History has it that India became a sovereign democratic republic on the morning of January 26, 1950. After six decades, as we gear up to celebrate the Republic day today, many questions crop up. Is this a meaningless display of drill, dance and defense prowess? Quite clearly, that is not and should not be the case.
Well, then what is the true significance of this historical date in today’s context? One may wonder.
As we deliberate over this, let us remember that it was on this day that India became a union bound by a single constitution. The sacrifice of the martyrs of our freedom movement from across the length and breadth of our nation made this possible.
Our Constitution gave us a new identity — ‘We, the people of India’. This identity, to a fair extent, benumbed differences across caste, community, colour, dialect and economic strata. What confronted our elders, who were the leaders, designers, architects and builders of the new born India, was the task of nation building. Yet, the approach the country has taken so far has been based on mediocrity arising from straddling various conflicting and, even, vested interest groups.
A host of challenges like poverty, poor infrastructure, malnutrition, illiteracy, poor livelihoods, violence against women and a weak public health infrastructure continue to haunt us.
A few years ago — on a visit to South Korea — as we drove from the Incheon Airport to Seoul city, I was struck by the amazing ‘order’ and discipline in the man-made landscape comprising not just of buildings, but also of man-made forests and green hills!
Seeing this, the question that popped up in my mind was, “What could be the soul of this country?” From my observations and interactions with the common people, students and academicians I felt that the answer was their diligent, hard work and perseverance. With a per capita income of about $100 in the mid sixties, that country had little support from international banks and financial agencies.
It was saddled with a change-resistant citizenry and non-availability of resources like iron, steel or coal. Yet, with an entire generation offering their time and life at the altar of nation building, Koreans completely transformed their country and today boasts of a per capita income of $22,590. Yet, while South Korea has done well economically, it is beset with problems of stress, suicides and low fertility rates. Simultaneously, they may not have the pride of following a democratic path over all these years.
Can we take some lessons from this country? And yet, graduate from merely being imitative and, often, only argumentative Indians to innovative, humane, Indians committed to excellence?
Like sustainable development, economic progress of a nation ought to be juxtaposed with the development of human aspirations for truth and goodness.
What is obtained then may possibly be true and long-standing humane growth embellished with economic and material progress. The soul of India is her faith and spirit, which clearly courses through the body of her citizens. However, it is often dormant and veiled by layers of skepticism and cynicism, which are acquired habits.
As we watch the Republic Day parade this time with the tableaus, drills, dances and dressage, can we all take a pledge today? As laid out in article 51A (j) of our constitution, can we ‘strive towards excellence in all spheres of individual and collective activity so that the nation constantly rises to higher levels of endeavour and achievement’? Can we dedicate ourselves to the cause of true Nation Building at all levels? Then, we would indeed have a resurgent India anchored simultaneously in the modern and ancient, poise and prosperity, development and true liberation.
Jayanti S Ravi
The author is a Harvard educated civil servant and writer, now working in the education sector