Tomorrow is country’s 71st Independence Day. This year it has been preceded by a rather long weekend starting from the evening of Friday 11th August 2017. The auspicious day of Janamashtami, Lord Krishna’s birthday too falls on 15th August. So does it make this Independence Day a special one for the nation as a whole? In all fairness it should but as events have panned out in last four days it does not appear so.
On Friday, 11 August 17, country’s honourable Vice President of last ten years bid adieu to his office but not without a parting shot that smacked of communal overtones and ill will towards the current government when he stated that there was a sense of insecurity creeping within the Muslim community in the country. The question is not about the correctness or incorrectness of the statement. The question is about timing and the occasion he chose to talk on this sensitive issue. The question is about his silence on this issue for so long despite holding the second highest office in the country. The question is about choosing to speak only for 13% of the population of the nation on the occasion of his farewell when in reality he was the Vice President of more than 1.3 billion Indians. The question is about being partisan and communal instead of being fair and Indian. This event set the tone for vitiating and souring the climate for this long pre Independence Day weekend.
On Saturday, 12 August 2017, news broke out about the sad death of scores of children in Baba Raghav Das Medical College Hospital in Gorakhpur, most of who were suffering from Japanese Encephalitis (JE) – a mosquito based disease that is often fatal for children below 15 years of age. Fatality rate is as high as 30% among those severely affected and another 30% suffer permanent brain damage. It has no effective cure and treatment is focused on relieving severe clinical signs and supporting the patient to overcome infection. JE vaccination is available but for best results it has to be supported with provisions for clean water and environment apart from anti mosquito drives. Apart from eastern UP, Bihar, Bengal, Manipur and Assam are other parts of the country that are seriously affected by JE. The sad part here is that despite its recurrence year after year the authorities have never been well prepared to handle the outbreak that generally stretches from June to September which is also the prime time for mosquito breeding due to monsoons. The hospital in question is the lone nodal hospital for this dreaded disease in the area. Patients from many adjoining districts, normally in very severe condition, come to the hospital for treatment. The reasons being advanced for the current spate of deaths are infectious wards and non availability of oxygen in the hospital. The hospital however denies this. Whatever be the immediate reasons, the real issue is whether the hospital and authorities were fully prepared to meet the challenge that comes calling every year. The answer is NO and therein lies the root cause of the problem. Government authorities are invariably found wanting in such situations on most of our perennial recurring problems – be it medical, civic or social. In the specific instance of Gorakhpur hospital, the official apathy becomes even more glaring since the current Chief Minister, Mr Aditya Nath Yogi, has been a Member of Parliament from this constituency without a break from 1998. He has no excuse for not having ensured full preparedness of his constituency for such an eventuality. Therefore he, state administration and hospital authorities have to be held accountable for the disaster.
On same day and another bombshell hit the headlines. UP government ordered all madrassas in the state to video graph their Independence Day celebrations on 15th August and submit the proof to concerned authorities. While the need for such celebrations in all schools is not debateable, the idea of seeking proof of same selectively is certainly in bad form as it reeks of mistrust and mischief. As expected, and rightly so, some sections of the minority community found this order discriminatory since it presupposes that some of them may not be patriotic. Such a move only gives credence to what outgoing Vice President said in his farewell speech a day before. Surely there are better and more effective ways of ensuring that all schools (including madrassas) organise Independence Day programmes that include national flag hoisting. Erring schools can easily be identified and taken to task instead of vitiating the environment by such loaded orders. This only highlights the incompetence and short-sightedness of the authorities and reflects poorly on the state leadership as a whole.
The Human Resource & Development (HRD) Ministry of central government too issued a circular outlining the manner in which Independence Day should be celebrated across the nation in schools and other educational institutions. Once again this was an order bad in form since there is no merit in the idea of having uniform programmes across India. The bottom line is to ensure celebrations take place in institutions to develop national pride and spirit in young minds. But any assumption that there is only one way to do this is doing great harm to young innovative minds that amounts to curbing initiative and free spirit. Somewhere it also encroaches on the federal structure of the nation if the centre starts believing in the dictate of ‘my way or the high way’.
