Secularism bulwark of democracy
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Secularism bulwark of democracy

Some from the generation that saw the nation grow after Partition say it is on the road to strength and prosperity, while others believe the country has become a fractured society that has not bloomed into a democracy in the true sense.

punjab Updated: Aug 14, 2018 12:24 IST
HT Correspondents
HT Correspondents
Hindustan Times
Secularism,democracy,indian independence day
Seventy-one years after independence, India presents a mosaic of hope and despair, pride and prejudices.(HT File )

Seventy-one years after independence, India presents a mosaic of hope and despair, pride and prejudices. Eternally on the cusp of change and churning of ideas and ideologies, the 1.25 billion-strong country is marching to keep its tryst with destiny. Some from the generation that saw the nation grow after Partition say it is on the road to strength and prosperity, while others believe the country has become a fractured society that has not bloomed into a democracy in the true sense. HT presents their views on: What makes them proud of India? What has been the country’s biggest failing? Is patriotism on the wane? What must India do to achieve its potential? One biggest threat to our democracy?

‘One feels scared for minor girls’

Rajni Bector, 77, founder and owner, Cremica Group

What makes you proud of India?

Our rich culture, diversity and way of living are unique. We have so much of togetherness and unity. I love the ethnicity, the customs and the rich values we hold as this is unmatched in the entire world.

What has been the country’s biggest failing so far?

People throw garbage on the roads and this makes the cities look shabby. As citizens, they are not bothered. Also, when it comes to finances we look for all possible ways to hide taxes, not realising that these are meant for the country to flourish and grow.

Is patriotism on the wane?

There is a lot of disturbance all around. Earlier people used to be concerned about their country. That feeling of responsibility is slowly waning. Children are not taught in schools or colleges about being faithful to their country. The feeling of patriotism has to be inculcated right from childhood.

What must India do to achieve its full potential?

Those who are in power should make policies and ensure their implementation. We have laws in our country but the cases linger on in courts for years. One feels scared for minor girls. The government needs to frame strict laws and ensure these are executed.

One biggest threat to our democracy?

I do not feel that there is a threat to our democracy as such, except for Kashmir and Assam. People have fought to attain this democracy and are proud of it.

‘Can’t call India democratic if people are unaware of their rights’

Sardara Singh Johl, 90, Indian agriculturist and economist

What makes you proud of India?

One should be proud of one’s country in spite of its weaknesses. India is a growing and powerful economy and every Indian should feel proud that they belong to a secular country.

What has been the country’s biggest failing so far?

The country could not become a democracy in the true sense as none of its political parties are democratic. In a real democracy people are aware of their rights. Unfortunately, because of illiteracy, ignorance and poverty, individuals do not know anything about the powers they hold. People are carried away by the fake promises of their leaders. Elections in our country are still dependent on money and drugs. People are poor and ignorant and are not taught about voters’ responsibilities.

Is patriotism on the wane?

Yes, as there have been several instances of leakage of information. People take money from banks and run away.

What must India do to achieve its full potential?

India needs to invest in education, health and infrastructure. Poor people should get quality education. Those who beg on the roads are also our future. Education, health and infrastructure require maximum investment.

One biggest threat to our democracy?

We value people who take the law into their own hands. This ‘hooliganism mentality’ will destroy the nation. Protests and incidents of violence are now increasingly common. Unless and until we own India, there is no threat. We are Punjabis, Bengalis, Haryanvis, Madrasis, Sikhs, Hindus, Jats and non-Jats, but not Indians. It’s a fractured society.

‘People driven by narrow, not national, interests’

SP Karkara, 83, former IAS officer

What makes you proud of India?

Ours is one of the oldest civilisations in the world. Its philosophy of love, tolerance and compassion is unique in the world, so is the unity and diversity among people of all faiths.

What has been the country’s biggest failing so far?

The country’s failure to achieve its potential after Independence. We started on the right track as an independent nation. We have made progress, but along the way we got bogged down with petty considerations of caste, community and states. Therefore, we are more bothered about our interests and not our national interests.

Is patriotism on the wane?

Definitely. People focus on their narrow interests and nobody thinks about their country. We have Pakistan on our western border and it does not want India to be a stable country. We have people settled abroad who are playing negative roles. Even in our own civil society there is a segment playing a negative role in the name of freedom of speech.

What must India do to achieve its full potential?

We have to come together. Various political parties will have to shed their narrow interests if they want to save the nation. They need to start focusing on the survival of India and its rich values and culture.

