The freedom to be and become

In this ‘Amrit Mahotsav’ celebrating 75 years of independence, we may feel the urge to dance like the peacock, but we must look at the ungainly feet that remind us of a lesser reality

The freedom to be and become

Salman Khurshid

India is celebrating 75 years of independence as an ‘Amrit Mahotsav’ with great pomp and fervour. It could have been a moment for a grand reconciliation of citizens who follow different faiths, speak a variety of languages, are proud of sub-cultures within the broad Bharatiya existence. It matters not if some people see an opportunity to squeeze political or electoral advantage.

For citizens who care for the nation and the quality of our national life, this is a moment for celebration as indeed of reflection. The journey of 75 years has been an endeavour to redeem the pledges Jawaharlal Nehru spoke of on the midnight of 15 August 1947.

We have travelled through moments of trial, tribulation and triumph. Expecting to stand tall amongst the nations of the world community, we may feel the urge to dance like the peacock but cannot blind ourselves to the ungainly feet that remind us of a lesser reality.

In our reflection, two words must stand out— liberty and equality. There are many versions of the connect or competition between the two virtues of democracy, but our working understanding is that we sought liberty for its inherent value but also to achieve the goal of equality in all its dimensions—justice, social, economic and political.

Sadly, the lived experience of our times stares in the face to tell us that equality has been rudely truncated even as liberty is in serious peril. At a time that we should have been proclaiming the glory of our national character and accomplishments, we are sadly forced to underscore a grim reality.

Incidents and events that place question marks on the ‘tryst with destiny’ vision can be listed ad nauseam and the pain they caused revives each time we recall the pathetic narrative. There is no knowing if justice will ever be done to the helpless individuals who paid the price of life and liberty. Even largescale massacres have escaped accountability and been reduced to ‘your’ massacre versus ‘my’ massacre.

Politics of the lowest kind has replaced human principles. For a country that found a path of reconciliation from the trauma of Partition, we have become blind to each other’s pain and loss. Whilst individual and group devastation at the hands of compatriots continue to cast a dark shadow on our collective existence, it is the public attitude of vile disregard for human values, encouraged by people in power and sundry opinionated self-regarding associates of the powerful, that indicates the road beyond 75 years of independence to be bumpy—and leading nowhere we should really want to be.

Without security and dignity there is no point in looking for liberty. It is important that we remind ourselves that liberty is more than being told that we are free to walk a pre-determined path, to talk specially chosen words, to see ourselves in patterns of uniformity rather than unity in diversity. Some of us believe that liberty is about being able to make mistakes so long as they do not snatch someone else’s liberty.

This is not an invitation for anarchism or chaos. Human nature has great capacity for accommodating diversity and dissent— the essence of democracy. Those who do not know diversity and dissent surely know not democracy.

The delusion that winning an election, even if by a huge majority, gives the winner the right to rule as they please leaves little difference between mob rule and elected dictatorship. A successful electoral verdict gives great powers and opportunity to the ruler to shape governance according to their ideology but not by crossing the barriers and safeguards provided by the Constitution against unrestricted majoritarian rule.

It is far worse when a cherished Constitution is sought to be used as a cover for party-political objectives, some most unedifying in content and character. No wonder that the Law Minister of the incumbent government speaks of the BJP ideology becoming the national ideology. But the Congress did the same, might be their retort. We can answer that right away.

There was a historical national consensus that emerged from the freedom struggle under the stewardship of Mahatma Gandhi and the leaders of the movement. The ideology of the Gandhian path, including ahimsa and satyagraha were distilled into the Constitution and can be found in the Preamble. Only a revolution can wipe that away. No majority can change it. The Supreme Court said so in the Keshavananda Bharti case.

To borrow from Javed Akhtar, freedom is about your special colour. The light is one, but the prism shows up the colours it is made up of. Of course, darkness cannot be split by a prism. This 75th Independence Day we must resolve to put the light and the prism back in our national life.

(Salman Khurshid is a senior Congress leader, former Union minister and Supreme Court lawyer)

(This article was first published in the National Herald newspaper on Sunday.)

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Published: 14 Aug 2022, 12:57 PM