keepers of the nation, such as Vivekananda, Aurobindo, Tagore, Ram Mohan and Ranade?
In the light of all these posers, a key question that we should be asking ourselves, after 63 years of our Independence is : Why have so many inversions emerged and why has darkness descended on a large number of areas which were intended to be lit brilliantly?
To my mind, the answer to this question is to be found in the failure of the post-1947 leadership to grasp the significance of civilisational imperatives in building Independent India in a new mould. It is the civilisational values which underpin the state institutions, determine the general ethos of the society and shape the attitudes and outlook of the people. The pivotal importance of these values and the need to evolve a healthy mind and soul were ignored. It was forgotten that it was not possible to establish an honest administration without an honest mind or beautiful national edifices without beautiful national instincts.
Civilisation is the sum total of social, moral and intellectual attainments of a nation over a span of time. At the turning point of our destiny, around August 1947, we should have assessed what were the positive as well as the negative attainments of our civilisation during its long march of 5,000 years in history. We all live in the social and cultural cage that has been fabricated for us in the past, though light and fresh breeze of the present continue to reach us through the gaps in its bars. In fact, past, present and future constitute an inextricably enmeshed web. For understanding the present, we have to go to the past, and for envisioning a great future both past and present trends have to be taken into account. The great English poet, TS Eliot, had rightly said: “Time present and time past are both present in time future, and time future in time past.”
Had we looked into our ancient and worn out baggage, we would have found a number of ‘gems’ and ‘jewels’ tucked in the spaces not easily visible. We would have discovered profound patterns of thought – patterns which would have brought home to us great ideas and ideals, such as those pertaining to divinity of life, unity of existence and the universe being a cosmic web in which every element is enmeshed with every other. We would have understood the importance of being a Karmayogi, of doing our duty dispassionately, without having any weakness for reward. We would have also realised what made Max Mueller to say: “If I were asked under what sky the human mind has most deeply pondered over the greatest problems of life, I should point to India….Some of the most valuable and most instructive materials in the history of man are treasured up in India, and in India only.”
All this would have not only inspired the nation but also provided it with a metaphysical base for actualisation of a healthy democracy and for attainment of a truly humanistic and service-oriented social order. If, for instance, the same divinity is embodied in different individuals, they cannot but be equal. Liberty and fraternity would also be ensured, as it would be unthinkable for divinity in one person to starve the same divinity in another person or do injustice to it in any other matter.
At the same time, however, we should not have ignored the huge garbage that had moved into the same baggage during the periods of our decay and degeneration. We should have swept it off with a firm hand and thoroughly disinfected the baggage and renovated it. All items of obscurantism, all fangs of malevolent cults and all residues of caste and gender-discrimination etc. should have been removed lock stock and barrel.
Had we proceeded on the above lines, and separated the profound from the profane, the ‘gems’ from the ‘stones’, in our cultural and intellectual heritage, and also harmonised the ancient nobility of temper with insight provided by modern science, we would have regenerated and reinvigorated our civilisation. Such a civilisation alone could have given us the foundational values for building a new India with a new mind, a new mission and a new message. Perhaps, even now it may not be too late to attend to the civilisational imperatives and set the country on a right course.