The young are trying to save the idea of India | Opinion
The message from India’s young is important. We’re all Indians, they’re saying, don’t divide us by religion. The principles that define our citizenship also define our identity. We will not sit by and let you change them because it suits your politicsUpdated: Jan 12, 2020 18:00 IST
As the year draws to a close there’s something I want to share with you. I’m confident many of you will agree.
We owe an enormous gratitude to the young people of India. They’re the true guardians of our values and identity. I know that sounds like the ranting of an old man — and I can’t deny I’m over the hill and could soon be sliding down the other side. But it is, in fact, a reflection of what’s been happening on the streets, whether in Delhi or Bengaluru, Ahmedabad or Kolkata, Guwahati or Cochin. In one voice, they’ve protested against the dreadful Citizenship (Amendment) Act and fiercely opposed a nationwide National Register of Citizens.
Actually, India’s young have been at the vanguard of all the movements that have protected and replenished our democracy. The JP movement, which overturned the Emergency, was born of the student Navnirman Movement in Gujarat. They may be old men today, but the young Lalu Yadavs, Nitish Kumars and Sharad Yadavs were its most-staunch lieutenants. The same was true of Indira Gandhi’s return in 1980. The youth Congress and the National Students’ Union of India led by the young faces of Ghulam Nabi Azad, Ahmed Patel, Anand Sharma, Kamal Nath and Digvijaya Singh propelled her back to power.
In fact, this story repeats itself every time our democracy has undergone substantial and creative change. The young carried VP Singh to power, ensured Anna Hazare’s ascendency and Arvind Kejriwal’s unbelievable triumph in 2015.
Yet, am I wrong in discerning a critical difference this time round? Earlier, for instance, during the struggle to overturn the Emergency, it was democracy and liberty they fought for. This time they’ve taken the fight to a higher level. This battle is to protect the idea of India. In other words, our identity as a people, the way we think of ourselves and the sort of people we want to be. This is more important than our democracy, because it’s the underpinning of it. If the idea of India is diluted, everything else is lost.
This is why the message from India’s young is so important. We’re all Indians, they’re saying, don’t divide us by religion. The principles that define our citizenship also define our identity. We will not sit by and let you change them because it suits your politics.
In the cold of winter, young Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains and atheists stood together in defence of the identity they equally share and equally value. When confronted with the repressive and, often, violent power of the State, they offered red roses. When arrested, they sang the national anthem.
If this is a wise government, it should accept it’s made a terrible mistake, and, if it has a conscience, it should apologise. But I doubt either will happen. Yet it could, at least, reflect on how it responded to the anguish and the cri de coeur of India’s young. It was with deafening silence. Perhaps mere ministers lack the confidence or the freedom to respond. Perhaps the home minister, whose ill-judged comments provoked wrath, lacks the credibility to do so. But what of the prime minister? He calls himself our pradhan sevak. He claims the Constitution is his holy book. Why was he silent? Could he really think of nothing to say? Or did he believe it wasn’t necessary?
Modi should remember that the prime ministership of India is more than just a political office. His responsibilities go beyond deciding economic policies, taking foreign policy initiatives, and implementing welfare measures. When the nation is anguished, we look to the PM for a stand around which we can rally. The responsibility to heal and unite falls on him. The world over, the greatest PMs have made their name and mark doing this. Sadly, Modi did not. He turned his back on a crying nation and left us to dry our tears on our own.
Karan Thapar is the author of Devil’s Advocate: The Untold Story
The views expressed are personal