India is a melting pot of cultures, ideas and faiths. It is an ancient country with an extremely rich heritage. However, it is very young as a nation state with a vibrant democratic system. Indeed, very few people gave Indian democracy a chance of succeeding when it started off in 1947. There were a number of other democracies which started off at the same time namely in Africa and Pakistan which have witnessed a sharp downturn in their democratic fortunes. Apart from a brief period in the 1970s when the Emergency was imposed by Indira Gandhi, the country has fared very well from a democratic standpoint.
However, democracy is not simply about scheduling elections. The basic tenets of a democracy also included freedom of expression and unrestricted media. Unfortunately, the last few years under the Narendra Modi government have witnessed restrictions on internet access, biased media outfits and arrests of comedians for jokes they did not crack. An outsider would be forgiven for thinking that Indians are incredibly sensitive to criticism of any sort.
It is difficult to arrive at any sort of logic for the situation that India finds itself in currently. As the world’s most populous democracy with population of 1.3 billion, the policies that India adopts when it comes to climate change, fossil fuels and economics have the potential to impact the world at large. Unfortunately, the present government has adopted an almost sleight of hand approach when it comes to passing laws. They are introduced in Parliament through ordinances and then passed through the Lok Sabha (where the Modi government has a majority) without any debate and discussion.
Recent events have however shown that Indian democracy is in healthy hands. Farmers across the country have risen up in unison against three farm laws which the government surreptitiously passed through the Lok Sabha. While it is true that Indian agriculture is in desperate need for reforms, there is also space for debate and discussion about how these reforms should be executed. Measures which have been in place for over 50 years cannot be wished away simply through fast tracked laws.
India is such a diverse country that the only things which unite Indians are politics and cricket. Politicians and cricketers occupy larger than life status and their lives are closely tracked. Not surprisingly, they are looked up to as role models and their opinions matter. These two fields sometimes intersect as was seen when Indian cricket stars tweeted in support of the government when it came to the farmers protests that have rocked the government.
As one travels through India, the sheer differences among people take your breath away. Languages, food habits, climate, terrain, religious inclinations all change depending on the region of the country that you are currently in. Perhaps it is not surprising then that India is a deeply spiritual country where the Almighty goes by many different names, is symbolized in different ways and worshipped in a variety of religions. This inclination of India towards religion and spirituality is also demonstrated in the demi God status that popular film stars, political leaders and successful cricketers command in the country. This is evident in the fact that some sports and film stars have successfully made it to the field of politics.
However, India is more than the political and cricketing leaders that it throws up. The basic idea of India lies in freedom and assertion of individual rights. This was characterized by none other than MK Gandhi who is rightly considered as the Father of the Nation. Today, Gandhian ideals of peaceful protests, empowerment of village communities and self reliance are more important than ever before. These are timeless ideas and will always remain relevant. It need not matter whether Gandhi is given credit for these ideas or not, his photograph on Indian currency means that he lives on in India’s memories forever.
It is easy to anchor one’s faith in the speeches of a political leader or the actions of a cricketer but everybody eventually has to undertake a journey of self discovery. This can be seen more than ever in Gandhi’s life when he transformed from a Western educated barrister to a champion of Indian rights and got the support of the country at large for his ideas. However, leaders like Gandhi come across very rarely. We can only look towards them for inspiration. The journey that we make has to be individual.
Today, India is a Hindu majority country with minorities that include Muslims and Dalits. Now is more than ever the time that Indian society creates an ecosystem envisaged by Gandhi at the time of partition which is secular and inclusive. The power of Gandhian ideals is that they are humane and will survive the test of time. His face on currency notes should remind us of the life that he led and the causes that he dedicated himself towards.
However, India is a country with a tremendous youth population that has little patience. Hence, the popularity of Narendra Modi who has successfully branded himself as a reformer even though there might be little evidence of these measures. This India would do well to deeply study issues and go beyond the noise of media professionals and news bytes. It would then realize that every law is not to be supported just as every protest does not deserve endorsement.
Now more than ever is the moment that the world looks towards India for inspiration. Indian policies towards energy will make a substantial contribution to the world’s movement towards clean energy. The Modi government has already shown its inclination towards electric vehicles and the next few years will be closely tracked by world media. It is time that we stopped doing lip service to Gandhi’s ideas and instead pursued his vision for a progressive, secular and productive society with enthusiasm.
It is no easy task to be a 21st century Indian. The West is quick to pick on missteps in policies and religious practices. However, we are yet to realize the potential that India’s young population offers. This demographic dividend will only yield benefits if India’s energies are channelized in the right direction through work opportunities, individual motivations and self drive. As much as India looks towards politicians and sports stars for guidance, this is an individual journey where much remains to be discovered. Instead of being obsessed with the past, India should take the lead in creative solutions for policies, faith and business. The world is watching.