Riot of the Legacies

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Listening to the constant gibberish that goes on in India among different political dispensations, vying with each other to glorify one legacy or the other, Vedic to Mughal and Gandhian to Nehruvian, I am reminded of the title of a Malayalam novel I read as a teenager, “Ntuppuppakkoraanendarnnu” (My grandpa had an elephant). Authored by renowned novelist, Vaikom Muhammad Basheer, the book is about people hiding their present-day shortcomings by boasting about past glory. Metaphorically, the multitude of legacies that play spoilsport in India’s consequential progress is no different than the hypocrisy the novel tries to portray.

The fundamental flaw with the political narratives of all hues in India is their attempt to view the present through the smoky prism of the past. It is nonsensical to see one side giving a Vedic touch to everything and the other side countering it with the Gandhian rhetoric that has assumed mythic proportions. Let’s look at the Vedic narrative first. Hinduism as a way of life had taken roots in India from time immemorial and it continues to define the contours of the subcontinental culture in general is a fact of life no one can deny. Music and other art forms that resonate a close affinity, food habits, dress preferences and a thousand other factors draw the people of the Indian Subcontinent (and Sri Lanka as well) into a common mould. The popularity of the iconic women’s attire, sari, alone is enough to nail down the point. The essence of this commonality is the universal appeal of the culture of the region rooted in the Hindu way of life, which has stood the test of time. Such a powerful system, which has weathered many a foreign invasion and absorbed and assimilated whatever good came out of it and rejected the bad, all the while maintaining its domineering influence, needs no resurgence or propagation. No doubt the system came under stress in recent times, with the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in the subcontinent triggering a Hindu backlash. However, what those who encourage and propagate fundamentalist tendencies among the Hindus do not realize is that they are sabotaging the age-old culture of the land, which, from a modern perspective, has immense potential to put us on the fast track to progress. We are fortunate to have evolved a liberal system in the country, wherein people of all faiths and beliefs can live and thrive. Do they wish to regress ourselves to a medieval state, denying freedom and happiness to the people like some retrograde countries of the world do? We should act like a nation confident of itself, shedding the baggage of our past behind, rather than nit-picking on the rights and wrongs of the past. The government of the day must champion the cause, rather than indulging in immature exercises of changing place names and trying to ‘Indianize’ the armed forces, which, incidentally, represent India in its truest form.

Now, talking of the so-called Gandhi-Nehru legacy, how much of it is fact and how much of it is myth, and how far is it relevant today while the country is poised to make strides on the global stage? No one can deny the yeoman service Gandhi rendered the nation by promoting awareness of liberty among the common people; he woke the nation up from its slumber. However, he was not alone in achieving that feat. There was a galaxy of other leaders prior to him too who strived for the country’s emancipation; it is just that his methodology proved the most successful one. Then again, the popular narrative fostered on the people that the country achieved independence wholly through his non-violent struggle is an absolute myth, created by the leading political dispensation of the times for electoral gains. The Indian independence was a cumulative outcome of multiple factors, the most significant among those being the British Empire ending up economically and militarily untenable. The unscrupulous and immoral behaviour of the political leadership in deliberately ignoring or side-lining the epic contributions of many other stalwarts and movements was reprehensible, the saga of Subhash Chandra Bose and the INA, and the silent but catalytic role played by the Indian armed forces in hastening the British departure being the most prominent of those. In any case, what right do the same political party and its cohorts, which find itself out of power now, have in claiming themselves to be the custodians of Gandhian legacy, after jettisoning all the values Gandhi stood for during their corruption-ridden, degenerate governance of the country for almost seven decades? And for all the pluses one could attribute to Nehru for laying the foundations of a modern India, the military disaster he perpetrated on the country remains unforgiven. His problem was that somewhere down the line, his ego made him forget that he was heading a third world country with myriad problems and set about to prove himself an international statesman of eminence, while he should have been focussing on putting his own house in order.

None of these legacies are relevant in the twenty-first century context. We are a democratic nation struggling to make our mark in a highly competitive global environment, while being saddled with an exceedingly hostile neighbourhood. It is time for us to cast aside our debilitating habit of ruminating on the past and strike out as winners. At the end of the day, the world sees us all only as Indians and no one cares a hoot about your religion or ethnicity or whatever.

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