A manifesto for India at 75
As India enters its 75th year of independence, it is a fitting time to unveil a dream of a better India.
An India where harmony prevails over hate, where those who target any citizen for their religion, caste, community, region, are prosecuted and convicted for hate speech. Hate cannot be “normalised” in any manner, neither can the culture of impunity. A modern progressive society must have no place for exploiting historical scars to settle scores in the present. Just throw all those who engage in hate speech across communities into the same jail cell and toss away the keys.
An India where opaque governments do not try and hide Covid deaths, where data is not falsified to create a fake perception that “all is well”. Why should a citizen’s death certificate be fudged? Callous in life, do we have to be insensitive in death too? If shortage of oxygen led to loss of lives, admit it rather than try and hide behind medico-legal jargon. And when bodies are found floating down a river, don’t engage in a perfidious cover-up by refusing to even acknowledge the scale of death and despair.
An India where access to quality health care is not determined by social and economic status. Where a public health system puts the aam aadmi above VVIP privilege to ensure that no one is denied a hospital bed in an emergency. Where we build more hospitals than places of worship, where doctors and not self-styled Godmen are seen as true icons of devotion and compassion.
An India where we lessen divides and not widen inequalities. Where poverty alleviation is seen as the greatest service to humanity. Where, when a lockdown leads to mass migration of daily wage labour, governments address the crisis. Where the gaping digital divide in pandemic times needs to be addressed effectively. Where a lack of a smartphone or varying levels of technological literacy must not become barriers to education.
An India where Parliament is the ultimate symbol of democratic values of debate and dialogue, not of unilateralism, obstructionism and rowdyism. Parliament cannot be a Big Boss house where decisions are bulldozed by a brute majority, nor can it become an arena for stalling key legislation. Parliamentary democracy cannot be reduced to a once in five year voting ritual that disconnects the elected representative from the citizen.
An India where governments accused of snooping and violating the right to privacy of their citizens are subject to institutional scrutiny. Where a free and open society must ensure that those who threaten their much cherished democratic freedoms are probed and censured. Where those who are ideological opponents of the government are not labelled “anti-national”, and where, instead, true patriotism is recognised as sustained interrogation of any abuse of power. Where a colonial-era law such as sedition is struck the statute books and dissent is not criminalised.
An India which respects its federal pulls and pressures and where states are not divided based on party affiliations. Where local antagonisms do not spill over into a violent conflict, where the nation’s peripheries matter as much as the heartland. Where constitutional authorities retain their autonomy and integrity. Where the Election Commission acts as a neutral umpire. Where enforcement agencies are not misused to settle political scores and where judges are not compromised by a domineering executive.
An India where our economic policymakers snap out of denial mode. Where the true state of the economy isn’t determined by a rising sensex or fanciful V shaped graphics but by the reality of falling incomes and loss of jobs. Where a shattered informal sector and distressed micro and small industries become the bedrock of policy initiatives and not fat-cat crony corporates who have little to lose. Where protesting farmers are not “enemies” of the State, barricaded behind iron nails and barbed wires, but are sons of the soil who deserve a fair hearing.
An India where a woman isn’t assaulted every 15 minutes, where convictions in such crimes are swift and assured. Where the family of the victim doesn’t have to wait for years for court decisions, where witnesses are not intimidated into changing their testimony, where a woman’s dignity is not compromised by typical misogynistic attitudes.
An India where local tribal groups are not denied their rights to land, forests and livelihood, where those who stand up for the rights of the poor and marginalized are not labelled as “urban Naxals”. Where when an octogenarian priest is arrested, his lifelong commitment to tribal rights is not demonised as terrorist activity with scant evidence.
An India which recognises the climate crisis as arguably the biggest challenge of the next century. Where policymakers address the ecological crisis caused by reckless deforestation and coastal encroachments. Where air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions are not seen as elite preoccupations but become part of an ever-widening dialogue on global warming and the right to breathe clean air.
An India that becomes an Olympic super-power and not just a cricket-obsessed country. Where it isn’t another 13 years before India wins its next Olympic gold. Where even as we celebrate our Olympic stars, we remember that only a country with a genuine sports culture will win medals consistently. And yes, an India where next time the champion athletes are felicitated, their images are larger than those of political leaders.
Postscript: The dream is not just for a better India but a better media too, one which puts sense above sensation and news above noise and speaks truth to power rather than bend before it. Happy Independence Day!
Rajdeep Sardesai is a senior journalist and author
The views expressed are personal