Biggest threat to democracy

The political leaders and the way they are fighting. Sensitive matters should not be publicised but in today’s era sensitive information also gets leaked.

‘No democracy without secularism’

SP Singh, 74, former VC, Guru Nanak Dev University

What makes you proud of India?

We Punjabis have lost so much (after Partition) in terms of human life and property, but India’s independence has ensured that the British can no longer take our resources and it’s being used for the welfare of Indian citizens.

What has been the country’s biggest failing so far?

The country has failed to match the expectations we had from the freedom movement. Successive governments have failed to meet the three basic requirements of roti, kapda and makaan (Food, clothes and shelter). Health and education are still not being prioritised.

Is patriotism on the wane?

There are two dimensions to patriotism. One is narrow nationalism and the other is inner nationalism. “For example, the Punjabi suba movement (aimed at creation of a Punjabi-majority province in the erstwhile East Punjab state of India in the 1950s) was going on in the state when Pakistan attacked India. However, the movement was immediately withdrawn when the war started. Thereafter the Punjabi selflessly supported the Indian Army. That was patriotism. If the civilians had withdrawn support then we would have lost the remaining part of Punjab too. We are witnessing crisis patriotism at present. We are no longer selfless patriots.

What must India do to achieve its full potential?

It is a difficult question. Only true leadership and a corruption free system can lead the country towards achieving its full potential. Instead of doling out money on welfare schemes efforts should be made to strengthen the economy. We need self-reliant economy, not a data-oriented one.

One biggest threat to our democracy?

Narrow nationalism to me is the biggest threat to democracy. The trend of appeasing the majority class is not new. Historically, we have witnessed secularism in the first terms of the then prime minister Indira Gandhi. However, the concept changed after the emergency. Thereafter it was a race of sorts between political parties to become narrow nationalists. We are at present witnessing narrow nationalism where only a particular community is termed patriotic while the others are not. For example, Adolf Hitler, according to his supporters, was a great patriot whereas for people of communities and the rest of the world he was a dictator. There can be no democracy without secularism.

‘Terrorism, corruption are India’s biggest threats’

Satpal Gosain, 83, BJP leader

What makes you proud of India?

India is a land of diversity, its people enjoy freedom of speech and writing and have the right to protest against evil and wrongdoing. That is the spirit of democracy. Its rich traditions and heritage are unique too.

What has been the country’s biggest failing so far?

Lack of health care services, corruption. In my view, the failure to control the population has also led to so many problems.

Is patriotism on the wane?

Yes, patriotism is waning because the citizens of this country are becoming more self-indulgent. Secondly, 70 years after independence, half of the population is not getting the most basic amenities. How can people learn to love their country if they struggle for two meals a day?

What must India do to achieve its full potential?

Improved governance, infrastructure, education levels, increased trade with neighbouring countries and increased agriculture productivity to give a push to the green revolution.

One biggest threat to our democracy?

Terrorism from outside and corruption from inside – and that’s because the rich are becoming richer and poor are becoming poorer.

‘Muzzling press biggest threat to democracy’

Prof Darbari Lal, 78, former deputy speaker of Punjab assembly

What makes you proud of India?

Secularism is the biggest strength of our country. Unlike Pakistan and many other countries who walk on communal lines, the polity of this country gives due respect to people of every religion and culture. That’s the reason why India is doing better than Pakistan.

What has been the country’s biggest failing so far?

The first prime minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, had laid the foundation of a strong economy by promoting industries and farming. However, poverty has been the main hurdle in progress and we have failed to control it. Secondly, we could not close the income gap in the society and as a result rich people are becoming richer and poor ones becoming poorer.

Is patriotism on the wane?

That’s true to some extent. Actually, patriotism is impacted in some places in the country because secularism is being undermined. Besides, a large section of the citizens are suffering because of expensive public services, high prices and unemployment. Communal elements are dominating. Emergence of regional parties also impacts patriotism.

What must India do to achieve its full potential?

First of all, we need to control the growing population, learning lessons from China’s successful population control measures. The population explosion has slowed down the nation’s growth. Secondly, revival of small scale industries is the need of the hour as they have the potential to boost the economy. Government policies, however, are not in its favour.

One biggest threat to our democracy?

Control over the press, the fourth pillar of democracy, is the biggest threat to our democracy. The press played a key role in the Indian freedom struggle as well. It points out the wrongdoings and faults of the government for the benefit of the country and its civil society. However, the government is increasingly interfering in media matters and attempting to gag it. This will impact freedom of speech and expression.

