Independence means becoming free of some constraint. Freedom, on the other hand, means much more. India gained independence from the British after a hard struggle, but that does not mean that the people immediately became ‘free’. Unlike other countries that gained independence from colonial masters and took the freedom for granted in many ways, Indians knew very well that becoming masters of their destiny enjoined numerous responsibilities. The evolutionary manner in which the freedom struggle developed over several generations ensured that the people were prepared in many ways for the difficulties that lay ahead. Nobody took the benefits of freedom for granted – that came much later with the politics of welfarism and centralisation of power in the hands of a few.
India could not avoid, like so many other nations, the bloodshed and strife that followed on freedom’s heels, but overcame the pain through an extraordinary stoicism that has not been fully appreciated. This is only now being acknowledged with observance of 14 August as ‘Partition Horrors Remembrance Day’. Everybody today knows somebody whose family lost everything as they fled the newly created Pakistan and, then, rebuilt their lives with an extraordinary spirit of enterprise. Dehradun became home to many such and they went on to become luminaries of the city and the region.
Partition was followed by many adversities but, unlike other countries that sank into chaos and disintegration, the Indian people have faced every challenge by exhibiting the maturity provided by the other major attribute of genuine freedom – Democracy. It is by no means a perfect system, but it is better than all others. The world was surprised how the then ‘illiterate’ and ‘poor’ people of India took to this sophisticated practice of governance with such ease, but much preparation had been put into it. One of Mahatma Gandhi’s great achievements was to connect the freedom struggle with India’s civilisational impulse. He took his major agitational programmes to the masses, involving them in the process of shaping India’s destiny. It is only later that Nehruvian elitism turned this broad-based consensus process into a local version of statism. This has been corrected lately with people’s involvement being ensured at the grassroots, even if it is by flying the flag or banging the bartans.
Everybody has a different concept of individual freedom. The Constitution and the law of the land determine how it can be accommodated in the larger perspective, which is why intelligent governance is an absolute necessity. Democracy is a valued possession that needs to be defended as vigorously as territorial integrity; and not allowed to be tampered with by any person or group for any reason. That is a necessary reminder on Independence Day.