Jawaharlal Nehru’s address on India’s ‘Tryst with destiny’ is historic, widely discussed and well studied. In 1947, Nehru announced over radio that he was the ‘First servant of the Indian people’. Nehru didn’t live long. He left us in 1964. In spite of the tug of war in politics, he did not shift from his ideology or philosophy. One after another, quite a number of Prime Ministers came after Nehru and every year delivered a speech from the Red Fort.
On August 15, 1966, Indira Gandhi delivered her speech from the Red Fort as Prime Minister. In her speech, there was this one issue — that there had been leaders of the Indian freedom struggle but changes were taking place and for the next generation that was coming to the forefront, the lifelong sacrifices of the freedom fighters were not known. So she gave a call that the new generation adapted the previous generation’s thinking and took up the responsibility of completing their unfinished task. It wasn’t long after independence had been achieved. Indira Gandhi adopted Socialism. Even Nehru would speak about Socialism. He declared himself a Socialist in his autobiography. But Indira Gandhi wanted to raise the banner of Socialism before the appeal of Independence ended. Gradually, it was seen that the Prime Minister’s speech from the Red Fort became an occasion for the announcement of proposals. During the later part of her prime ministership, Indira Gandhi gave birth to this custom.
Now, another Independence Day has passed and the Prime Minister has made a speech from the ramparts of the Red Fort. Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to the Red Fort in unique circumstances: during the Corona pandemic. Journalists would undertake detailed research on the colour of the turban he wore this Independence Day and the turbans he wore on previous I-Day functions. But for the world’s largest democracy, there are many apprehensions about the days ahead as India passes through these troubled times. What will be the future of India’s democracy? Where are we headed on the ‘Tryst with destiny’?
India’s Constitution is not unwritten like that of Britain’s. Although in many cases we end up imitating Britain, our Constitution is written entirely in Indian format and is the world’s longest written Constitution. This Constitution consisted of 1 lakh 45 thousand words. From December 9, 1946 to January 27, 1948, for 165 days, the meeting went on for writing the Constitution. The number of members in the Constituent Assembly formed for writing the Constitution was 299. There were 15 women in this body. Among these women were Sarojini Naidu, Sucheta Kripalini, Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit, Purnima Banerji, Leela Roy and Malati Devi Choudhury.
The Constituent Assembly debates are thrilling. Babasaheb Ambedkar was the chairman. Although C. Rajagopalachari, Pattabhi Sitaramayya, Sardar Patel, Nehru and Rajendra Prasad were members of the Constituent Assembly, Gandhiji wasn’t. He was busy dealing with the riot situation in Kolkata and Noakhali. Once, in the middle of the debate, Nehru said: in the action of establishing democracy we are missing only one person, and he is Bapuji.
After reading the captivating debates, the questions that come to mind are: Which were the issues that the framers of the Constitution were concerned about? On which topics did the major discussions take place? Those were:
- Communalism and Hindu Muslim polarization
- Caste conflict
- Centre-state conflict, the balance of various regional languages
- Economic and social inequality and establishment of justice
Since then, ages have passed! The Yamuna is drying up. The Saraswati is extinct. The Ganga is polluted. Today, it appears that India’s basic problems, in all probability, remain as they are. Nehru began the ritual of writing letters to chief ministers. At least once in a month for sure, sometimes he had written two. It’s astonishing that even today the Prime Minister is doing video conferences with chief ministers. Earlier there were letters, now, tweets on social media — but the problems have not disappeared. During the time of Indira Gandhi, rogue politics practically took formal shape. After she was assassinated, politics became more rogue dependent.
About politics, common people derived the idea that it is for the power-hungry, corrupt, those who were beyond the law and the elite. Unfortunately today, there is extreme polarization in Indian politics. You are either a Modi-supporter or a Modi-detractor. Since the spread of the Corona virus, the popularity of Rightwing populist leaders has been declining across the world. But, according to American news media, even in these adverse times, Modi has been able to maintain his popularity way better in comparison. How has this been possible? Is this because of lack of options for people? Whatever be the reason, the question remains why even after 73 years of our independence, our problems remain unchanged?
(Jayanta Ghosal is a senior journalist. The views expressed are personal)