India achieved independence in exceptionally difficult circumstances, but India also inherited a very rich legacy of the freedom movement to guide its path of progress after independence. It was a legacy much more valuable than any great treasure of gold or diamonds. It was a legacy obtained from the great struggles and sacrifices of several million freedom fighters who not only fought valiantly from streets and fields but also sought to create a vision of the path of progress of India should adopt after independence from foreign rule.
India had several streams of freedom movement, each one making a very important contribution. But at a broad level, it can be stated that they were all committed by a common agreement that post-independence India should be committed to a path of secularism, inter-faith harmony and socialism. To confirm this further, we can look at the views of those leaders who received the greatest love and affection of the people of undivided India during the freedom struggle. Without much risk of contradiction, I think we can safely say that the five foremost names are those of Shahid Bhagat Singh, Subhash Chandra Bose, Badshsah Khan, Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru.
These great persons may have differed in several other respects but they shared a firm commitment to inter-faith harmony and secularism, even though their perception of secularism may have differed somewhat from each other. Leaving aside the few months before partition , no other leader in undivided India was able to get the sort of support of people that these leaders received, so we can safely assert, at least till the last few months before partition, that the greatest support and affection for these leaders by and large reflected people’s acceptance of their ideal of inter-faith harmony and basic principles of secularism. On the contrary, those public leaders who spoke against inter-faith harmony could never get mass support and whatever fringe support they got could never come anywhere close to what was achieved by the five truly great leaders mentioned above ( again speaking for the period till a few months before partition).
The five leaders were also united in their support for socialism, understood in a very broad sense of a firm commitment to reducing inequalities and giving a very high priority to reducing poverty and to helping the poorest sections of society. In the Indian context it was important to also include giving high priority to reducing all kinds of social discrimination. All the five leaders were united in commonly sharing these broad perceptions of socialism, or a socialist pattern of society.
Our freedom movement also gave us a very important legacy of simplicity and of seeking happiness and contentment in a life of frugal needs. Badshah Khan was perhaps the strongest in observing this ideal, followed by Mahatma Gandhi and Shahid Bhagat Singh, while Jawaharlal Nehru was somewhat weaker in this commitment, but even he accepted fully the importance of this ideal even though he may not be always able to entirely follow this ideal. The importance of this ideal has increased all the more in recent times in times of environmental crisis, and there is greater need today to remember this legacy of our freedom struggle.
Another important legacy of our freedom movement is that of opposition to many-sided imperialism. There is increasing need for this at a time when giant multinational companies and billionaires linked to them have been trying to dominate the world more and more. Developing and poor countries are suffering the most due to this. This domination may increase in very new ways and to an unprecedented extent in the near future, aided and abetted by new technologies.
So far we have discussed those aspects which were common to various leading streams of freedom movement as represented by the five most popular leaders mentioned above. Now let us come to one important aspect on which opinions differed among them. This refers to the great commitment to non-violence not only as a means of resisting injustice but also as a way of life. India’s freedom struggle made experiments in this direction which are of enduring importance and their importance has increased greatly in the entire world in these troubled times. Hence despite the differences of opinion the legacy of non-violence should be included as a very important legacy of the freedom movement.
These ideals of the freedom movement should guide our path of progress. We will progress best if we remain true to these ideals.
Unfortunately the commitment to these ideals has been decreasing with the passage of time. The commitment to these ideals was perhaps the strongest during the first 25 years after independence. Although serious lapses and mistakes occurred even then, but still we as a nation were on the whole reasonably close to these ideals, or at least did not depart from them to any shocking extent. However in the period after this there appears to be a serious decline. The decline is not an entirely steady one, and there have been periodic ups and downs. However at least during the last decade or so we can assert with reasonable confidence that there has been a steady and very significant decline in terms of commitment to all these ideals. Instead of trying to estabish a very creative socialist pattern of society, India is getting more and more caught in a web of crony capitalism with a dominant role of chosen billionaires and inequalities increasing more than ever before. Departure from path of secularism and inter-faith harmony has been more during the last seven years than ever before. India is becoming more and more a centre of spreading neo-imperialism than of resisting it, with miultinational corporations and big corporates gaining increasing control of critical areas like farming, food, health, vaccines , medicines and information. Consumerism and even hedonism are more dominant while simplicity is mocked raher than praised.
Clearly empty words of praise for freedom movement will not take us anywhere as long as there is no commitment to ideals of freedom movement. Self –delusion and self-glorification in a time of decline are very harmful tendencies, but these are very visible in India these days.
The Independency Day is a good time to remind ourselves of enduring importance of the ideals of the freedom movement for achieving real progress.
Bharat Dogra is a journalist and author. His recent books include When The Two Streams Met ( Freedom Movement of India) and Man Over Machine ( Gandhian Ideas for Our Times).