The 58th Republic Day of India
Mirza A. Beg
Indians are proud to celebrate the 58th, anniversary of the founding of the Republic of India, "The Republic Day". Though India became an independent country on the 15th of August 1947, but for political convenience, for a while in name only, it remained a part of the British dominions. It took more than two years of very hard work by the constitutional convention appointed by the founding fathers, under the leadership of Dr. Ambedkar, an untouchable to design a thoughtful and inclusive constitution. It was officially adopted on the 26th of January 1950. India the political state became the Republic of India.
On the Republic Day India awards high honors to its citizens who have contributed to peace and growth in all fields of humanity, arts and sciences. Among the many deserving peace activists, this year the recognition of Teesta Setalvad is particularly noteworthy. She could as well be awarded medals for bravery, because in the face of bigotry of some lethal forces, to be a voice of reason and resolute advocate of the rights of politically weak and marginalized is the greatest act of bravery. Award to her does credit to the Government and people of India.
Democracy, especially a liberal democracy in a huge sub-continental, mutli-ethnic, multi-lingual and multi-religious country is very difficult indeed. It becomes even more daunting where many communities that make up the fabric have long and rich histories of rise and fall of indigenous empires that they are proud of, and some hark nostalgically to those gone by days. Those pre-modern norms were based on ethnic supremacy of some casts and a history of perennial, structural deprivation of casts at the lower rungs of the economic, social and religious ladder. India has struggled to right these wrongs with inevitable resistance and numerous setbacks.
To say, it is very difficult to create and sustain democracy in such conditions is an understatement. In the wake of the Second World War it became very clear that imperialism practiced by the Western democracies was an obvious oxymoron and on its last legs. Hundreds of countries including India, with artificial borders designed for the convenience of the imperial powers, woke up to a new dawn and felt the invigorating winds of change in Asia and Africa. Unfortunately almost all of them except India fell to the lure of dictatorships promising shortcuts to fast and easy solutions to the myriad problems partly a colonial legacy. They never found solutions. Dictatorships only created more problems, succumbing to the exploitation by superpowers or past colonial masters. They only succeeded in strangling their citizens with false promises. A few of those countries, after many pitfalls, have finally awakened to learn from India that there are no short cuts.
To build a democratic republic requires hard work, unplanned sacrifices and to grow deep sustainable roots, it demands tremendous patience in the face of terrible challenges. The growth of democracy in India has been full of pit falls. The forces of bigotry that inevitably take advantage of democratic values of tolerance have menaced India continuously. They have often succeeded in sowing mayhem in different regions of the country and the struggle has been arduous. The protection of the right to free speech of fascistic organizations that indulge in mayhem to violently deny these rights to others, mostly minorities have been excruciating. Many innocent lives have been lost owing to treachery of some in power taking advantage of inevitably slow and inherently cumbersome methods of democracy. These victims in effect have been forced, unwilling martyrs, or one may say sacrificial lambs at the altar of democracy. It indeed is terribly shameful and sad, but abrogation of constitutional guarantees of free speech and free assembly, even when reprehensible forces exploit these rights under the umbrella of democracy have been the death knell of the states that have fatally spiraled into the abyss of dictatorships, scrapping the constitution.
Though draconian shortcuts to rein in undemocratic forces are often very appealing, they tend to destroy the very system leading to the evolution of a civil society. It is a conundrum for all decent people, but so far no easy answer has emerged.
It is a credit to the sustaining vision of the founding fathers of Indian democracy and Indian people that with all the terrible pitfalls and many horrendous mistakes of omission and commission, Indians have maintained a generally upward trajectory towards a better tomorrow with a patient nurturing of a democratic republican form of government. The price paid by the sacrifice and the blood of innocent victims and faith in democracy has helped India to emerge from the depths of colonial past, poised to take its place among the modern nations and the potential to be one of the great powers of the 21st Century. <Friday, 26th of January 2007>
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