A moth-eaten nation?
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A moth-eaten nation?

Sixty-three years after Independence, there are enough reasons for us to be celebrating India’s hard-won freedom today. But is this celebration being conducted under darkening skies?

india Updated: Aug 14, 2010 19:54 IST
Gopalkrishna Gandhi
Gopalkrishna Gandhi
Hindustan Times

‘Tomorrow,’ he said in Calcutta on August 14, 1947,’ we will be free from bondage to the British, but from midnight tonight Hindustan will be broken into two pieces. So tomorrow will both be a day of rejoicing and of mourning.’ He knew his Hindustan, Mohandas Gandhi. If India that is Bharat is his Hindustan broken in two’, we are the

‘tomorrow’ he spoke of.

Each day — not just the August 15 he had in mind — is a day of rejoicing and of mourning, of thankfulness and of sorrow. A crushing dyad.

What are our rejoicings ?

Let us take the ten major ones.

One, that we are a country of the book — not a little one in red that none dare put down with a smile of dissent, or one that comes in cantos none would care to read un-obliged, but one that is the basis of our people-hood and has stayed close to life and living. The Constitution of India has never been and never will be a bestseller. But if I can write what I am writing and the reader can read or chuck what I have written in freedom, it is because of that book.

Two, that having written and read whatever we have we can differ from its advocacy or its refutation, we can controvert, even agitate for or against it in print and over the new wires and waves opening before us, and even in courts of law.

Three, that we have those courts of law, not just in the one edifice called the Supreme Court of India but in the entire architecture of justice-delivery which, despite 3 million cases yet-to-be-disposed of and the not-so-rare ‘bad egg’, is still a huge guarantor of that precious human need, sunvaai.

Four, that we also have other re-assuring entities, described cumbrously as ‘constitutional authorities’ though often lofty of manner and lumbering of movement, at the very heart of the Republic of India — the Election Commission of India, the Comptroller and Auditor General of India, the Chief Information Commissioner, the Chief Vigilance Commissioner, the National Minorities Commission, the National Women’s Commission, the National Human Rights Commission are much more than constitutional bodies.

They are meant to be and are institutions of our collective conscience.

Five, that we have been given and have utilised the chance, election after election, 13 times pan-India and several times that locally, to re-affirm or retract political trust. We have done that with elan and often with éclat, returning candidates or parties with a whoop of joy or dismissing them without as much as a second look. Of how many

countries, not just in our neighbourhood but world-wide can this be said ?

Six, that we have in the shape of our professional services — civil, military and technical — a national grid of enormous scale, which flab, flatulence and fangle notwithstanding, holds the country together as our railways, our radio and our roads do, our telephony and our television do, with Indian science inching its way towards not just the blue verge of daring accomplishments but the green thresholds of everyday needs.

Seven, that in the columns of our newspapers and in the micro-seconds of electronic journalism, the best minds of India are being engaged, often excoriated, in discussion by an increasingly participative readership and viewership , thereby becoming what the forum was in early Rome, a platform for the discussion of public concerns and private cares.

Eight, that concerned citizens (with rank opportunists mixed up among them like weavils in wheat) have become highly knowledgeable and strong specialist lobbies, catalysing, prodding, nagging the administration to do right by the citizen and forming the Fifth Estate.

Nine, that Indian enterprise is utilising the opportunities opening up to it for competitive growth with an impressive concern for standards of production, through R&D that can do us proud.

And finally, Ten. Making up both the bewilderment and the bewitchment of India, is the average Indian who sees in Hindustan , dimly and disjointedly though, a collectivity so massive, a host and an array so vast, a variety and range so myriad and, if you are in the North East, so distant, which only ‘some God’ can supervise but through which, at the same time, runs a chord, a running thread, connecting the individual to something larger than himself or herself.

Despair of it, carp, grumble, grouse, quibble, niggle about it but at the end of the day, and at its beginning next morn, there it is — Hindustan — routinely sluggish, habitually dissembling, commonly uncaring, disfigured by ineptitude, disgraced by bribery but , like the Himalaya or the Sivalik, the Ganga, Brahmaputra or Cauvery, there , for its sons and daughters to live together in.

Reasons to worry

But with the anthem of our self-satisfactions come, like the grim paintings that Tagore made in his late life, sounds that suggest what Gandhi had called ‘mourning’.

