As India celebrates its 73rd Republic Day, the usual questions surface about how it has progressed as a nation. Basically, 73 years is a very short time in a nation’s history, particularly one the size of India with its ancient civilisational impulses. However, considering the challenges it has faced, especially after the initial trauma of partition, survival as an entity would be considered a great achievement. The credit for this must go to the faith placed by almost all in the democratic system and the vision for the future provided in the Constitution. There have been radicals such as the Maoists and Naxalites who held ‘bourgeois democracy’ in contempt, as also various kinds of separatists that have challenged the nation’s territorial integrity, but they have discovered to their dismay that India’s strength runs deep and is rock solid.
Like any living entity, the nation is always under attack from viruses that spring up from within and without (quite like Corona). A great malaise in human history has been the tendency to ‘freeze’ evolution to suit one or the other section of society, an inability to cope with change. This limits the freedoms inherent in the constitution, which must be protected at whatever cost. Understanding the nature of freedom should be inculcated in the citizen’s psyche from childhood so that resistance develops whenever it is challenged or curtailed. This need itself transforms into responsibility.
The foundation for a democracy to function, as acknowledged by the Constitution, is adherence to the principle of non-violence. It is wrongly interpreted increasingly in the present by some scholars as some sort of wimpy pacifism. Mahatma Gandhi’s creed required enormous spiritual strength, while Nehru’s policy transformed it into a lazy willingness to compromise on fundamental freedoms. This is why there was so much confusion about J&K and the territorial dispute with China. Only the strong can ‘practice’ non-violence, the weak have no choice.
This assertion of the freedoms is today being described as ‘ultra-nationalism’, fascism, etc., mostly by those who ‘study’ conflict in university libraries but have little direct experience of the challenges. Present day politics is based primarily on this debate and is shaping people’s choices. This will likely continue for some time till the course corrections have been made. It may be disturbing to see the level to which the debate often descends, but it is much better than it being worked out in the streets for want of legitimate expression. While the Republic is the body, democracy should remain its soul.