The Independence Day is always a proud day for all citizens of India. This year it is all the more so as this is the 75th Independence Day. However at the same time there is growing concern about the increasing erosion of some essential precepts of the freedom movement during the last eight years or so of the NDA/BJP regime. The freedom movement was all about ensuring liberty, equality, justice, dignity and social harmony for all, but in recent years these precepts have been increasingly violated in several important contexts. Hardly any effective action is taken against those who appear to be a threat to the safety and dignity of minorities particularly the Muslim community.
Our freedom movement involving many struggles and sacrifices is one of the proudest chapters of world history. In the course of these various struggles the common people—farmers and workers, adivasis and dalits, students and teachers, women and men, youth and elders—made big contributions, while at the same time several leaders of extraordinary brilliance, commitment and influence emerged. In terms of their enduring inspiration for millions and millions of people, we can mention names like Mahatma Gandhi, Badshah Khan, Shahid Bhagat Singh, Jawaharlal Nehru and Subhash Chandra Bose in particular.
It is important and interesting to note that despite their differences on some points, these leaders helped to evolve a national consensus on some very important issues. One very important such issue was inter-faith harmony and the path of secularism based on this. All these five leaders were very firm advocates of inter-faith harmony and their life is full of examples of this. Mahatma Gandhi showed by personal example that he was even willing to sacrifice his life for the sake of inter-faith harmony.
Unfortunately during the years of the BJP/NDA rule during the last 8 years or so, this regime with many of its supporters has been moving away from this ideal. The minorities in particular have faced increasing threats and insults at various levels. The ideals of liberty, justice, equality and dignity have not been well protected for them in recent times.
Another ideal on which the freedom movement leaders most loved and followed by people had agreed was the socialist ideal or the ideal of economic equality. Unfortunately inequality has been increasing more and more in recent years and this has happened to such an extent that the World Inequality Report stated this year that the levels of inequality in India are now almost similar to the colonial levels. This is something that we need to remember as we observe the 75th Independence Day.
In the middle of the celebration we cannot forget the grim reality of the increasing problems faced by the poor and the unemployed, by peasants and workers, at the same time as favors are increasingly bestowed on a handful of billionaires whose influence and clout are increasingly steadily in the emerging system of crony capitalism.
Above all, the spirit of the freedom movement has been increasingly violated by repeated onslaughts on the freedom of people and in particular by increasing undemocratic restrictions on as well as repression of social activists, journalists, political opponents, even academics and students. Undemocratic, even draconian laws which should have no place in independent India have been frequently used for this purpose. State agencies which were never meant for curbing democracy have been very unfairly used for this.
Freedom fighters who made such tremendous sacrifices for the freedom of the country could not have imagined that such onslaughts on the basic rights and freedoms of citizens will be made even so many years after freedom. A large number of persons are in jail today because they fought for democratic rights or were involved in struggles of some of the most vulnerable communities like adivasis. Even a complete record of such persons who have suffered a lot due to their commitment to democratic rights is not available. During the freedom movement there were many great struggles for protecting the rights of political prisoners. Today do we even know the number of political prisoners. Is enough being done to ensure that they do not suffer from injustice? Is this true to the spirit of the freedom movement?
Instead of trying to honor the democratic tradition of a healthy relationship with the opposition, the government has been very vindictive towards some very prominent opposition leaders and there appears to be no end to this. Any leader of any genuine democracy would consider it extremely strange and entirely undemocratic that the slogan of the country being entirely devoid of the leading opposition party ( Congress-mukt Bharat) has been given by the ruling regime at top levels. The essence of the democracy is that people should be able to elect the government of their choice, but in some states money power as well as intimidation have been used to topple governments, while unsuccessful efforts have been made elsewhere too.
Hence while celebrating the Independence Day it is extremely important for all democratic minded people to re-affirm our strong commitment to work for the ideals of liberty, justice, equality, dignity and social harmony as visualized by our freedom movement and its most prominent leaders who had the largest support base among people and have received the most affection and respect from them. The consensus created by them on the most essential precepts of equality and justice on the one hand and inter-faith unity and harmony on the other hand is being increasingly violated and we should come forward with increasing unity to protect this basic consensus. Only then we will be able to create an India of the dreams of Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, Shahid Bhagat Singh and Subhash Chandra Bose, Badshah Khan and Maulana Azad, also of countless unnamed freedom fighters who made such great sacrifices.
Bharat Dogra is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include Man over Machine, When the Two Streams Met and A Day in 2071.