‘India cannot grow until politicians prioritise honesty’

Dr Santokh Singh, 78, president, Chief Khalsa Diwan

What makes you proud of India?

As the pioneering rulers of free India shaped the country on socialistic patterns and introduced far sighted policies, India has outdone many other developing countries. Though there are many flaws in the Indian political system the country has surpassed many nations of Asia and Africa in respect of growth.

What has been the country’s biggest failing so far?

Corruption in the political system remains a stigma. Had it not prevailed things would have improved in terms of India’s development and it would have been counted among the advanced nations. India’s potential has been undermined by corruption.

Is patriotism on the wane?

Our freedom fighters made sacrifices in the spirit of patriotism. Nowadays our countrymen are more nationalistic even as our political system is deteriorating. Nationalism at present is being taught in educational institutes. So, I think patriotism is increasing.

What must India do to achieve its full potential?

Until and unless our political system does not value honesty we cannot drive the growth of our country. The government also needs to focus on education to make India prosperous.

One biggest threat to our democracy?

The current ruling dispensation at the Centre is going towards a Hindutva agenda, which is the biggest threat to India, a secular state. Though a temporary phase, it needs to be restrained. It is good sign in politics that the opposition parties which are secular are uniting. The citizens should also defeat these evils.

‘Scams, scandals are ‘democratic values’ for politicians’

Kulwant Singh Suri, 86, renowned Punjabi writer

What makes you proud of India?

India, known for its unity in diversity, is a land rich in culture and heritage and has several qualities that distinguish it from the other nations. There are endless reasons, not just one, to feel proud of India.

What has been the country’s biggest failing so far?

Before achieving independence, it was a dream of the father of the nation, Mahatma Gandhi, to build India as one of the strongest nations in the world. Gandhi was against dynastic politics. However, after getting independence in 1947, successive governments of the country failed to fulfil Gandhi’s dream. Dynasties have ruled across India in the pre-democracy era. These powerful families played dirty games to remain at the top and exploited the people. However, this system has been constantly diluted in India.

Is patriotism on the wane?

Yes, it is waning to some extent. Some people in India now have become the victims of the caste system and poverty. As our political system fails to provide adequate security of employment and good living standards, most people are struggling to make ends meet. Where will they muster up the zeal for patriotism?

What must India do to achieve its full potential?

It’s not just the government that drives the nation’s growth. We too should do our bit for the country to grow and prosper. People should work to create harmony in their lives and societies because a small change at the local level leads to big global changes.

What is the biggest threat to our democracy?

India is the world’s largest democratic country, but just on paper. In India, democracy is by the people but for the corrupt and a government of the corrupt. The biggest threat to our democracy is that after a party wins an election, it becomes brazen and arrogant. Scandals, scams, embezzlement and misuse of public funds, ironically, have become ‘democratic values’ for politicians here.

‘Patriotism forgotten, everyone’s busy making money’

Ranbir Kaur, 88, widow of former speaker of Punjab, Gurdial Singh Dhillon

What makes you proud of India?

India is a land of diversity. We are living in the country where people respect elders. We have a history that goes back thousands of years. India is the only country where people of different religions and race live together in harmony.

What has been the country’s biggest failing so far?

Despite being the world’s biggest democracy, our country has failed to eradicate corruption. Though successive governments have been launching different development schemes for the country these are not being implemented on the ground level because of widespread corruption in all the government departments.

Is patriotism on the wane?

Yes, patriotism in India has been waning. Before India became independent people yearned for freedom and wanted to see their country freed. Now everyone’s busy making money.

What must India do to achieve its full potential?

All of us are responsible for building a strong nation. Besides sustaining ourselves we should also be patriotic. People must remain united and work for India’s development.

What is the biggest threat to our democracy?

According to me, politicising religion and caste is the biggest threat to our democracy. Separatists in India try to create communal tension and at times things go out of control and take the shape of riots or communal violence. The seeds to divide Hindus and Muslims in India were sown decades before the actual act of partition of India and Pakistan.

(Compiled by Aneesha Sareen, Surjit Singh, Anil Sharma, Mohit Khanna, Neeraj Mohan, Sachin Sharma, Parampreet Singh Narula, Jatinder Tur and Saurabh Duggal )

First Published: Aug 14, 2018 12:24 IST