Fourth Front

'My dear countrymen, what is wrong with you people?': The speech you won't hear on Independence Day

As we celebrate our independence on Monday, most of the people who fought for it will no longer be there. But if they were, here's what they'd have to say.

When the prime minister suggested that his Independence Day speech may have crowd-sourced suggestions, we thought we’d help him a little and send him some original ideas he could use. However, as we prepared to submit these, a charismatic Bengali man wearing an Indian National Army uniform and holding a brown envelope showed up at our office.

As the voices in the office died down, all our attention was focused on this old but energetic looking man. We sat there, dumbfounded, and he stepped forward, slammed the envelope on a desk, saluted the flag in our office and made his exit.

We opened the envelope and realised that it was an Independence Day speech written on behalf of all our freedom fighters. Suddenly we realised who the man was. It was him! He was still alive! So, here’s the speech, reproduced in full:

Greetings, my dear countrymen,

Thank you for the tepid applause! Though I notice that most of you are busy either catching Pokemon or sending congratulatory messages about how UNESCO selected August 15 as the “best independence day in the world,” I still appreciate that you showed up. It’s the thought that counts, after all.

I am one of the leaders of this country’s independence movement. You might remember me from that ’80s-style cartoon pullout that you used for your school projects. Or that low-budget Indie movie they made on my life that someone or the other broadcasts every year on some national holiday.

I know I speak on behalf of all my fellow freedom movement leaders when I ask: what is wrong with you people? You’ve spent the last few decades undoing all our hard work. Do you have any idea how difficult it was to put this whole country together?

Whose country is it anyway?

Back in the day, when the British finally realised that they had had enough chicken tikka masala and went back to whence they came, we were left with a region that was split into a thousand territories. Anyone with a fort and a park thought they were a separate country. We had to bribe, bully and cajole people into joining in. Not many people expected us to last this long. Commentators from all over the world thought that this “experiment” in building a modern nation-state wouldn’t outlast its founders.

Yet, the experiment has endured. And that very nation-state is about to celebrate its 69th Independence Day. Yeah, don’t pat yourself in the back too much. You don’t get any credit. This nation hasn’t survived because you put any effort into it. It has survived despite your best attempts to tear it apart. Don’t you go about thinking that no one saw your attacks at the crumbling edifice of our democracy.

What is with all those religious groups who think they own the place? Here’s the thing, dummies. The country that came to be on August 15, 1947, belongs to everybody. There was no one monolithic group that fought for our freedom. Our freedom fighters were Agnostics, Atheists, Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jains, Jews, Muslims, and Sikhs. People of different castes, races, and sexualities stood up to the British together. They were ordinary people who gave everything to the freedom struggle, including their life, without any fanfare or notoriety. Therefore, no single group can call dibs on the entire country.

Child's play

This region has been a melting pot of cultures, languages, religions, sexualities and literature for many centuries. When we set to write the Constitution, we made sure that our diversity was going to be preserved. Do you know how difficult it was to get everyone on the same page? We managed to bring people who couldn’t even decide on a common lunch order to agree to a set of common laws. Do you think you can just sweep in and bully people into conforming? Not going to happen, sunshine.

I know some of you have an issue with our Constitution. You blame us for its misuse. Well, we tried very hard to idiot-proof it but even we couldn't foresee a time when nincompoop idiots in positions of power would be offended by the use of the word “Bombay.” We had assumed that the people who would follow it would be smarter, more knowledgeable, more put together. We wrote the Constitution assuming that people in the future would behave like adults. That was a huge mistake. We couldn’t fathom that in the future the country would be run by infantile man-babies with such fragile self-esteem that they couldn’t even handle mild criticism. Our bad.

We also didn’t have any idea that one day pseudo-nationalists would use our names and the slogans of the freedom movement as cudgels to beat up other people. In a democracy, you can't tell anyone what to do with their opinions. The idea of living in a democracy is that no one group supersedes the others. No one’s writ runs over the other. Do you think a country of a billion people will have uniformity of opinion? No way.

Those demanding that people forcefully comply with their version of patriotism are just exposing the weakness of their own argument. A democracy makes space for plurality of opinion. Otherwise, it falls under the weight of its contradictions. When we were leading the freedom movement, we did not have to force people to join in. They volunteered on their own! And we didn’t treat the few that didn’t as our mortal enemy.

What's in a name?

Which is why you also need to stop using our names and memories as pawns in your stupid, partisan food fights. The only reason you need to use our name to fight your own battles is because you feel inadequate using your own. You think you can posthumously baptise us into your team and that will give you some sort of legitimacy.

Do you think any of us would have agreed with your narrow worldview? We vanquished one of the largest empires this planet has ever seen who ruled over this part of the world for almost two hundred years. Do you think that airports named after us or large statues bearing our likeness impress us?

This physical manifestation of your faux admiration for us might fool some people, but it doesn’t fool us. If you really cared about what we stood for, you wouldn’t have spent your time trying to weaken the democracy we gave our lives for. As you keep undermining our intentions, your empty gestures keep getting louder. The statues get bigger. The flag gets taller. And the slogans are shouted with more intensity.

So happy Independence Day, people. Enjoy your freedom! May the Constitution continue to protect you from yourself!

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
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