Times they are a’ changing

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The Indian Republic started on a robust promise of justice and equality. But has it lost its way, especially in recent years, wonders Ram Puniyani.

As a nation, we have to ponder: What has been the direction of our politics in the last few decades? Does it conform to what was expected of our republic as outlined in our Constitution? Are we living up to the dreams and visions of the freedom fighters and the founding fathers of India?

Founded on equality and justice
What we need to recall is that the Indian republic came to become one through the long period of struggle against the the British rule. Those participating in the struggle were people of all religions and regions. The movement itself was founded on the principles of equality and justice. While those who were part of the upcoming India, the industrialists, the workers, the educated classes, the peasants, the adivasis, and dalits, aspired for the republic based on secularism and democracy.

These sections were the mainstream of the anti-colonial movement, the movement for ‘India as the nation in the making’. In contrast, sections of feudal elements, kings and landlords, were opposed to the values of equality; they threw up the politics of feudal values, couched in the language of religion. In contrast to ‘India as the nation in the making’, they wanted to build a Muslim nation or a Hindu nation. They kept aloof from the freedom movement and helped the British policy of ‘Divide and Rule’; this is what led to the tragic partition of the country.

The Indian Constitution is the core of the Indian Republic. It is the document which expresses the aspiration of national movement. The Constitution makers referred to most of the modern constitutions of the world and came up with this document, calling it as ‘India, that is Bharat’.

Republic under attack?
The first major value of the republic which came to be criticised is the one related to pluralism, diversity and secularism. Globally, right-wing politics has been asserting itself; the rise of Ayatollah Khomeini was the first major indication that vested interests are going to use the cover of religion for retrograde pre-industrial political values. As such, the decade of 1980s has been a major turning point in the history of mankind. Inspired by the Soviet Revolution, many countries came forward to put an end to the feudal traditions. While the language was that of socialism, the agenda was that of ending landlordism and promoting the industries with the assistance of the state. China, Vietnam, Cuba being the major examples. In India, socialism guided the state policies to bring in public sector, which in turn promoted creation of a vast number of jobs paving the way for participation of dalits, women and adivasis in particular, in the so far forbidden public space. It opened up the space for vast, industrial and educational development of the country, this is what gave an edge to India as a major economic power in times to come.The initial three decades of the Indian Republic were dominated by issues of the society; the problems of the downtrodden were on the center stage.

One step forward, two steps back?
During these decades, the republic focused mainly on the libertarian values, equity and dignity for all. The fundamental rights and directive principles were interpreted in the direction of concern for the rights of all citizens. During the decades of 1990, globally and nationwide, the globalisation of the economy led to the dominance of the corporate sector, leading to a decline in the concern for rights of average people and religious minorities in particular. While earlier, India was sort of an example for marching towards a just society, during last two decades in particular, the march has been reversed. Worldwide, we see that those leaders having rightward shift, those influenced by narrow nationalism are coming up, it may be Italy, France, Turkey or even United States for that matter.

It is precisely in these times that in India, the secular democratic republic is being challenged and Hindu nationalism is being asserted. This Hindu nationalism is pushing back the policies of social welfare and the policies of affirmative action for weaker sections, minorities in particular. Countries like Pakistan had been dominated by such politics all through. The matter of concern now is that the Indian Republic, which had shown the way to South Asia in matters of values of justice, is mired more in issues of identity. It’s time we shift the focus back to issues of people, and weaker sections of society, along with nurturing pluralism and diversity.


Ram-Puniyani

Ram Puniyani

Ram Puniyani a former Professor at IIT, Mumbai, is also involved with social issues, particularly, those related to preservation of democratic and secular ethos in our life.

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