In keeping with (what I think has become) custom at The Filter Coffee, here’s a short blogpost and some thoughts on this Independence Day. Most readers will be familiar with Jawaharlal Nehru’s Tryst with Destiny speech on August 15, 1947, on India’s independence from British rule. While it is amongst the great speeches, Mr. Nehru’s address to India on August 15, 1948 — on the occasion of the first anniversary of its independence — is an important speech in its own right. Within the span of a year, India had gone through much — Hindu-Muslim riots, the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, and a war with Pakistan.
In his speech, Mr. Nehru asks citizens to engage in new wars –for freedom and democracy, and against poverty, intolerance and economic impairment. Excerpts follow:
India will ultimately give us what we give her of love and service and productive and creative work. India will be what we are: Our thoughts and action will shape her. Born of her fruitful womb, we are children of hers, little bits of the India of today, and yet we are also the parents of the India of tomorrow. If we are big, so will India be, and if we grow little minded and narrow in outlook, so also will India be.
Freedom has no meaning unless it brings relief to these masses from their many burdens. Democracy means tolerance, tolerance not merely of those who agree with us, but of those who do not agree with us. With the coming of freedom our patterns of behavior must change also. . . .
The only war that we want to fight with all our might is the war against poverty and all its unhappy brood. All the world suffers from the after-effects of the World War, and inflation and rising prices and unemployment oppress the people. In India we have all these and, in addition, the care of vast numbers of our brothers and sisters who have been driven away from their homes to seek a new life elsewhere.
It is this war we have to fight, the war against economic crisis and to rehabilitate the disinherited. In this war there is no hatred or violence but only service of our country and our people. In this war every Indian can be a soldier. This is no time for individuals or groups to think of a narrow self-interest forgetting the larger good. This is no time for wrangling or the spirit of faction. [Link]
There are lessons in this speech for those concerned about the state of the nation, given the events of the last eight months. The economy has performed below expectations; yet, inflation is on the rise. The Commonwealth Games and 2G scandals have thrown open a Pandora’s Box of dirty little secrets. The political class is corrupt, and the citizens, apathetic. In this vacuum, sanctimonious crusaders have arisen, claiming to be the voice of the people and possessing answers to all of India’s ills. And as a supine government attempts to, at once, placate and scoff at representatives of this new-age moral chauvinism, its engagement with the rest of the world (and a rapidly changing one at that, whose volatility presents both opportunities and threats to India’s interests) has been null and void.
A continued preoccupation with these issues — which have effectively put governance on auto-pilot — will not only hurt India domestically, but will also negatively impact its influence globally. If India is to emerge stronger from what has been a challenging year, our elected representatives need to show leadership, domestically and internationally. They must get back to what should be their primary focus — bringing our millions out of poverty, allowing India to thrive and prosper, safeguarding India’s territorial integrity and securing its international interests.