An anatomy of the Indian Nation that we are, and the nation...

An anatomy of the Indian Nation that we are, and the nation we want to be, in this 21st century Holi 2024

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An anatomy of the Indian Nation that we are, and the nation we want to be, in this 21st century Holi 2024

BY Allan Rodrigues, Indian Navy, Retired

Dear fellow Veterans, fellow Indians and members of the Indian diaspora,

Please allow me the privilege of wishing every single one of you a very happy, HOLI all the way from New Zealand, across the Pacific, and Tasman sea, where a new day has just begun. HOLI is the festival that celebrates the divine love between the Hindu deities Radha and Krishna, but is also a celebration of the triumph of good over evil. It is a time for happiness and great celebration and rightly so.

In that spirit I thought I might evoke a few thoughts on how far we have come, and perhaps take stock of where we need to go. We have had an incredible 77 years from the midnight hour when the first Prime Minister of Independent India announced our arrival into the great community of nations. It has been a long arduous journey since our founding fathers from all political ideologies, formed this unlikely and extraordinary experiment in democracy. Most pundits in the world of that time opined it was doomed to fail.

In the words of ‘President Lincoln at Gettysburg’ in our case, forming “a democracy for the people, by the people and off the people” of nearly 23 ethnically diverse groups of people, along with countless sub-communities and ethnic groups, was always going to be an impossible ask, even for the most mature of independent nations. Not surprisingly, the Balkans were the first to fall apart, followed by the mighty Soviet Empire, which disintegrated in a single fateful month after the fall of the Berlin wall.

But not us. India as a nation stood firm, anchored to the fundamentally embedded belief, that we are greater than the sum of our many parts. Yes we have had major challenges along the way. There are always challenges when trying to manage a fine line between unfettered freedom and authoritarianism, but the people of India have held firm to the ground, secure in the belief that the strength of an anchor or a nation for that matter, is only as good as its weakest link.

But somehow, almost impossibly, we managed to hold the line and ourselves together, through hell or high water. It has not been an easy journey, or even an easy task in governance by any one political party across the ideological spectrum. In fact, there were grave mistakes by some of them, but they also gave India, some of its most iconic and seminal successes.

We were (and in some cases still are), a work in progress, a country, stifled by bureaucracy, riddled with corruption and dishonesty, across many of our systems of administration and governance. Several attempts continue by the people and the government to find our way through this morass, to the clear skies that must surely lie above us, and yes, we have some of the lowest ‘quality of life’ markers in the world.

Yet, despite fortune and misfortune, we seem to have not only survived, but even prospered. There are always challenges that lie in ambush along the long arc of a nation’s history, many of which in our case, could have gone either way. The abject poverty, food insecurities, and famines of the nineteen forties to the sixties are a case in point.

it might seem difficult to believe, but many of us remember all our families from all walks of life, missing a meal on Mondays in the days of PM Shastri, so that we had enough food to go around the country as a whole. And then we saved ourselves via our magnificent farmers who gave us the ‘green revolution’ that converted India, from being a nation desperately short on grain stocks, to one with major stock piles in great big silos, and then becoming an exporter of grain and food products. Yet poverty remains our biggest hurdle yet.

 We faced down and fought three major wars and many ‘near wars’ and ‘near engagements’. After 450 years of Portuguese rule we sent them packing in 1961 in the space of 20 hours with their “Borees and “Bisthers” from start to finish. We won a war in 1971 and created a new nation. And all along we kept reinventing ourselves along the way. Each of our downturns was always followed by a new upturn.

We exploded an atomic bomb, built great big ships and submarines, and from almost no infrastructure and with no support whatsoever, created the greatest information and technology workforce, that to this day straddles the earth with no equal. And somewhere along the way, through the stillness and quiet of outer space with the least ‘budget and money spend’ and almost no fanfare, we fired a rocket to Mars and then placed a Rover’ on the dark side of the moon. All as part of a days work, day after day, quietly, unassumingly, until each of these great big jobs were done.

On this marvelous Hindu festival of HOLI which is a celebration of love and the triumph of good over evil, we need to be vigilant against the forces that would tear us apart. The ones that come from outside our borders are easily recognizable and visible, the ones that lie within us are hidden in the murk of our own inequities. We should not let our successes result in hubris, or to sit in the glare of our own brilliance, and fail to look into the dark corners of the spaces we occupy. There are challenges to be met, and they must be met head on.

Many of these challenges emanate from intolerance in one form or the other. If we have to fight this fight of ‘good versus evil’, not just at HOLI, but on every day of our lives, then we must recognize that intolerance and bigotry is the one single fault line that will destroy us. It is a clear, and present danger to the nation that will tear us apart. Intolerance comes in many forms. For those of us who live overseas, we recognize it as racism. It is an unfortunate beast that raises its head every once in a while. But in India, it is not racism so much as the need to be vigilant against a more insidious form of intolerance called XENOPHOBIA.

Racism is based on ignorance, a lack of education and the inability to be intelligent enough to see a person of a different ethnicity as an equal. Xenophobia on the other hand is a conscious choice made by a class of people. It is a form of intolerance generated by fear that the other person threatens their way of life. It is made by thinking educated people who make the conscious choice of discriminating against another person for a variety of reasons.

There is religious xenophobia, class and caste xenophobia, there is ethnic xenophobia, but the worst is the xenophobic intolerance that comes from placing people in ‘economic silos’ that make it impossible for them to gain equal access to the same quality of life. There is a zero-sum-game that results which is seen as one persons gain signals another persons loss. As Indians, we will make a few mistakes along the way, as that is the way of progress, but if India is to to stay together, we need to recognize that every Indian of every single walk of life is an equal, with the same rights and the same privileges.

When we see each other as equals, that is the day when we can walk up to the top of the table of nations who command this earth and stake a legitimate claim to those that sit there, that it is our time. We did it before in eons past, in no particular order at the time of the Mauryas, the Satavahanas, the Cholas, Guptas, the Pallavas and the Mughals. We can do it again, but this time we will with the strength of an anchor chain of the many diverse parts of India, forged into unbreakable bonds of steel at each of its link. This is our time. CARPE DIEM. We need to seize the day.

Finally, I do hope on this day, we will take the time to remember the pledge we made as officers and other ranks to protect, serve and defend the constitution and the people of India and to remember the men and women who sacrificed their lives to serve India. They gave away their tomorrows for our todays. All that they have ever asked for in return, is a place in our hearts to remember their sacrifice, and an urn to preserve their ashes.

A very happy HOLI to all of you.

ALLAN RODRIGUES

CAMBRIDGE, NEW ZEALAND