The passage of time in nations is not marked by dates. It is marked by moods. India at 75 is youthful, energetic, innovative, politically engaged, with a stronger state. It has, persisting poverty notwithstanding, traveled a considerable distance from the abject material dependence of 1947.
But instead of writing its will across the stars in the glorious language of freedom, India has a strange haunted feeling, as if it is possessed by too many inner demons. It fears individual freedom. It valourises ethnic majoritarianism. It is impatient of its own plurality. Its growth in power has denuded its spiritual confidence. Its Constitution is being reduced to mere form. Its politics is a throwback to the 1940’s: Blasphemy, Identity and Revenge are its watchwords rather than Liberty, Equality and Fraternity.
India is, as Raja Rao once said, is a darsana – a philosophical term meaning to discern or to behold – one that seems to overcome time. But it will be dishonest to not admit to a sense of foreboding.
There is one “patriotic” song that has been impossible to get out my head “Hum laye hain toofan as kishti nikal ke, is desh ko rakhna mere bacho samabhal ke” (We rescued this fragile boat from the storm/ my children take care of this country).
We did not need heed the fragility of this experiment. And as parents often do, we now hope our children will do a better job than we did. The good news is that they probably will. The bad news is: if only we let them. This is not India at 75, as much as a time for refounding.
Pratap Bhanu Mehta is Senior Fellow, Center for Policy Research Delhi, and Laurence S. Rockefeller Visiting Professor at Princeton University. He has written widely on democracy and constitutionalism.
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