There are multifarious achievements which make us proud as a nation. But there are some slippages on some fronts, and these need to be ironed out before we announce attainment of the so-called “Vishwa Guru” status for ourselves, writes former IAS officer V S Pandey
Last month it was the Maharashtra pot boiler, currently we have the Bihar realpolitik saga playing out and soon we will begin celebrating the 75th years of our independence. So it’s time for us to introspect on our journey so far as an independent democratic nation. Our first and most salient glorious achievement is that we have succeeded in remaining a democracy, conducted elections regularly and ensured a smooth transfer of power to the victors in electoral battles successfully, all these years. We have also succeeded in maintaining our nation’s integrity and sovereignty. Currently also we are battling serious threats from our rogue neighbors on diverse fronts. We have triumphed because we have created and maintained a huge army of brave, professional and competent personnel who have repeatedly shown their capability of defending our sovereignty against formidable odds. Our nuclear arms cache suffices to deter any misdemeanor on the part of our inveterate detractors. We now manufacture everything from pins to ships, aircrafts, missiles, and satellites, we launch rockets, and we are atmanirbhar. Our software manpower literally powers the world. Today India can boast of having an Indian as the fourth richest person on this planet with an ever increasing number of Indians joining the select list of billionaires on an almost daily basis. There are multifarious achievements which make us proud as a nation. But there are some slippages on some fronts, and these need to be ironed out before we announce attainment of the so called “Vishwa guru” status for our selves.
Today we need to contemplate where we stand after seventy five years of self rule vis-à-vis the vision of the father of nation and other luminaries and stalwarts like the authors of our constitution. According to Dr. Ambedkar, democracy was not only just a government by discussion or a government of the people, by the people and for the people but he defined democracy as “a form and a method of government whereby revolutionary changes in the economic and social life of the people are brought about without bloodshed”. He said that there must not be glaring inequalities in society and there must not be an oppressed class. There must not be a class that has got all the privileges and a class that has got all the burdens to carry”. Unfortunately our country still is one where we are experiencing increasing socio-economic inequalities which is tainting our democracy.
Ambedkar was a strong votary of the existence of a strong opposition to keep in check the autocratic tendencies of the government in power. A weakened opposition will lead to weakening of democracy, according to Dr. Ambedkar and this is a sign of danger for any nation. He was clear that democracy develops the freedom to lead a respectable life with the liberty to do what one values.
Unfortunately we are flagging in the Human Freedom Index and also in democratic credentials. The father of our nation, Mahatma Gandhi, presciently wrote in Young India on July 2, 1931, “To me political power is not an end but one of the means of enabling people to better their condition in every department of life.” In Gandhiji’s opinion ,freedom and justice were the two basic pillars of democracy. He saw the welfare of all possible only when equal freedom and justice were available. He laid great stress on individual freedom in democracy and said “if individual liberty goes, then surely all is lost, for, if the individual ceases to count, what is left of society?
It is a cause of worry for all citizens that in its recent report on global political rights and liberties, the Freedom House downgraded India from a free democracy to a “partially free democracy”. Similarly Sweden-based V-Dem Institute has labelled India as an “electoral autocracy”, and even later dubbed India as a “flawed democracy”. India has slipped two places to 53rd position in the latest Democracy Index published by The Economist Intelligence Unit. Unfortunately our country has shown a consistent downward trend in the World Happiness Report 2022, which measured the perceived happiness of citizens. India is positioned at 136 in the list of 146 countries and is ranked below countries like Pakistan , Iraq, Sri Lanka, Nigeria, Myanmar, Ethiopia , Uganda, Iran, Bangladesh etc. Meanwhile, India ranked 121st on the economic freedom index in 2021 and according to various reports published in this regard, the Indian economy remains in the mid-range of the mostly unfree category.
We are rated to be one of the most iniquitous countries in the world where the chasm between the rich and poor is increasing constantly. We have the dubious distinction of having nearly fifty crore people below the poverty line who are striving for survival. Our crumbling education infrastructure and poor health care system are no match with those with whom we have to compete. Our justice delivery system is rated as very slow by us and only the rich and powerful can aspire to approach the higher echelons of our judicial system which is literally out of bounds for a majority of Indians. This is the state of the nation during this “Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav “ period.
All these are worrying signifiers. We, the people of India, need to understand the gravity of the situation and start the requisite correction processes expeditiously. The Rule of law has to become the norm and not the exception and the culture of “show me the face , will show you the rule” has to be ended without any further delay. India, being 75, is left with no other option. We have already exhausted all the soft options available to us. The time has come to make hard choices. Then only will the amrit of azaadi be savoured by all.
(Vijay Shankar Pandey is former Secretary Government of India)