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August - September 2009
62 years of Nationhood
Some of you may be startled by the title to this Special Issue of India Link International. After all who are we to change the nomenclature ‘Independence’ into ‘Nationhood’? In what way is this a better expression of the great day in 1947 when the people of India took in their own hands the destiny of their country, appropriately called by Jawahar Lal Nehru as ‘tryst with destiny’.
British rule in India lasted less than two centuries. As Aline Dobbie, a travel writer on India says, “Colonial rule was a mere blip in the history of this great subcontinent.” According to her “anniversary of independence is patronising and specious because since the beginning of time India the land mass has had powerful empires and rulers though it was not a cohesive nation.” In 1857 Indians rose against the British rule but were crushed mercilessly as has been the norm of all empire builders from Alexander to Aurangzeb. Within India, over the last five millennium there have been empire builders like the Mauryas and the Guptas which lasted many centuries but ultimately succumbed to either internal conflicts or invasions of barbarians like Huns, Turks, Mongols, Arabs and Afghans.
Despite these external invasions, Indian civilisation, dating back to antiquity, almost five thousand years before Christianity, has remained intact and has become a pillar of civilised world in the last 62 years. Her art, culture and literature have remained a marvel for the civilised people of the world. Her riches have been envied and robbed by many conquerors starting from Alexander of Greece, Huns, Mongols, Ghaznavi, Gauri, Tamur-e-lung, Babur, Nadir Shah to the ending of the British Indian Empire.
In 1947, after a hard struggle, violent and non-violent, led by Mahatma Gandhi, Jawahar Lal Nehru, Vallabhbhai Patel, Subhash Chandra Bose and thousands and thousands of other Indians from every walk of life, the people of India at last became the master of their own destiny. Jawaharlal Nehru in his iconic speech at the midnight hour on August 15 1947 said, “Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially. At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom. A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance.” It is the birth of this Nationhood that we celebrate.
In a Nation State, the sovereignty lies with the people of that state. Before 1947 people of India were divided into hundreds of kingdoms ruled by hereditary rulers whose claim to rule a certain territory was by birth or by earlier conquests of their forefathers.
As a Nation State, India in its 62nd year of guiding her own destiny can be legitimately proud of its achievements. The unity of the nation has been brought by strenuous efforts of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, the vision of the future of the nation as envisaged by the first Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru and underlying philosophy that permeates this new nation of over a billion people. It has maintained the high moral ground of civilisational behaviour despite many historical hurdles inherited from previous rulers, be they Muslims from the Middle East or British from Europe.
Founded on the ancient Hindu name of Bharat, Hindustan (Persian) or India (British), This great nation has, nevertheless, adopted secular and democratic constitution giving equal social and political rights to all its citizens. That may be true in theory, say the critics. The reality on the ground is different. The minorities have much to complain about. There is no equality of opportunity for the poor and people of low castes in reality.
On the positive side, 62 years of nationhood has kept India united. Its territorial integrity, till now, has remained largely intact, albeit violated by neighbouring countries from time to time. The credit goes to the Indian armed forces, their discipline, loyalty to the Nation and the adherence to the fundamental principles of democracy.
On the other hand the political party system, an important element of the success of ‘Representative Democracy’ has yet to evolve. Indian National Congress, inheritor of India’s Freedom Movement, are not yet ready to discard the unilateral structure of its party machine. People had great faith in the upcoming party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which would provide an alternative choice to the people, in case of any authoritative or corrupt tendencies in the ruling party. Power ultimately corrupts. Checks and balances have to be built in the body-politic to strengthen the democratic base of the Nation. It can only be possible if the Bharatiya Janata Party moulds itself in a democratic and plural structure acceptable to a majority of people from all the regions of the country.
Modern India, as a nation state of more than a billion people with rich natural and mineral resources, maintaining the 4th largest army in the world, is still not considered fit enough to be a member of the Security Council of the United Nations Organisation, of which it was a founding member. It is a matter of shame for the world community. It is one of those ironies of history, which may ultimately end in a third world war.
If Britain had listened to Mahatma Gandhi and agreed to Self-Rule for Indians in 1941, the Second World War would not have continued till 1945, when atom bombs were used to end the war in the Far East. An independent India would have been on the side of the Allies with great enthusiasm. It would also have remained united as a democratic state. Partition of India, with the courtesy of Imperial Britain, has endangered peace in the world today. With India in the Security Council, forces for peace in the world will be greatly strengthened. Similarly, India’s growing economic power, inevitable as it is, will become a catalyst for a global economic order in the next decade.