Sunday, August 17, 2008

Tryst with Destiny - 1

Two years ago, during PanIIT 2006 meet in Mumbai, Shashi Tharoor first brought to my attention the concept of "Idea of India" and he has been harping on it every week in his sunday column in Sunday Times. Since then, the meaning of a nation has occupied my thoughts considerably. I came to the conclusion that his arguments though correct, have a very superficial basis, focusing entirely on differences in the language, custom, caste etc. But the concept of India requires a pretty deeper and subtle study.

In our society, Independence Day is given a lot of prominence. Of course, it is important because obviously, we became independent that day. But, something tells me, it isn't as important as the other national holiday, the Republic Day on Jan 26th. I mean, any fool can fight and claim to be important. A few guerilla fighters and you have an independent area of land. But what matters is what do you do then. That is the litmus test. Many countries in Asia and Africa became free from colonial powers during the last 50-60 years. How many of them are prospering ? So, the logic seems to me that they told colonial powers: "Who the hell are you to exploit us ? We will exploit ourselves, we will kill ourselves, we will massacre ourselves". Even today, Kashmir wants to be independent, notwithstanding the significant problems in answering the questions - what is the business plan ? I mean, where will you get the money to develop ? What sort of a statehood are you looking forward to ?

Till a few months ago, for me Republic Day was just a public holiday - no school, no college and no office, yet another day to laze around. An encounter with constitution law (part of MBL course) changed all that. To say that India became a republic on 26th Jan 1950 is a suppression of the fact that something far more important happened - that we defined ourselves as a country for the first time since time immemorial. We finally got a constitution that contained a broad enough vision that opened arms to everyone (in the preamble) and that contained directives that the politicians will probably spend the next 200 years trying to follow.

So, anybody is a citizen of the country as long as they can uphold the principles of the constitution. What was also significant was that though the country was (and still is) full of superstitious, bigoted, prejudiced, racist and casteist people, we determined ourselves to tolerate each other and let the State treat everyone as equal... a very significant achievement that has led to the current optimism and confidence and also probably kept us together throughout the "dark ages".

Now, the crucial test - can democracy be a mobocracy ? Can't the parliament through a majority suspend fundamental rights and thus violate the initial conditions of a "contract" between the State and the citizen ? That's what used to happen ... till the Supreme Court came up with the celebrated Kesavananda Bharati case, where it judged that the basic structure of the constitution is inviolable even by the Parliament. So, our fundamental rights or the vision in the Preamble can't be taken away - they are eternal, as long as India exists. So, theoretically, a minority can't be enslaved to a majority - no matter what ... though in practice, things seem different.

Which is why I don't see any value in all these independence movements ... if the whole country can be yours (and mine too, at the same time), why want control over a small patch of land ?

So, talking about the idea of India or the value of independence without understand what they mean is pretty silly. Yet, how many of us have read the constitution ?

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