The Republic is stronger
As India celebrated the adoption of its Constitution for the 64th time on Saturday, some introspection on the state of the Republic is inevitable. New Indian President and veteran politician Pranab Mukherjee did the same.
A few years ago, I landed in the tiny airport of Nadi, Fiji, and was being driven to my hotel by an Indian-origin taxi driver. He asked me a simple question: “Desh (mulk) ka kya samachar (khabar) hai?”
So, what was I going to tell him about this vast, diverse, divided, unequal, multilingual, beautiful, frustrating country from where his ancestors must have migrated more than a hundred years ago? What was the news I could give him?
In the end, my response: “Sab kuch theek hai.”
Looking back, what should I have told this man? Should I have told him about the abysmal failure of all mainstream political parties and leaders to provide Indians the basic nutrition, water, electricity and health services necessary for survival?
Should I have told him that those responsible for keeping people in poverty be charged with cognizable crimes?
Should I have told him that in the rush to acquire material wealth, inequalities had attained a tsunami-status that threatened to sweep the poor into the sea?
Should I have told him that India spends hundreds of crores of rupees on building the latest missiles and weapons systems, but can’t deal with the fallout of a cyclone or resettle those displaced by a dam project?
Should I have told him that the mainstream Indian media is dominated by the drive to rake in the money; people and issues be damned?
Should I have told him that millions of Indians believe that the only way of getting a job done is by bribing someone?
Should I have told him that India and Pakistan haven’t been able to settle their differences and move ahead on the path of adulthood that would allow for both their peoples to life in a spirit of friendship?
Well, there was a lot I could have told him then and a lot I could tell him now. It would appear that I was economical with the truth when giving the easy answer.
But I should have also him that India does have a set of people who want change and who want their government to deliver basic services to people cutting across caste and religion.
And, most of all, would want to tell him that the rape-and-murder of a young medical student in Delhi on December 16 had set off a movement for gender equality that could really empower Indian women.
That the crowds demanding change were good for Indian democracy and lent added muscle to the Republic.
That a commission of inquiry asked to suggest ways and means to improve women’s security had come out with a report in one month.
That this meant some Indians could deliver and work together on an issue that directly affects about 50 per cent of the country’s population.
That the push for good governance will continue.
And, that new means of communication will allow more assemblies like the ones we saw in Delhi and other cities in December and can happen again to push pressure on our rulers.
That to be re-elected you must do a little something for the electorate.
It would be a mixed answer to the question posed by the Fijian of Indian-origin.
That’s the news for him and me.
Amit Baruah is an independent, Delhi-based journalist. He is the author of Dateline Islamabad and reported for The Hindu newspaper from Pakistan.
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