Sixty-two years from today, we will still be celebrating Independence Day with the usual fervour. The national flag will be hoisted from the ramparts of the Red Fort and all across the country, paper tricolours will continue to be bought from the road crossings. School children will put up patriotic performances that will pay homage to those who fought for our freedom. Opinion page writers will continue to rummage through historical tidbits that led up to August 15, 1947.
In 2071, however, a fellow Indian will, if things go as planned, be looking more closely at what was unfolding in 2009. There won’t be any tangible day on the calendar to be red-lettered like the 15th of August. Even the year 2009 won’t be as chiselled into the collective memory as 1947 is for us to take easy stock of the nation.
But hopefully, while celebrating that Independence Day, the Indian of the future will acknowledge what India had started around 2009 and thank their predecessors — us — for taking the right path when it came to the fork on the road. Is that being cocky and arrogant? Perhaps. Is that actually a rather unsubtle way in which we can egg ourselves on to keep walking down the right direction? Absolutely. And if there is one single thing that has made us —some would even say forced us —to take this path it is this: the matter of freedom.
Since 1947 when ‘freedom’ changed from being an aspirational concept to one that needed confirmation, India has been firming up its liberal, secular, democratic credentials. But the abstraction of the nature of nation-state is often very different from the flesh-and-boneness of the people who form the nation-state, the nation’s communities.
Isaiah Berlin, the great philosopher and historian of ideas, wrote about the ‘two concepts of liberty’. He defined negative liberty as the absence of constraints, or ‘freedom from’ obstructions; while defining positive liberty as the capacity to be in control of one’s own destiny, or ‘freedom to’ do things.
With India moving from one petri-dish to another on August 14-15, 1947, most obstructions associated with the lack of sovereignty were lifted. But it would be naïve to believe that from August 18, 1947, the new State of India provided its ‘freed’ citizens all that can be gained from real ‘freedom from’ and ‘freedom to’ that are hallmarks of a just, equitable, libertarian society.
Hunger and poverty still reside in India even as we start seeing them less and less as impediments in the brightening and somewhat blinding lights of economic progress. That itself should be enough to send us scampering back to the drawing board to correct things.
Issues of healthcare and education are also hardly universal in 21st century India. These and other problems that are such uncomfortable anomalies for a Big Power aspirant are really problems of freedom: freedom to have food, shelter, health facilities and education; freedom from intolerance and bigotry. These can’t be made to vanish just by being patriotic, or making salutary gestures to our brave freedom fighters.
Which is where the Indian celebrating Independence Day in the future will look at our time for signs of what we did during India’s Second Freedom Movement. There’s nothing silly about wanting to be a freedom fighter 62 years after we became an independent nation. In fact, quite the contrary.