By D. V. Kumar
India is celebrating 75 years of independence and rightly so. Independence day constitutes a momentous day in the life of a nation. It represents the possibility of fulfilling hopes and aspirations of billions of people and therefore it is something one cherishes and emotionally becomes attached to. True and authentic celebration of independence day actually involves celebrating the fundamental values which guided the freedom struggle that led to independence in 1947. One needs to reaffirm the values which were in the forefront of our freedom struggle in the process of celebrating independence day. Otherwise it would be an empty celebration. Carrying tiranga and chanting slogans may be part of an officious definition of celebration of independence but that would be only symbolic in nature. Real celebration of independence calls for celebration of those values which guided our freedom struggle.
What were those values which guided our struggle against colonialism which need to be reaffirmed on the occasion of 75 years of independence? These values are democracy, secularism, pluralism and respect for the dignity of the other. It needs to be recalled that our national movement was not a homogenous and monolithic movement. It had multiple currents, thought processes and different narratives vied for their space within the freedom movement. There was Gandhi , the biggest and the tallest nationalist among them for whom the goal of total independence was non-negotiable. At the same time, he was quite disturbed by the kind of destructive nationalist passions that Europe saw and called for a nationalism which was based on democracy and respect for each other. In his own words, ‘it is not nationalism that is evil, it is the narrowness, selfishness and exclusives which is the bane of modern nations which is the evil’. It is this enlightened understanding of what nationalism should mean which made him lead the most non-violent and peaceful anti-colonial struggle. Then we had Ambedkar for whom political democracy would be incomplete without social democracy. The startling socio-economic disparities and the subjugation and marginalisation of a large section of the society, that is, Dalits needed to fight against at the same time as the fight against the oppressive colonial rule was happening. He argued that independence would not mean much for those who were on the margins of society and even if one achieved independence for the country, it would mean freedom only for the powerful and dominant sections of the society. Real freedom should include removal of stark socio-economic disparities and different forms of oppression. He emerged as the most authentic voice of the oppressed section of the society. There were serious arguments between Gandhi and Ambedkar over what should demand their attention-the political question of independence or the socio-cultural issue of emancipation of dalits. But they had the sagacity and maturity to engage with each other despite such sharp differences in the larger interest of India. Then there was Nehru who had sharp differences with Gandhi over the question of large scale industrialisation of India. He had immense faith in the ability of the big industry to solve the massive problems that India was facing but Gandhi reposed faith in the small scale sector and village economy. In fact, Nehru had a problematic relation with the very idea of nationalism especially because of what happened in Europe in the name of nationalism. But at the same time, he saw a great need to fight for independence from the British under the inexorable influence of Gandhi. The revolutionary ideas of Bhagat Singh and Subhas Chandra Bose, which created a sense of discomfort for Gandhi, competed for space within the nationalist struggle. Bhagat Singh was aware of the contradictions in the society which undermined the nationalist struggle. The caste system, untouchability and communalism posed a great threat to the success of the national movement. He felt that unless these were tackled effectively, the possibility of achieving truly democratic and free India was greatly compromised.
As one can see that there were critical differences among all those mentioned above but they had a great respect for each other and none of them accused the other of being anti-national and unpatriotic. What is that which was common to them because of which they were able to work together and respect each other. It was their immense faith in the fundamental values of human existence, that is, secularism, democracy, pluralism and respect for the dignity of the other. Without these values guiding them, they would have found themselves at loggerheads with each other and unable to launch a concerted attack on British colonial rule.
Therefore today when we are celebrating 75 years of independence, let us not lose sight of these fundamental values which guided our freedom struggle. The very essence of independence would be lost if we do not respect and uphold these values.
(D. V. Kumar is Professor, Dept of Sociology, NEHU, Shillong)