Breathe new life

Sixty-one years ago today, India’s constitution came into effect — a proud achievement for a country that had only just emerged independent. Under that constitution India became a sovereign, secular democracy. That important milestone has been marked annually with pride as Republic Day. But 61 years after the adoption of the constitution, the founding principles of this country and the idea of a plural India seem to be under serious threat. India’s democracy is now a hollow shell of what its founding fathers hoped it would be. No doubt, elections are held periodically, assuring Indians that they continue to hold the right to determine who will represent them in parliament and state Assemblies. And yet, it is hard to ignore the failing health of this democracy. Parliament barely functioned during the just-concluded winter session, paralysed by an intransigent and unaccommodating government and an irresponsible opposition. There is not a single institution in the country that has not been corroded by corruption. The stature of every democratic institution has fallen precipitously in recent years. Scams have resulted in a brazen looting of the country’s resources, eating into implementation of socio-economic programmes. Scoring points through inciting unrest as the BJP is seeking to in Srinagar today has become the hallmark of our political parties, when fighting issues like poverty, hunger and illiteracy should top their agendas.

Violence targeting minorities is eroding the idea of a plural, inclusive India. Linguistic chauvinism and religious intolerance are growing by the day, actively fuelled by political parties. Non-violence and dialogue were the ‘arsenal’ with which India’s founding fathers waged their ‘war’ for India’s liberation from colonial rule. But free India has abandoned its commitment to the principles of non-violence and the politics of accommodation. The Indian state’s growing intolerance of dissent, its coldness to non-violent dialogue and its excessive use of coercive force to quell protest is reason for serious concern. India has become a shadow of what we promised ourselves on 26 January, 1950.

And yet all is not lost. India’s people have the potential to bring the change they want to see. Under the preamble to the constitution, we, the people of India, pledged to uphold the principles of the constitution and to secure to ourselves, justice, liberty, equality and fraternity. We need to fulfil that promise. India’s 62nd Republic Day is an apt occasion for us to start breathing new life into our secular democracy.

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