Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Happy Independence Day!

Note: This was written yesterday.

This is the 60th anniversary of Indian Independence. On this occasion, let's all wish each other and our country a happy Independence Day!

But the cynic in me had questions. What did we celebrate? This was the day the British transferred power to Indian representatives. This is the day when our own people began governing our country. After August 15, 1947 we could have have our own flag, our own army and so many our own things. Apart from the army, these are mainly symbolic and I acknowledge the power of "mere" symbols. And of course, Britain gave India up as she couldn't govern India any more.

But if we look at it from the level of a citizen, we have to ask : independence from whom? Is it just political independence? If so, we see corrupt electoral practices during every election. So does each citizen get to really choose his or her representative? If it is economic independence, the whole world is interdependent. Did we or did we not have it during the British rule at the level of a citizen? Has anything changed for the citizen? Sometimes, I see a few positive things , but then I think, wouldn't these have still happened if the British had continued to rule India? For example, I am sure several old Mysoreans still rank the quality of life under the Maharaja higher than life in "independent" India, whatever that means.

In fact some things changed for the worse immediately after independence. The whole socialist regime under Nehru and his daughter stunted the country's economic prosperity. It has been only recently (91 onwards) that a positive change has come over the country. Read "India Unbound" by Gurcharan Das for a great account of that "unbinding" of India.

Earlier we had the British make "business" decisions while India suffered (e.g millions dead because of artificial famines in Bengal and all over the country). Now we have parochial and/or corrupt leaders who either consume most or all of the resources meant for the poor citizens, who are still forced to live in poverty. So, has the citizen seen better times? At least we had less corrupt politicians in the British age and bureaucrats were still selected based on merit. Much unlike today where populism and vulgar campaigning hold sway. We managed to substitute a foreign evil for a local one, that's all.

With a puppet Prime Minister and puppet President "ruling" the country, this day seemed to be just a mockery.

I can't allow the cynic in me to hold forth as he can be pretty depressing (even to me).

And so for a different picture I saw earlier today.

Children in spotless white uniforms marched enthusiastically on the streets to the rhythm of drum beats shouting "Vande Mataram" and "Bharat mata ki jai". A few of them proudly held the tricolour aloft as they marched with smiles that would warm the cockles of the coldest cynic. Their teachers could not keep up with them, such was the childish enthusiasm. The teachers were probably infected by the children. They had smiles on their face too! How different was this from the faces of the clueless onlookers who thought of this march of at best, a nuisance! Cars continued to honk as they were interrupted on their way for a few seconds. But this group was not deterred. Herded by the watchful eyes of their gurus, the children walked along the street with their bright excitement still unblemished.

We get grim news on TV every day. We think about the future of the country to be in jeopardy. These thoughts cloud us almost all the time. But such days as the independence day that can extract just a "Bah! Humbug!" from cynics can also be transformed to really glorious days because of such examples. Innocent children can really change many things!

Finally, the cynic and non-cynic in me concur for the conclusion. In spite of secessionist forces, diverse cultures and religions, rampant corruption and inept leadership, Mother India not only is surviving but also thriving. And that is the greatest miracle I've seen. While several nay-sayers have referred to India over the years as a "functioning anarchy", the focus, in my opinion, in that phrase should be on "functioning" rather than on "anarchy".

Jai Hind!


parijata said...

Very nice, insightful post.
I liked the way you appreciate the 'functioning' in 'functioning anarchy'. Really good.

On Independence day eve, the National Anthem was telecast on the TV. Little Biyadiya was very happy on hearing the tune... It made me remember our reasons for coming back, and I have never felt better about returning to India.

Aram said...

Independence assumes significance when a person is FREE from the shackles of poverty, illiteracy, and the thousands of permits and licenses which discourage the adventurous entrepreneur.

In this sense, we gained real independence only in the past one and a half decade. Or probably, we are still to attain complete independence from the ills that plague our political system.

December Stud said...

Very nice post indeed.

And, I got a regular forward with a "Happy Inde[pendence Day" message yesterday which had, among many other things, 'facts' such as India invented zero, Sabir Bhatia, Vinod Dham, Ayurveda etc..etc...same old stuff. And yes, the cynic in me woke up!!!

You article makes perfect sense. Very well written....

@ pArijAta:
Now, i knwo the reasons why you returned ;)

nIlagrIva said...

Thanks for the comments.

This is what we need to do. Try to be optimistic and see only good around.

We have still not gained real independence but just a "pretend independence"

Yes. I-day is that day when people keep harping about India of a thousand years ago. Golden age ! Inventors of zero! And we had flying chariots and wireless communication! Several fanciful claims of which some could be true. When you see things so cloyingly sweet, you're bound to get disgusted sooner or later.

I know, we get disgusted sooner!

Anonymous said...


"india unbound" - great book. highly recommended :-). [yes, i know you've read it - i am just seconding your vote]


keep your cynical side away from blogs where dissenting opinions are discouraged, or you might get a scathing e-mail just because you visited the blog when some anonymous dude posted his/her dissenting opinion (in whatever format)!

- s.b.

nIlagrIva said...

Thanks for the comment. India Unbound is a great book, I agree.

And about the word to DS, are you suggesting that this blog is a place where dissenting opinions are discouraged? I hope not... :)