After having defied “western doomsayers”, Indian democracy, according to historian Ramachandra Guha, has secured 50:50 success and failure ratio. Delivering the Balraj Puri Memorial Lecture-2017 titled ‘India at 70: A Historian’s Report Card’ at University of Jammu, held in collaboration with Institute of J&K Affairs on Saturday, he said that holding regular and fair elections is single largest achievement of Independent India.
He made the following points in his address:
- The idea of Swaraj that was conceived by Gandhi ji in 1921 is still a long way from becoming a reality. His Swaraj is held up by four strong pillars: non-violence, Hindu-Muslim unity, abolition of untouchability and self-reliance. There is cultural, political and social democracy in Gandhi’s vision.
- If you look at countries like Algeria, Vietnam and China, they threw out foreign colonisers through violence. And once they became independent, they started persecuting their own people. Violence became a part of the body politic. Gandhi’s emphasis on nonviolence before Independence led to the nurturing of political democracy after Independence.
- India is not a truly democratic country when it comes to freedom of expression and religious tolerance. In real democracy, writers, artists and filmmakers must have freedom to express themselves.
- If Gau goons love cows in the real sense, they must take care of sick cows instead of lynching innocent people.
- In some northern states, police take orders from gau goons. Can you have democracy or rule of law under these circumstances?
- In India, everyone seems opposed to freedom of expression. Every community, religion, every caste and region have holy leaders and one can’t criticise them. You cannot say anything against Rana Pratap in Rajasthan or Shivaji in Maharashtra. If you criticise Ambedkar, it will make Dalits angry.
- Once, former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee said Ketab Ka Jawab Kitab Se hota hai. However, his government had no courage to implement what he said. Not a single politician has the courage to protect freedom of expression.
- India’s record in nurturing linguistic pluralism has been fairly good (even if you don’t speak Hindi, you won’t be murdered or denied admission in schools). But when it comes to religious tolerance, it doesn’t augur well for a democracy.
- There has been remarkable self-assertion by the weaker sections like the Dalits and women but legislative institutions have become dysfunctional. Bureaucracy has become subservient to political masters.
- Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru was committed to religious equality. There was no major riot in the country during his time.
- Indian Constitution provides space for cultural freedom “unlike the constitutions of Pakistan or Israel. In the past, Congress tried to impose Hindi on the South and Tamils protested against the move. Sri Lanka imposed Sinhalese language on Tamils and it led to civil war. In Pakistan, Urdu language was imposed on the entire country and Bangladesh came into being.
- It is about promoting respect, honour, dignity, equality and justice in everyday relations. Worshipping a flag ten times a day may or may not be patriotism. But if you want to be a true patriotic person, then make your family, locality, town, district, province, state and country more tolerant, inclusive and a democratic place.
- There are a lot of nationalists around these days whose love for India consists of abusing Pakistan and China, day in and day out. A patriot is someone who loves his or her country by making the country more tolerant, prosperous, conflict free and gives dignity to Dalits, women and Adivasis to make it happier and a kinder place.
- While a patriot strives to make his or her country a better place—a less violent place, a less poverty ridden place and a less exploitative place, a nationalist wants to bomb everybody else. He doesn’t care how bad his own country is.