BY the grace of Providence India enters the comity of free nations to-day, an equal among equals. It is an occasion for rejoicing not only for her people but for all who value human freedom as an end in itself. So long as this country with her hoary civilisation and many-sided culture, her wealth of resources and matchless opulence of spirit remained in political bondage, that very fact constituted an implicit denial of those values to which the dominant nations of the West were wont to pay lip service.
That India has at long last achieved her independence by agreement with Great Britain is a fact for which the sagacity and statesmanship of Britain is entitled to the fullest credit. Other imperial Powers are bound to follow in her footsteps sooner or later; for the heart has gone out of Imperialism. The harrowing experience of two wars within a single generation is to a large extent responsible for this awakening among the ruling Powers. But the way in which the people of India have conducted their struggle for emancipation has not been without its influence in bringing about a change in the world outlook.
The outstanding marvel of this century is the faith inspired in millions of people that truth may prevail, unbacked though it be by the big battalions, that you may win over your adversary by putting him on his honour, relying on his good faith and appealing to his reason. By imbuing his countrymen with this faith and sustaining it through the long night-of darkness and despair Mahatma Gandhi has not only won for himself a secure place in our affections; he has placed all humanity in his debt. To him and to the countless men and women who sacrificed themselves cheerfully that others might live to breathe the ampler air of freedom, our hearts turn to-day in reverent homage. We have achieved freedom; But at what cost!
A country and a people that by every test are a unity have been arbitrarily divided. And the wound will take long to heal; for, as Mr. Nehru has sadly remarked, “division has taken place in the hearts of the people of India”. But it is idle to brood over what has happened and foolish to get angry and cast about for scapegoats. Many think that there is bound to be a reunion when there has been time enough for people to reflect coolly on the disastrous consequences of this unnatural partition. That is as it may be. But those who are perpetually harping on it, whether from genuine distress or in a fractious spirit, will not be hastening that consummation. It can only act as an irritant. The temptation for the protagonists of a united India and of Pakistan to talk at each other from a distance should be set aside. And both sides should concentrate on the thousand and one practical tasks that will have to be tackled in a spirit of mutual accommodation if life is not to be unnecessarily hard for large masses of men.
The responsible leaders have shown a praiseworthy desire to conciliate the minorities and to reassure them. But so long as Lahore, Calcutta, and other big cities remain in the grip of madmen drunk with blood and the civil power stands helpless in the face of organised murder and loot, it is idle to expect the minority communities to be satisfied with verbal assurances however ample. From to-day the responsibility for ending this disgraceful state of affairs is solely ours. Neither the Government of India nor that of Pakistan must overlook the fact that our new-won freedom is itself gravely menaced by this chronic lawlessness. Every effort should, of course, be made to rally the vast majority of peaceable citizens in support of law and order. But the long arm of the law should be not less ready to collar and swift to punish the malfactors however deeply they might be entrenched. We have won freedom. And the first thing our people must learn is that it is no picnic. They will have to gird their loins and work as they have never worked before.
Any number of paper plans will not usher in the millennium if we go on interminably arguing their relative merits. The consensus of instructed opinion in the country is that our urgent need is to increase production. Dr. John Matthai, in stressing the other day the fact that the redressing of the present gross inequality in distribution is no less essential, was no doubt applying a healthy corrective. But, while admitting this, we would point out that there is some risk in envisaging the pursuit of economic equality in terms of a struggle. Dr. Matthai argued that like all national movements for freedom ours too, has had to lean heavily on vested interests and the latter have taken the fullest advantage of this; and that a determined effort should now be made to shake off this strangle-hold and this could be done, and he energy released by the achievement of freedom could be best utilised by casting vested interests for the role of enemy as we cast British Imperialism for that role till the other day. Dr. Matthai was, we are sure, merely using picturesque language to emphasise his point. But there is a danger in simplifying these things, especially with a people who are still novices in the art of political democracy. We have to deal, not with lifeless things that stay put, but with a dynamic situation which changes under our very eyes.
Those who led the fight for freedom yesterday may themselves come to be regarded as vested interests by their self-styled successors of to-day who claim to lead the struggle for economic equality. In fact, the epidemic of strikes that has broken out in many key- industries and that is further impoverishing an economy that is already dangerously on the verge of collapse, is often sought to be justified on the ground that the bourgeois leaders are in league with the capitalists. If these ideological recriminations are given their head, we must bid farewell to all hopes of a united drive for maximising production and for opening up new and fruitful fields of economic activity. Having pinned our faith to the method of peaceful persuasion in our struggle for emancipation it would ill become us to look upon the coercive exercise of the State power as the inevitable instrument for building up a strong and wellknit nation. Among us, as in other parts of the world, there are bound to be wide differences of opinion as to the objectives of State policy.
All rational men aim at the good life as the goal of the State; but, though there is general agreement in regard to the material conditions which the term implies, there are considerable differences of opinion over the spiritual values which are no less essential to the good life, such imponderables, among others, as freedom of thought itself. Far from regarding it as necessary in the interests of the public welfare to steam-roller opinion at the behest of a dominant clique, our age-long tradition, to which totalitarian tyranny is profoundly repugnant, has always favoured the allowing of the maximum liberty to people to live their own lives without denying others their dup. If we are to be true to our own best impulses we should depend on education rather than legislation, on the catalytic action of creative thought and not on mass agitation and crude propaganda, to bring about those changes which may be necessary to eliminate poverty, wretchedness and strife and to enable every citizen of free India to attain to fullness of life and that inner freedom which the Vedic seers termed Swaaraajya .
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