“Seventy years after India’s independence, we are freer than when the British left our soil but perhaps much less free than what the framers of our Constitution hoped we would be,” said historian Ramachandra Guha. He was speaking at The Hindu 's Lit for Life Annual Lecture on the topic ‘India at 70: A Historian’s Report Card’ in the city on Saturday.
“We have falsified the pundits who said we’ll break up but we still have much more work ahead of us,” he added and concluded that as a “nation-state, India is 80 per cent successful but as a democracy, perhaps only 50 per cent.”
“My worry is that we are not so much an electoral democracy as much as an elections-only democracy. You win an election and you think you are immune to criticism for the next five years. That was true of the UPA and that was true of the NDA.”
“But democracy is about continuous reflection and interrogation, not just in Parliament. Look at the suppression of our civil society. The deficiency of our democracy is manifest in the widespread corruption of our political class, deterioration of our public institutions, particularly our failure to provide quality education and health to our citizens,” he said.
This was the first Lit for Life annual lecture, a new element added to the paper’s annual literature festival, said Dr. Nirmala Lakshman, Director, Kasturi and Sons Ltd and Festival Director, Lit for Life.
Mr. Guha examined the 70-year history of Independent India through the four principles of Mahatma Gandhi’s Swaraj — non-violence defined as political freedom; Hindu-Muslim unity defined as cultural freedom; abolition of untouchability defined as social justice; and swadeshi defined as economic freedom. While the holding of free and fair elections was a remarkable achievement, India’s record in nurturing freedom of expression evoked concern, he said. In terms of social justice, Mr. Guha argued that the one community that was worse off today was the adivasi community. He lamented the degradation of environment undertaken in the name of growth.
He said the country’s report card on religious freedom was mixed. While Muslims were free to practise their religion, they had suffered disproportionately during riots, Kashmir being the exception. Rajiv Lochan, CEO, Kasturi and Sons Ltd., presented the concluding remarks. Mukund Padmanabhan, editor, The Hindu , was also present.