On Sunday, 14th August 2017, the Times of India carried an article by Aakar Patel titled ‘Three Cheers for the folks who made the 70th bash possible’ on its editorial page that can best be described as the height of negativism. It started with sarcasm and ended with sarcasm with every word in between following suit. His abhorrence for Mr Modi and BJP is well known and he is entitled to same, India after all is a free country. But when supposedly educated people like him, who boast of working for the betterment of society, resort to only sarcasm and focus on negativity then there is something seriously wrong about their credentials. The whole article reeks of personal vindictiveness and hatred for the current government. Why does Mr Patel forget that it is an elected government with an unprecedented mandate? Somewhere as responsible citizens we need to respect people’s verdict in a democracy even if on a personal level we do not agree with the mandate. In such situations, wise and patriotic citizens take recourse to constructive criticism and place nation above everything else. The question whether Mr Patel is wise and patriotic is best left for the reader to decide.
Then there is the never ending discussion on singing of National Anthem and National Song. In view of the approaching Independence Day this subject was in the news regularly for last few days. In a nation as diverse as India in terms of religion, ethnicity, language, culture and a host of other attributes it will be impossible to have a national anthem or song that becomes truly representative of every citizen of the country. Therefore any demand, as made by a Muslim cleric on national television during a debate, that it is time to restructure and reword the national anthem is not only bizarre but also a ploy to keep the controversy raging. National Anthem (or National Song) is not a community or religion centric song. An odd word from one religion or an isolated reference to a region or community does not make it the preserve of that religion or community. It still remains a national anthem for all. The sanctity of the National Anthem or song cannot be questioned by individuals based on their whims and fancies. The only way changes can be brought is through an act of parliament based on a proper debate and analysis. Some national emblems or symbols like the flag and national anthem have to be accepted without reservations. Anyone not doing so or refusing to honour them has to be seen as disrespectful and disloyal to the idea of India and therefore unpatriotic.
Both national anthem and national song are part of Indian heritage which is common to all Indians. Why do some people forget that Abid Ali, a Muslim poet, translated the National Anthem, written by Rabindra Nath Tagore, from Bengali to Hindi? Another song written by Tagore in the same period serves as the national anthem of Bangladesh today – a Muslim country. No Muslim has any problem in singing his national anthem in Bangladesh so why in India? Similarly the national song, originally written by Bankim Chander Chatterjee in 1882, was a song that motivated millions of freedom fighters of all faiths for decades. Surely pre partition Indian Muslim leaders like Abdul Kalam Azad, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, Asif Ali, Ashfaqulla Khan, Saifuddin Kichlu, Maghfoor Ahmed Ajazi, Abdil Hafiz Ahmed Barakatullah, Rafi Ahmed Kidwai, and Sayed Hasan Imam were not only highly learned but also respected community leaders apart from their national stature. If they had no objections one wonders why some petty community leaders of today, with much lesser knowledge and stature, find the two songs as anti – Muslim or anti- Islam?
As on date India is facing one of its toughest challenges in the standoff with China at Dokalam Plateau. At the same time heightened terror activity in Jammu & Kashmir is a matter of serious concern. The rapidly developing links between China and Pakistan do not auger well for India. A lot of work needs to be done to ward off spreading ISIS influence in the country. Communal, ideological and political clashes are taking their toll and keeping anger on the boil in some sections of the society. Indian economy is trying to come to terms with the new tax regime of GST. At times like this India needs to stand united and therefore the importance of this 71st Independence Day. The day gives the nation an opportunity to show its resolve and spirit that no foreign power can take us for granted. The need of the hour is to minimise internal strife but the events of last few days seem to be doing just the opposite. This is crunch time for the nation and while the government needs to tread with caution, all Indians irrespective of their faith, caste and creed need to stand together. It is time for top leadership of BJP and other political parties to sit down and reflect to find the best way forward.
Saroj Chadha, an engineering professional, is a successful entrepreneur. Having retired from the Indian Army after having served for over 23 years, he has also been a consultant for leading Indian and Multinational electrical companies. He lives in New Delhi.