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Punya Prasun Bajpai
Four decades ago, one prime minister, after formally declaring a state of national emergency, had articulated her dream of building a new India. Four decades later, we have yet another prime minister expressing his dream of a new India, which rests on his intent to destroy democracy.
It’s a comparison that springs unbidden to the mind, between August 15, 1975 and August 15, 2018. There’s a world of difference in the sense that they are set four decades apart. But, importantly, there is a similarity too. More than 40 years ago, as Independence Day dawned a full 50 days after the imposition of Emergency, the country waited with bated breath for then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s address to the nation from the ramparts of the Red Fort – having already suspended the constitutional rights and freedoms of citizens, what would be the core idea of her speech, what more would she pronounce?
Four decades later, on the eve of Independence Day, the country once more awaits the speech of Prime Minister Narendra Modi with bated breath – what tune will he sing in the name of democracy this time, from the ramparts of the Red Fort? This speech comes on the heels of many an unprecedented happening.
It is for the first time that:
- Four senior judges of the Supreme Court came forward publicly to say that Indian democracy is under siege;
- The director and special director of the country’s premier investigative agency, the Central Bureau of Intelligence, openly aired issues such as the political pressures on investigations concerning VVIPs and the induction into the agency of officers who were themselves tainted.
- A former information commissioner accused the Central government of wanting to put an end to the autonomy of the Right to Information;
- The opposition has put the Election Commission in the dock, saying that on issues ranging from the announcement of election dates to the declaration of winners, it has been reduced to being a mere pawn of the powers that be;
- The Supreme Court has on five occasions questioned the delay on the part of the Central government to appoint a Lokpal (who is expected to keep an eye on the ruling power in the interests of the people), but the government has been putting it off for the last four years;
- The regime is so blatant about leading the media by the nose, its message loud and clear – stand with us or see your channels shut down;
- Mob violence has assumed centre-stage to such an extent that the Supreme Court was compelled to condemn acts of lynching, stating that terrible acts of mobocracy cannot be tolerated, cannot be allowed to become the new normal; and
- The ruling power has served itself up to each and every institution as never before, its tone being – be with us and you will be in clover; if not, prepare to bite the dust.
The question then is this: on the 71st anniversary of India’s independence tomorrow, what is it that Modi will say in his address to the nation from the ramparts of the Red Fort? What will he declaim, exactly?
While we wait for tomorrow, it is important to recall what Indira Gandhi said on India’s 28th Independence Day. In the midst of her long address from Red Fort, she said, “We were not happy to declare a state of national Emergency, but circumstances compelled us to do so. However, every cloud has a silver lining. The strong steps that have been taken are in the spirit of administering bitter medicine to an ailing patient to make him better.”
It is possible that Modi may also describe the demonetisation move and the Goods and Services Tax in a similar manner, as a case of administering strong medicine. Or, in a move to show himself as a successful ‘doctor’ at a time when the country is moving towards a national election, he may even rattle off figures provided by the NITI Aayog to show the benefits of the measures which have greatly inconvenienced the people.
He may make an effort to present himself as a tall statesman the way Indira Gandhi did more than 40 years ago from the ramparts of the Red Fort:
“Our biggest wealth is our courage, our willpower and our self-confidence. It is only when these qualities remain intact that we shall be able to build the India of our dreams, do something for the uplift of the poor, provide employment for people from all communities and classes; and make available for them the necessities of life. I appeal to you to have faith in yourself and in your country. The road we have chosen to is not easy. There are many difficulties ahead of us. Our path is strewn with thorns.”
More likely than not, Modi will also say something about the difficult road ahead and in the same breath furnish a vision for India 2022. However, at a time when the biggest question facing the nation is concerning the many ongoing assaults on freedom, be it of expression or functioning of constitutional bodies, or the Prime Minister’s Office becoming the de facto centre of government, it requires some measure of courage for a prime minister standing on the ramparts of the Red Fort to make a reference to freedom.
Indira Gandhi had the nerve and daring to do so, even after she had declared a state of national Emergency. Even as we indulge in conjectures about what Modi will say tomorrow, it is illuminating to see how Indira Gandhi made a reference to freedom in her Independence Day address of 1975:
“Freedom is not some magic that can make poverty go away in a trice, banish all problems. …Freedom does not mean we have the licence to do anything we want. On the contrary, it gives us an opportunity to fulfill our duty. …which means, the government should be able to courageously take independent decisions. We gained independence so we could better the lives of the people, be equal to the task of defeating the forces of feudalism, the caste system and superstition that have weakened us, thus making us lag behind.”
If the word ‘freedom’ somehow finds itself on Modi’s tongue tomorrow, then the word ‘Dalit’ is sure to find a pride of place in his address. The word ‘Adivasi’ may also be spoken. And because it is an election year, a new definition of development through reservation may come into being.
One realises that on August 15, the word ‘freedom’ undoubtedly infuses citizens with a pulsating energy. The evocation of patriotism/nationalism and moreover the sacrifice of the armed forces in maintaining the integrity of the territorial borders has been part of Independence Day address through the decades. Under the present dispensation, the country witnessed and understood the import of the ‘surgical strikes’ carried out in peace time as well as the political uproar that followed it. Against this backdrop, the country is waiting to see what shade of nationalism Modi foregrounds from the ramparts of the Red Fort tomorrow by attacking the idea of secularism that the opposition speaks of.
Remember how, four decades ago, Indira Gandhi sought to awaken the spirit of nationalism by targeting the opposition:
“Today we have unfurled the national flag here, as we do every year because it exemplifies the deep desire nurtured during the freedom struggle – of flying independent India’s flag atop the Red Fort one day. An opposition leader once remarked, what is this flag but a piece of cloth? Certainly, the flag is a piece of cloth – but it is a piece of cloth that inspired hundreds of thousands of freedom fighters to give up their lives so they could uphold the respect and honour it signified. It is for this very fragment of cloth that the blood of our soldiers has flowed on the icy Himalayan heights. This piece of cloth embodies the unity and strength of India. It is for this reason that we must make sure it is never lowered. Every Indian – rich or poor; woman or man; child, youth or old – must be mindful of the national flag, must always remember what it stands for. A piece of cloth it undoubtedly is, but it is dearer to us than our lives.”
Vowing to sacrifice her life for the nation as Indira Gandhi wound up her speech – a speech made 50 days after she had declared a state of national Emergency and suspended the constitutional rights and freedoms of citizens – she said:
“This is not a time for resting or assuaging weariness; we are on a path that demands hard work. If you continue on this path, you will see a new world come into being. You will experience a rare feeling of contentment when you realise that you have built a new India, you have forged a new history. Jai Hind!”
Now we wait for tomorrow, for Modi’s address to the nation from the ramparts of the Red Fort. Over four decades ago, one prime minister, after formally declaring a state of national Emergency, had articulated her dream of building a new India. Four decades later, we have yet another prime minister expressing his dream of a new India, which rests on his intent to destroy democracy, without any formal declaration of Emergency, even as he masquerades as its greatest friend. Stand by for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s address to the nation on August 15, 2018, to see how, and in what words, he unveils this dream.
Punya Prasun Bajpai is the former anchor of ‘Masterstroke’ on ABP News.
Translated from the Hindi original by Chitra Padmanabhan.
source: the wire