Independence Day celebrations are held as a token of gratitude to India’s freedom fighters – known and unknown – whose efforts in a unique non-violent struggle created a new nation of an ancient civilisation. It is also an occasion to remember that independence came at a heavy price for millions of inhabitants of the sub-continent who were rendered homeless and became refugees in their own land owing to the ghastly decision on Partition. The non-violent political struggle was overtaken by the bloodshed of ordinary people – children, women and men – that undid in a flash the noble ideals of the freedom fighters. With this came the realisation that statecraft is much more than good intentions and articulation of principles from high podiums.
Partition did not solve any of the problems that it was supposed to; instead, Pakistan has become a terrorist state designed to be the antithesis of the inclusive and democratic Indian nation. While Pakistan progressively declines as a political entity, the idea of Pakistan remains strong and has corrupted the lives of generations of its citizens. It holds out a grim warning for every Indian, particularly whilst commemorating Independence, that freedom does not just mean seeing away foreign colonisers, it represents a set of ideas focused on liberation in the true sense – social, economic and spiritual. These need not only to be understood, but also practiced and defended.
These ideas have been enshrined in the Constitution, which defines India’s overall goals and the legitimate means to achieve them. It is extremely realistic in that it does not expect ‘revolutionary’ transformation of society, but charts out a course of action over time. Over the years, it has been improved, but also had limitations imposed by vested interests. Its spirit, however, remains strong, even if the threats to it have also increased manifold.
The civilisational continuity that was mentioned recently is a must if every unit of the nation-state – the individual – is to be an enlightened stakeholder. In fact, one of the great achievements of the Indian Republic has been the political empowerment of the otherwise weakest sections of society. Its fullest realisation remains an incomplete task, because some basics have to be achieved, such as elimination of poverty and the opportunity to achieve one’s fullest potential. However, what has been realised is also considerable, a sense of collective discipline and responsibility, the best manifestation of which has been the manner in which India has faced up to the COVID-19 pandemic as a people. It is from such crises that great nations rise. On Independence Day, this is the understanding that must inspire each and every one of us.