If he spoke of Hindustan’s two pieces, the historian in Jawaharlal Nehru also sensed what was coming. Within three months of Gandhi’s assassination, at a meeting in Sevagram on March 13, 1948 he said: ‘Desh ke do tukre to ho gaye, lekin aage chalkar aur bhii tukre-tukre ho jane kaa dar hai.’ (The country has split into two — that is an established fact. But the danger is of further fragmentation in the future’).

But neither of them could have quite anticipated the further breakages between class-divisions and within them, between communities and within them, between human groupings and inter se within their particularisms, between regions and within them, between professions, services, orders, denominations, hierarchies and inside all their labyrinths.

If the Muslim League walked away with Pakistan, Indian fanatics have got away with murder.

The number of people brutalised, abducted, raped or killed in India’s communal riots is known. Or can be ascertained, with varying degrees of success. But does the number of convictions answering for those barbarisms come anywhere near the numbers of the brutalised, the abducted, the raped or the dead?

Who is responsible for this conjugation of the brutalised with the brute, the tormented with the tomentor ? An indifferent constabulary, an evidence-bound judiciary, an opportunistic political class or an inherently sectarian people-hood?

Hindu, Muslim, Sikh and Christian India, Dalit, Bhumihar, Gujjar and Tribal India, all of them have within their numbers people who have been hurt. As also some who have hurt as much as they have been hurt.

India is stricken by bipolarities. Of these the most disorienting is that between the Indian who is a victim and the Indian who victimises, the Indian who is traumatised and the Indian who traumatises, the Indian who seeks justice and the Indian who successfully dodges the law across all the divides of Hindustan. Each major community has been a victim here, victimiser there ; martyr here, murderer there. That unfailing (and universal) patent-holder of unself-conscious wisdom, a taxi-driver, put it well: ‘Aaj Hindustan mein shahaadat bant gayii hai.’ (Today, martyrdom stands divided in India.)

Does the Indian ‘mainstream’ realise that in our North East , there is a pantheon of martyrs that could vie with that of the great revolutionary schools of our liberation struggle? Do the people of India that is Bharat, know even the expansions, let alone the aspirations of NNC, NSCN(IM), NSCN-K, UNLF, RPF, PLA, KYKL or PREPAK? They are all just ‘insurgencies’ to those who insist, not incorrectly, that 1857 was not a ‘Mutiny’ but a war, the very first, for India’s independence.

To India’s social forkings have now been added the prongs of State action. Military, para-military or police action to quell insurgencies or militant extremisms resemble the trucks they often move on — heavy, noisy, lumbering, giving themselves dangerously away but also hurting the physical and psychological ground they traverse. They too are dichotomous, regarded by themselves (with justification) as brave and badly bruised, and by others as brutal and brutalising. If a paramil is seen as daringly engaged in the formidable task of retrieving Naxal-affected districts from violence, its name tastes bitter in the valley of Kashmir. If he is seen being bombed and shot by Left Wing Extremists, he is seen by tribals being done out of their lands, as one of the dispossessor’s militia. If the man in olive green is rightly hailed as the reflexive rescuer in natural disaster situations, Manipur has another description for him. One can add to what the taximan said with ‘Aaj Hindustan mein satya vibhaajit ho gayaa hai, satya ka ek tukra yahaan, ek vahaan bikhraa paraa hai.’ (Today, truth has got fractioned in India, one piece of it lies here, another there.)

Beyond the theatres of conflict and trauma, is a far more difficult-to-heal division. And this is between those who live on India’s land and near its resources, and the forces that are now trying to acquire mastery over those. A three-way pact, often sealed by MoUs that do not see the light of day, joins India’s moneyed class with enterprises and the political ruling class across all political parties from the BJP to the CPI(M ). Blinded by the halogen lights of ‘development’, the Triple Entente either does not realise or does not care what, in the name of mining, industrialization and SEZs, it is doing to our arable and forest lands. Food crops to cash crops, forests to mines, water-bodies and rivers to dams and hydro-electricity, may be the highway to ‘development’ ; they are also the road to dispossession and depression, stagnation and suicides. And those cannot but affect all of us, one way or another, sooner or later.

If India seems moth-eaten today, you and I are the eaten and the eating.

Gopalkrishna Gandhi is a former administrator, diplomat and governor

First Published: Aug 14, 2010 19:51 IST