No doubt, October is a month of festivities, with Dussehra and Deepavali round the corner, but it is also the month that gave birth to three great Indians who played a stellar role in the country’s freedom struggle.
The year was 1922 when Gandhi announced the Non-cooperation movement. But the movement took a violent turn on February 4, 1922 in Chauri Chaura village in Gorakhpur district of Uttar Pradesh. The incident led to the killing of several policemen and Gandhiji immediately called off the movement. He said the path to freedom should be non-violent and that even if it took time, it had to be value-based. Means are as important as the end. Integrity, honesty and ahimsa are the basic tenets of Gandhian philosophy but how sadly we have deviated from that golden path! In this hustle and bustle of life and daggers-drawn competitive world, his values are more honoured in the breach than in the observance. We blame the British for plundering the country and taking away our natural resources and dumping finished goods, killing native industries. But since Independence, the Indian rulers were no better. Before the British rule, India had a GDP of 25% while during the British rule, it slumped. But even after Independence, we plodded on with 3% growth rate, famously referred as the Hindu rate of growth!
India had so many opportunities to break away and spur economic growth. But we lost that opportunity and had to wait till the 1990s when the economic reforms were introduced. The policy of liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation gave a boost to the economy. But with that came new avenues of corruption which had already taken deep roots due to the erstwhile system of ‘License Raj’ for any private initiative. Bureaucratic corruption reached new levels. This culminated in deep-seated corruption in harnessing natural resources, giving rise to multiplicity of scams like coal scam, spectrum scam and so on. Corruption reached abysmal levels in the 2G scam which, according to CAG, was estimated at Rs 1.75 lakh crore. We have laid our own ‘golden’ path, literally and figuratively in every sense of the term!
Lal Bahadur Shastri was a simple man rooted in principles of integrity and high morals in public life. When the Ariyalur train tragedy in 1956 claimed 142 lives, as then Railway Minister, Shastri took responsibility and resigned. That was the last time one witnessed such a principled stand. When the mantle of leadership fell on him after the demise of Pandit Nehru, he boldly led the country during the war with Pakistan in 1965. As part of the war efforts, he exhorted the countrymen to observe austerity measures. That was the time when Monday-being auspicious for the Hindus, people voluntarily observed fast to express solidarity with the jawans fighting in the border. Restrictions on ostentatious weddings, private functions were introduced, including purchase of jewellery. Wedding invitations had to show the number of guests, and officials used to visit wedding halls to check whether rules were followed! Incidentally, such restrictions served as a boon to many hapless parents with marriageable daughters who could perform the wedding with limited cost!
Shastri was an embodiment of simple living and high thinking but where are we now? Crores of rupees is spent on weddings. Lifetime savings is burnt in a couple of days. While for the rich it is an occasion to flaunt their wealth, many less privileged-succumbing to societal pressures-incur avoidable expenditure. When one sees the grandeur of the weddings of some of the rich and famous floating on social media, it makes one wonder whether India is a poor country! Enormous wastage of food in weddings is another travesty of justice when there are many who cannot afford a square meal. All these incongruities have become the order of the day and have come to be accepted.
Annie Besant instilled values of service and national spirit, and urged the youth to fight for freedom. She worked tirelessly for women protection, to ensure equal opportunity for them. She came from Ireland, took India as her adopted land and invested all her money into building institutions. She established several institutions like the Young Men’s Indian Association, the Theosophical Society for religious harmony, the Women’s Indian Association along with Dr Muthulakshmi Reddy and was also instrumental in establishing a college in Benares with educationists like Malaviya that later became the Banaras Hindu University. She energised the youth to involve themselves in what she called ‘Political Gymnasium’ to serve the twin objectives of physical fitness and awareness on societal issues. We claim that India has enormous demographic dividend in its youthful population but are we doing enough to impart skills in the youth and guide them to take global responsibility? Sadly, according to a World Health Organization report, depression among youth due to loneliness is a major health problem. India has the maximum youth population of 60 crores and they need to be given the right opportunities for growth.
Vallabhai Patel gave India its vision strength as a major nation. Now, people realise that if only Pandit Nehru had listened to Sardar Patel who strongly advocated unequivocal merger of Kashmir we would not have had this thorny Kashmir problem which has taken a heavy toll on our security forces. Unfortunately, we have allowed fissiparous forces to cause damage to the unity which is hampering growth.
In the recent years, India has regained its strong will, evident from the euphoric feeling of the gathering wherever our Prime Minister addresses. There is enormous hope of India emerging as a superpower, next only to the US and China. But negative narratives are doing incalculable damage. As National Security Advisor Ajit Doval has rightly cautioned, the cost of negatives is much higher than positive dividends, particularly in issues affecting national security. The impact of negatives is five times stronger than the positive initiatives. There are certain forces working overtime to spread negative propaganda. This is all the more evident in Tamil Nadu where there is negative narrative for any well-meaning scheme announced for people’s welfare.
It is time for us to imbibe the high ideals set by Gandhi, Shastri and Patel. They sacrificed their lives, placing the country ahead of everything else, and the least we could do is not to tarnish the image of the country through cynicism creating social animosity.
—The writer is Mylapore MLA and former DGP