Gopal Gandhi on the issues at stake in the vice presidential election, where he is the combined opposition’s candidate agains the BJP’s Venkaiah Naidu.
President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, on being elected to his high office, described that role as reflecting “the integrated will of the people of India”. And he pledged his service to the cause of that ‘will’.
Our extraordinary constitution has given us a sense of India’s integrated will in its lyrical preamble – freedom, justice, equality and, underlying those, the essential prerequisite of fraternity, which is nothing other than mutual trust and peaceful co-habitation among the diverse communities of India.
These ideals were drawn from the goals and values of our great struggle for independence.
In this year, the 70th year of independent India, those great ideals have acquired a compelling urgency. They are facing challenges.
Freedom, the biggest of which is the freedom to choose our elected representatives, is ours now and, on this 70th anniversary, we have to hail that great triumph of our struggle. We have to hail the Election Commission of India and all the thousands of election officials who conduct our free and fair polls. But we have to also ask ourselves: In the larger arena of free choices, how free are we? Are we free of fear? Are we free to choose our way of life, our forms of thought and expression? Are we free to tell off the bully and the bulldozer, in high office or the on the street corner? Are we free and able to tell giant industries to not pollute our rivers, our air, to not dump their toxic waste in our environment? Direct and indirect attacks are being made on democratic freedoms of belief, thought and speech. And institutions serving public causes feel a palpable pressure on them to conform where they wish to dissent, to be silent where they wish to speak up. Money has become a behemoth, controlling not just the market but, through visible and invisible tentacles, our minds, our imaginations. It is constricting free choice. ‘Corruption’, like ‘pollution’ is an English word that has entered all the language lexicons of India. And it is seen not just in our political and administrative life but has permeated sections of corporate India and, unbelievably, even the wholesome world of Indian sport.
Justice – in the commonly understood sense of that phrase, that is, an independent and alert judiciary – is our precious possession and we must hail it unreservedly. But justice, in the social, economic and political sense of the preamble to our constitution, is under strain. Vast numbers of our people continue to face direct or indirect discrimination and exploitation. Our peasantry faces a largely man-made agrarian crisis, dislocation and even destitution. This has driven immiserated farmers in several parts of our country to suicide. Internal migration, which is the technical name for homelessness and a lurch for livelihood in unfamiliar and often inhospitable climes, can be seen across the country.
Equality in the sense of economic equality remains a far goal in our country which boasts of 101 dollar billionaires but ranks 131 in the world’s human development list of 188 countries. And inequality in the sense of social inequality taunts us by the gross underrepresentation of women in political roles, in the professions, in their multiple subordinations in our households. And then there is the manifest disparity, in education and livelihood opportunities faced by Muslim India and Dalit India.
When it comes to mutual trust, intolerance and bigotry have risen to an all-time high. Six months from now will be another 70th year ‘marking’ – that of Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination and the deaths of thousands of innocent men, women and children, the violation of India’s daughters. The mission of his life, as it was nearing its end, was to bring peace to riot-torn India, to heal the wounds of Partition. That Partition is now a fact, the riots of 1946-47 a thing of the past. And yet a new partition is being sown in our minds, a psychological division. As the late philosopher Ramachandra Gandhi put it, the Mahatma, on his way to prayer, was not stopped by three bullets of hate. Rather, he stopped with his heart full of prayer, those three bullets in their track. We must stop the projectiles of communalism in their tracks.
When issues of such life and death criticality surround us, does it matter who is or is not India’s president or vice president? Does it matter who wins or loses elections to those offices? And in any case how much can that person, on being elected, do to ‘stop the rot’? The quick answer would be ‘nothing’ or ‘precious little’. But no, that would be a cynical response. We need water to quench our thirsts, not the acid of cynicism.
On this ‘two-fold 70’, one joyous and the other intensely painful, we must view the office of president inaugurated by the noble Rajendra Prasad and the office of vice president inaugurated by the sagacious Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan as the Gangotri and Jamnotri of our republic. These two constitutional offices are the fountainheads of our republic’s very life stream.
And in viewing them as such, to our newly elected rashtrapati, the honourable Shri Ram Nath Kovind, must go our wholehearted felicitation, our respect and our faith.
With our great judiciary, our free press, our stellar defence forces guarding our frontiers, our police and allied forces that keep us protected from terrorism, these two highest constitutional offices steer us, as a nation, and the democratically-elected governments and our democratic and vigilant opposition, to do what our first vice president Radhakrishnan entreated, “Look far ahead, be not short-sighted.”
Recalling Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, whom our immortal leader Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose described as the Father of our Nation, remembering our visionary first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru the ‘tarun tapasvi’, the deathless Shahid Bhagat Singh and the architect of our constitution, Babasaheb Dr B.R. Ambedkar, let us pledge ourselves to India’s greatness in freedom, justice and in an unbreakable inter-community bond, bringing us the gift of peace.