Democracy. It is something we live and breathe everyday. Something which fills me up with emotions I cannot really explain, emotions of kinship and solidarity of the same kind I feel everytime I stand up and sing the national anthem.

It took me a long time to understand that my notion of the Indian Freedom Struggle is what defines my conception of my nationhood. And our wars with Pakistan, our struggle with terrorism had always seemed a continuation of that narrative, a narrative much larger and more powerful than mine, so much so that I would not think twice before giving up my life for it.

But as I grow older I find it harder and harder to reconcile that perspective, where pluralism and genteel grit brought us so far, where we gave up our traditional notions of society and embraced ideas as sensitive and pacifist in their vision as democracy, secularism, socialism and Non-alignment; with the new nightmarish one.

Of Emergency and the systematic destruction of the ethics and morality of our public services and our bureaucracy. Of riots. Of female infanticide. And gang rape. Of slums where unspeakable atrocities are ‘normal’. Of a country where you are grateful everyday if your family is safe. Because you never know where the next serial blast will be. Or the next riot. Or the next draught.

Of a nation where suicide farmers are used confidently as propaganda for a nuclear program with unknowable consequences. The same nation which cannot effectively put together a simple national road grid, or nationwide irrigation system. Where there is no way out but to subsidize crude oil prices, because then the suicide syndrome will spread to the cities. And then what will all of us do.

We celebrate the fact that a majority of us enjoy fundamental human rights. And we celebrate the incremental progress we make towards a better, brighter future. And that hey, at least this is not China and you, buddy can still write this blog and feel better. And it isn’t North Korea either and be glad that you have never seen the inside of a concentration camp.

Yes. I am indeed very lucky. I am privileged. But that is exactly what makes me so deeply guilty. My inaction reeks of my pact with the system. Where as long as i am granted immunity, I shall only read the papers in silence, or write in silence. And it is all the same.

The problem lies not with my conception of nationhood but with human nature. And we need to be led by men and women who understand that nature.

I still think Gandhi did. Many of experiments may have failed. And his idea of morality and truth may seem totalitarian. And to many Indians today, his actions have left behind a fractured nation.

But to me, it is the absence of men like him today, that has let things go so far. For none of us have that one thing he did: a capacity to inspire deep trust. Because he understood. And he made us want to be more than what we were born as.

All we do is try and fix the symptoms. Religious hatred and Quotas. Bombs and Death. Bribes and Silence. Propaganda and 24 hour News Channels.

But the disease that is eating away at me and every Indian today needs a cure. And the cure is not a messiah, or a Hero. For the disease will be inside him too.

You want to know what democracy is? Just look outside your window.

– Shiv Visvanathan to a group of students in Ahmedabad, 2007

2 responses to “Nation”

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