Celebrate alright, but don’t appropriate the freedom struggle

To celebrate Independence Day is every Indian's right. But to appropriate a movement in which you had no role to play and then attempt to replace those who did fight with yourself is unacceptable

Flag hoisting at RSS headquarters in Nagpur. The RSS did not hoist national flag till Jan 26, 2002
Flag hoisting at RSS headquarters in Nagpur. The RSS did not hoist national flag till Jan 26, 2002
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Ranjona Banerji

The Congress Party was not in power at the Centre when we celebrated 50 years of India’s Independence in 1997. As it is not in power in 2022 and our celebrations of 75 years of Indian Independence.

Independence Day after all belongs to all of us. It does not have to be this political party or that in power. We celebrate it together. We celebrate our freedom, hard fought for, in irregular and clever ways, from colonial rule. We celebrate our journey from “our eagle pinion chained down”, to quote Henry Vivian Louis Derozio’s 1828 poem, to a land where our minds can roam free, to reference Rabindranath Tagore.

After 75 years though, it seems our eagle pinion cannot free itself from the dust of pettiness, of hatred and of cheap symbolism. We soar free and then we pull ourselves back.

We lack graciousness and truth. We imagine some glorious ancient past but we cannot appreciate our contemporary history. We look for other heroes because we want to ignore those who fought the hardest.

Ultimately, it is our political nature and the divisive nature of our politics which leads us to our worst depths.

Inder Kumar Gujral, in his Independence Day speech on August 15, 1997, talked about India’s plurality, its secular nature, the importance of social justice and taking everyone forward together as equals.

He mentioned the contributions of Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Rajendra Prasad, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, Vallabhbhai Patel, Bhagat Singh, Chandrashekhar Azad, Sukhdev, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, BR Ambedkar, C Rajagopalachari in our freedom struggle.

When he became the prime minister, Gujral no longer belonged to the Congress party. Nor did all those who fought for our freedom from British rule. But he knew that he could not ignore the tremendous work, effort and sacrifice that all these people had made.

Some people from some political and cultural movements were not named. Because they had no role in that part of our history which won us Independence.

No matter how our history is being rewritten, no matter how many upstarts want to jump on the bandwagon, no matter how many of the younger generations are led astray into rank ignorance, there can be no doubt about who did not fly the Indian national flag at their headquarters on Independence Day and not for many years after.

To celebrate Independence Day, yes, that is the right of every Indian. But to appropriate a movement in which you had no role to play and then attempt to change history to wipe out those who did fight and also to include yourself? That is unacceptable and reeks of small-minded chicanery.

You can and must fight against any party that you oppose politically. This includes the Congress party as much as it does any other. You can also tell yourself that the Congress party of today is not the same as the Congress party which was at the forefront of the freedom struggle. But you cannot deny the Congress party which was formed to fight against colonial rule its due.

You cannot deny Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Patel and all the others, all the way back to Allan Octavian Hume and Annie Besant their due.

You can argue that many others also fought for India’s freedom, using different means and philosophies with varying degrees of success. That is undoubtedly true. Gujral mentioned them in his speech in 1997. But to claim that any of those were connected to a movement which played no role in the freedom struggle is also a lie.

You have tried with Subhas Bose and failed. You tried with Dr Ambedkar and failed. You tried with Bhagat Singh and failed. All of these belonged to ideologies at supreme odds with the notion of Hindu majoritarianism and supremacy. Two of them stood left of the spectrum. The other was a forthright and erudite opponent of Hinduism itself. To him we owe our fair and just Constitution.

What freedom did our ancestors fight for if we are to be punished by those who did nothing to fight for that freedom and who have consistently opposed the very tenets of freedom and democracy?

What freedom did we gain if the poor are punished because they cannot afford to buy a flag? What freedom lies with us when those who fight from democracy and freedom are jailed?

Because this freedom is about us, the people of India. It is not about obedience. It is not about a government that rules us. It is about us giving permission to a government to administer. And until we realise that we are the rulers, we will never be free.

Happy Independence Day! Celebrate India @75 for yourself and with pride and courage.

(Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist. Views are personal)

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