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Tag Archives | anna hazare

On Independence Day

India’s wars.

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.

Also see: Previous Independence Day commentary: 2010; 2009.

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On Anna Hazare’s fast

“Something is rotten in the state, but…”

Anna Hazare’s fast-unto-death campaign against corruption has inspired commentary and discussion in mainstream media and on social media platforms.  NDTV has wholeheartedly thrown its weight behind Mr. Hazare’s campaign.  RTI activist and Magsaysay Award winner Arvind Kejriwal vowed to turn Jantar Mantar into Tahrir Square.  And film actress Priyanka Chopra called the campaign “an uprising.” Jantar Mantar has metamorphosed into a celebrity congregation, just like Wankhede Stadium had on April 2.  But how many have actually read the draft of the Lokpal Bill?  How many really understand what the Lokpal is, and what such an institution means to our democratic republic?

But away from all the demagoguery and rhetoric, writers and bloggers are asking the tough questions that those on the bandwagon have found too inconvenient to address.  Of these, articles and blogposts by Pratap Bhanu Mehta, Offstumped and Reality Check India deserve special mention (as does Mr. Mehta’s 2010 essay, “What is Constitutional Morality?”)

The intellectual bedrock to some of this discussion can also be found in Alexander Hamilton’s treatise on the Constitution and the Republic. Below is an excerpt from his writings in 1794:

But, without entering into so wide a field, it is sufficient to present to your view a more simple and a more obvious truth, which is this: that a sacred respect for the constitutional law is the vital principle, the sustaining energy of a free government.

Government is frequently and aptly classed under two descriptions—a government of Force, and a government of Laws; the first is the definition of despotism—the last, of liberty. But how can a government of laws exist when the laws are disrespected and disobeyed? Government supposes control. It is that Power by which individuals in society are kept from doing injury to each other, and are brought to co-operate to a common end. The instruments by which it must act are either the Authority of the laws or Force. If the first be destroyed, the last must be substituted; and where this becomes the ordinary instrument of government, there is an end to liberty!

Those, therefore, who preach doctrines, or set examples which undermine or subvert the authority of the laws, lead us from freedom to slavery; they incapacitate us for a Government of Laws, and consequently prepare the way for one of Force, for mankind must have Government Of One Sort Or Another. There are, indeed, great and urgent cases where the bounds of the Constitution are manifestly transgressed, or its constitutional authorities so exercised as to produce unequivocal oppression on the community, and to render resistance justifiable. But such cases can give no color to the resistance by a comparatively inconsiderable part of a community, of constitutional laws distinguished by no extraordinary features of rigor or oppression, and acquiesced in by the body of the community.

Such a resistance is treason against society, against liberty, against every thing that ought to be dear to a free, enlightened, and prudent people. To tolerate it, were to abandon your most precious interests. Not to subdue it, were to tolerate it. Those who openly or covertly dissuade you from exertions adequate to the occasion, are your worst enemies. They treat you either as fools or cowards, too weak to perceive your interest or your duty, or too dastardly to pursue them. They, therefore, merit and will, no doubt, meet your contempt. To the plausible but hollow harangue of such conspirators you cannot fail to reply, How long, ye Catilines, will ye abuse our patience?  [Alexander Hamilton, “Tully Papers, III.” August 28, 1794]

Unquestionably, something is rotten in the state.  That corruption is rampant is undeniable.  The debate here though isn’t whether or not we must fight against corruption, but how we should address it.  It is time for us to step back and reflect on what such an unabated encouragement of moral chauvinism means for the current and future state of our democratic republic.

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