India celebrated its 75th Independence day with great fanfare, flag flying, feasts, and festivals at home and abroad. It is indeed a great moment to review and to reflect on the occasion and also guide the nation going forward to meet the aspirations of all the people of India. India has accomplished a great deal in the last 75 years. However, a great deal still needs to be performed to deliver the essence of Independence on equality, equity, freedom, inclusion, and creating opportunities for most people at the bottom of the economic pyramid.
Undertakings needing clarity
The Prime Minister in his celebrated speech from Red Fort outlined five pledges to focus on: Making India a developed nation by 2047; removing all traces of colonisation; taking pride in our roots and heritage; unity and integrity; and sense of duty among citizens.
These great pledges need much more clarity and a broader national conversation to socialise and institutionalise for implementation.
First, what kind of a developed nation do we want to be? Do we want a nation with high GDP and a few ultra-rich, like in some western countries, with high inequality, exclusion, poverty, hunger, injustice, violence, and unrest? Or do we want a developed nation with distributed wealth, with peace, prosperity, inclusion, happiness, and equal opportunities for all? Do we want a developed nation for a selected few or for all? This requires laser-like focus on the Constitution, democracy, diversity, freedom, equality, equity, and justice. Do we want clean air, potable water, and adequate energy first? This will require understanding and the implications of independent, autonomous institutions, engaged civil society, decentralised development, and a scientific mindset.
Second, removing all traces of colonisation can only happen if we treat those who are weaker well and abolish scavenging, child labour, the caste system, and male and high caste dominance in our system.
Third, while taking pride in our roots and heritage, we must let go of past prejudices and privileges to look at the future prospects for everyone.
Fourth, unity, and integrity are essential for peace and progress. Still, they will demand a deeper understanding and tolerance of religion, race, caste, customs, language, social status, etc.
Finally, the sense of duty among citizens will require discipline, character, values, morals, ethics, and selfless sacrifice to serve and help others.
A charged environment
Unfortunately, in the present toxic and tense environment, with its polarised politics, top-down governance, command and controlled organisations, lack of open and honest conversation, a managed and manipulated media, high on Hindutva, a marginalisation of Muslims and minorities, a renaming of cities, a rewriting of history and a lot more, it is difficult to implement the Prime Minister’s pledges. In addition, when the global trend is to predominantly value power and profit, it is hard to get a leader’s attention to real issues related to people and the planet. Today, what is good for the planet and the people is not on the agenda of global leaders. So, what are the kind of pledges we need to help achieve the Prime Minister’s agenda in this environment?
A much-needed conversation
I suggest we have a conversation on the following five pledges to help build an India of the future.
I will treat every fellow human being with respect, dignity, and love irrespective of their religion, race, caste, colour, custom, carrier, gender, language, or residence. I will study and follow the United Nations human rights charter in language and in spirit and offer all possible help and support to my fellow human beings to make their life safe, secure, and better.
I will work hard to protect the Indian Constitution to safeguard the nation’s democracy, freedom, diversity, inclusion, equality, justice, etc., through independent and autonomous institutions, an engaged and active civil society, a rational mindset, and an available legal system.
I will be a good citizen and practise truth and not lies, trust and not mistrust, and love and not hate. I will live by ethical and moral standards — not engage in corruption, tax evasion, crime, hate, violence, drugs, cheating, lies, abuse, personal attacks, vendetta, misinformation, etc. I will not get engaged in taking revenge and will learn to practise anger management, forgiveness and reconciliation. I will respect women, the girl child and the young and protect their interests.
Think of public service
I will devote a few hours a week to public service at no cost in my local community to ensure cleanliness, provide basic needs, feed the hungry, educate and take care of children and the elderly, provide health services, develop skills, play sports, entertain, plant trees, provide mentorship, provide legal services, oral hygiene, transport, fix equipment, run the local library, read stories, etc. I will find my own ways to help others without outside support.
I will practise and promote Gandhian ideas of non-violence at home, in the family, in schools, streets, in the neighbourhood, the community, the village, and the city. I will not use verbal abuse and anger that hurt fellow human beings. In the process, I will develop a rational, logical, and scientific mindset that values facts and not fiction and data and not dogma — the mindset that can carry on meaningful dialogue with respect for the other’s opinion and different viewpoints without arguments, anger, insult, and hate; the mindset that can recognise differences through effective communication, collaboration, cooperation, and co-creation.
Needed, a mass movement
To take these pledges and follow them is a tall order. However, unless there are enough people in the country at various levels in government, business, civil society, the defence services, the judiciary, the media, the fields of science and technology, education, health, agriculture, labour, art and craft, and the minorities, women, the youth, etc. who believe, practise and promote these pledges, it would be challenging to turn the tide and build an inclusive nation for all that our founding fathers, freedom fighters, and we would be proud of. I have great confidence in Indian history, heritage, civilisation, and wisdom of the Indian people to bring diverse groups with courage, commitment, and conviction together to promote democracy, freedom, inclusion, and development for all the people of India.
I am taking this pledge. Are you willing to join me?
Sam Pitroda, a telecom/IT engineer, innovator, entrepreneur, global thinker and policy maker was adviser to Prime Ministers Rajiv Gandhi and Dr. Manmohan Singh on technology missions, innovations and digital India with a rank of a Cabinet Minister. He lives in Chicago