The memory of the first Independence Day on August 15, 1947 vividly comes to my mind.
I was a mere child on that day.
Yet I clearly remember how enthusiastically our elders including my father hailed the dawn of the day congratulating each other and proudly moving about shouting the national anthem with radiant joy in their faces.
Hardly did I know the meaning of Independence except being told that we would not be ruled any more by the whites.
For me, the whites meant the red-complexioned tea estate managers who visited the town in their Chevrolets and Fords with the Indian nannies of their kids miserably sitting inside the open boots of their cars like lowly luggage.
Our elders’ shouts of joy infected me and my siblings and we too ran around holding aloft the three-coloured national flag and these colours remained stamped in my mind.
Everybody seemed to be a little more proud than before with the familiar Gandhi cap adorning every head and the tricolour fluttering freely from the roof of every house.
We had also a tricolour and kept it as a revered possession to be unfurled the next Independence day.
We observed the Independence Day with much enthusiasm throughout our childhood and our youth.
The colour of the flag began to fade as the years passed, yet remained a symbol of our nation as one unity.
Everyman, on the other hand, could not make the Gandhi cap a common symbol of Janata as the political elites soon appropriated it for display on political occasions.
Then came the rude shock of Mahatma’s assassination within a few months shaking the moral foundation of the new Independent nation and exposing dangerous fault lines.
As the years rolled by and as the gap between promise and fulfilment became more and more visible, as skeletons started tumbling out from the closet of the Government, and corruption, nepotism and political intrigue crept into the body politic spreading like cancer, the magic of the word Independence started wearing off.
The nation still lurched forward and Democracy, whatever it became, managed to hold together a polychromatic human mass that we called nation, though it appeared flawed.
The Parliament is its most sacred symbol but has it not been profaned by elements with criminal backgrounds entering its hallowed precincts as peoples’ representatives from time to time?
The socialist pattern of society soon entered into a marital relationship with the liberal economy having to undergo an uneasy conjugal adjustment, but during the process of that adjustment created two different kinds of people in one NATION.
One of these two peoples enjoyed the fruits of the liberal economy and the other resignedly suffered ache in their belly.
A few questions have suddenly assailed my mind.
Do Independence and Freedom have the same meaning?
Are they two politically equivalent concepts?
Has Independence given each citizen the freedom from fear, freedom from hunger, freedom of dissent from the discourse propagated as national, freedom to give expression to one’s moral conviction, freedom of justice, freedom of knowledge, freedom to demonstrate against a political action felt to be socially harmful?
Why on many occasions, political order and human rights do not seem to be working on the same plane?
In a representative democracy, whom do the political representatives represent: An elite or a people?
Is freedom just a narrativisation of an elite’s interests concealed as that of a silent mass of people?
When the elites indulge in power play, is not the fate of the people affected?
The masses are the true subalterns who cannot speak, because some others speak for them.
These some others are the middlemen. Elites need middlemen to control the masses.
And yet the nation is being held together by some unifying force. What is that force?
It is an idea.
An idea of India with shared climate whose emphatic manifestation is the monsoon, life style and agricultural practices with common thread despite variations, a glorious civilizational past, a humanity surpassing religious divide by means of shared culture, tradition and history, a level of tolerance despite spread of bigotry.
There is vulnerability from external aggression but the idea of India has treaded through fire which has steeled it. It is a variegated multitude and yet it is a unity. That unity is the spirit of India.
Harekrishna Deka is former DGP of Assam and a renowned critic and poet. He can be reached at: [email protected]