“Have you seen a film on Sardar Patel?” Just four hands went up in an audience of over 2,000 young students of a national institute where I asked this question. I then asked how many of them had seen one on Lal Bahadur Shastri? Not even a single hand went up. The youngsters were taken aback by my question. To me their response did not come as a surprise. This is reality that our youth is not being made aware of such Bharat Ratnas in educational institutes.
It’s not in their course, hence they don’t know it.
How did such a question become relevant to the event where I was addressing a large number of students? And why did I ask this question? It was because I could sense they did not need a lecture but a conversation. I wanted to engage them and began by asking, “What do you think is not going right in our country today?”
One by one the students raised their hands and stood up to speak. I asked the student council to take the notes. The list could very well be the issues for good governance or part of a progressive political party manifesto.
Problems we face
It began with girl students getting up to say that the biggest problem we as a society face today is security of women, followed by unemployment, caste discrimination, reservation in jobs, political corruption, being underpaid, child labour, generation gap, lack of economic development, lack of national education policy, no early vocational skills training, absence of a mix of theoretical and practical training in schools and colleges, female foeticide, brain drain, alcohol and drugs, no pride in Hindi language, weak health care facilities for the poor, bureaucratic lethargy and corruption in public servants.
The other problems mentioned were the wide gap between the rich and poor, political interference in policing, youth not interested in politics, our vulnerable borders, child marriage, slow judiciary, cultural shift, wrong people at the right places, mindset of politicians, lack of adequate use of our natural resources, non-acceptance of inter-caste marriages, malnutrition, politicisation of bureaucracy, slums and children growing in crime-prone environment and deprivation, decreasing trust in policing, lack of opportunities, rural-urban divide, black money economy, population explosion, lack of career guidance, food wastage, environment degradation, special powers Act, blind faith in ‘godmen’, poor consciousness about quality of work, communal riots, terrorism, farmer suicides, old police laws not being changed since 1861, lack of awareness about rights and duties, hereditary politics and mismatch between theoretical knowledge and practical applications to meet actual professional requirements.
Two great sons of India
It was this last answer when they said “absence of practical knowledge” which instinctively made me ask them if they saw films. The answer was yes. That was the time when I asked them if they had seen films on Sardar Patel or Lal Bahadur Shastri. They went silent. Perhaps they felt they had been caught on the wrong foot and started to wonder what was coming next.
I said if they did not see lives of such great men who were self-made and gave everything for the future of our country, how would they realise their responsibility and potential?
I told them that Sardar Patel started his political career in the municipal corporation. He did not become the home minister overnight. He was a true follower of Mahatma Gandhi. He worked for the poor farmers and took up their cause from time to time for which he repeatedly went to jail. This is how he got the name Sardar. He was honest to the core. His son and daughter did not inherit any financial resources or position from him. We owe a united India to him. But for him India would not have been one, from Kashmir to Kanyakumari.
Similarily, Shastriji studied under streetlights with borrowed books. On the day he was being appointed the Prime Minister, his wife noticed that his shirt was torn. She said, “India’s Prime Minister is wearing a torn shirt” to which Shastriji replied, “Don’t worry, the jacket will cover it.”
I told the students that all the listed challenges that they had pointed out were our own creation. We all had contributed in our own ways to the state of affairs by not fulfilling our responsibility to the best of our abilities. We consumed, not replenished! We had to be our own teachers, our own reformers, I said.
Today is Sardar Patel’s birthday. The Iron Man of India! Let’s draw inspiration from him, see him, read him and become Bharat Ratnas in our own ways!