For years, we the common citizens of India felt emasculated and helpless, reduced to a bunch of candle lighting impotents, when our nation was attacked and we did nothing. Attacks on our Parliament, on the Akshardham Temple and in Mumbai did not evoke the rage which is necessary to make the transgressor pay for causing us hurt and pain. Even the brutality shown to our brave hearts, the Late Capt Saurabh Kalia or Late Lance Naik Hemraj failed to move us and we did nothing. The common citizen felt helpless and shamed at the impotency of its rulers.
Thankfully, that has changed and Pakistan now, not only stands exposed as a global exporter of terror, but faces the risk of strong Indian retaliation to acts of terror that it promotes and encourages against India. The surgical strikes and the Indian air strike on the Jaish-e-Mohammad Terror camp at Balakot has changed the paradigm. We now feel encouraged to share some of our dreams for our country and the expectations from our government.
The Population Explosion
Regardless of the huge investments that have taken place in India since independence for the upliftment of the masses, the fruits of development have not been realised because of the massive population explosion that has taken place in the country, which continues to retard progress and makes the elimination of poverty that much more difficult. At the time of Independence, the population of undivided India was 390 million. This included 30 million people in what is today Pakistan and another 30 million people in present day Bangladesh. Today, the population of India by itself is over 1,300 million people — about four times more than what it was at independence. This is clearly unsustainable.
The burgeoning population outstrips all our efforts to give gainful employment to the millions who join the work force every year. Our cities are overpopulated, the infrastructure just cannot keep pace with the hundreds of thousands who keep streaming into the cities every year, the air is polluted, water is in short supply and living spaces are getting increasingly confined. We need to make our towns and cities more habitable, and to give at least the basic amenities to all citizens but the burgeoning population will continue to outstrip all development measures. With just 2.4% of the world’s land area, India is host to 15% of the world’s population. Projections suggest that by 2024, India will be the most populous nation in the world. Firm affirmative action is needed on an urgent basis to control the birth rate, in the absence of which India will continue to be confined to third world status.
The Swach Bharat initiative launched by the Modi led NDA government in its previous tenure, perhaps has the greatest potential to transform India. This has created a certain level of awareness among the public but much work still remains to be done. Open defecation has reduced considerably with the construction of large number of toilets, but the nation needs to move many notches further in the direction of a clean and litter free area. This will reduce the incidence of disease, especially amongst the poorer sections of society, which are the most adversely impacted. A conscious effort by all citizens is required to keep our environment clean. Management and disposal of waste must form part of the everyday life of individuals, families, housing colonies, work places et al. While this is the responsibility of each and every citizen, the government must become an enabler, through incentives and appropriate enforceable legislation. The nation needs to move forward from awareness to becoming practitioners.
Reclaiming our Heritage
India, as a civilisational structure has survived the onslaught of foreign invaders for over a millennia, which is testimony to its strength and vibrancy. But a thousand plus years of subjugation has dented the psyche of a proud people, many of whom now suffer from the Stockholm syndrome and seek to justify the acts of the perpetrators of violence, as being the customs of those times. India has shed its chains which physically kept the country under subjugation, but the mental chains still hold us captive. These need to be broken as the spirit of India seeks rejuvenation.
The issues in the 2019 elections were not just about development, jobs and good governance, but also about how we look at ourselves and at our history. Should India be held hostage to ideologies that seek to demean our culture, our heritage and our very way of life? Or should we reclaim with pride the ethos and spirit of a proud people, whose land was pillaged for a thousand years but whose spirit could not be subjugated. The process of rejuvenating the Indian mind began in 2014 and has gone a short distance, but the journey is long and would require to be sustained if we truly wish to unshackle our minds.
The Ram Temple issue at Ayodhya is not just about building a temple, but is about respecting a long held and sacred belief, which transcends religious barriers and which rightly, should not have been disputed in the very first place. That is why we urge the government to see that the Temple is constructed at the original site at the earliest and this long pending dispute is finally laid to rest. It is a matter of ‘aastha’ and ‘bhakti’ and is not subject to compromise. In the same sentiment, the people expect the government to withdraw government control from Hindu temples. Since holy places of other religions enjoy complete financial autonomy, government control exclusively on Hindu Temples is discriminatory and doesn’t do justice to its secular spirit.
Uniform Civil Code: It is incomprehensible that the nation still does not have a Uniform Civil Code. The Hindu personal laws were reformed through government legislation soon after independence, but the personal laws of other religious groups were left untouched. In this modern day and age, it is not understood how a man can be legally permitted to have four wives. The practice of Triple Talaq is also an abomination which flies in the face of dignity of women, and must be done away by law. Why, one may ask? Because its 2019! In 2016, when 18 year old Arshiya was given triple talaq by her husband, she wrote an angst ridden letter to PM Modi, asking why she doesn’t have dignity or even equal rights in India? Such practises are banned in Islamic countries and even Pakistan has banned triple talaq, but certain vested groups in India wish to continue with this obnoxious practise. Shamshuddin Tamboli, President of Muslim Satyashodhak Mandal, shared that a misinformation campaign is being run by fundamentalist forces, fear is being fed to Muslims that UCC means saffronisation, which is far from the truth.
Article 44 of the Directive Principlels of State Policy states, ‘The State shall endeavour to secure for citizens a uniform civil code throughout the territory of India.’ Article 37 states, that ‘…it will be the duty of the State to apply these principles in making laws’. Yet halala, triple talaq and polygamy continue to cause unimaginable anguish to Muslim women. How can we call ourselves a ‘secular’ nation if the state allows for differential treatment of women based on religion?
Article 370 and 35A: Another piece of legislation which must be considered is the abolition of article 370 and 35A. These two Articles have prevented the emotional integration of the State of J&K with the rest of the country. More importantly, the provisions of Article 35A are discriminatory to women and Dalits and are not in conformity with the basic structure of the Indian Constitution. The abolition of Article 370 has consistently remained a poll promise of the NDA government. Now that NDA has come back with a thumping majority it is time they made good their promise; people expect it of them.
One Nation, One Election: Elections are costly. They are drain on time, precious resources and national exchequer. Holding the Lok Sabha and state legislature elections together should be seriously considered; and we have precedence of the same in the 1952, ’57, ’62 and ‘67 elections. Bringing back the system today requires an amendment to the Constitution. But with ‘one election’ India will save invaluable money and man hours. The government treasury will be saved from double election expenditures. With Lok Sabha and state assembly elections occurring together, more people will feel compelled to come out and vote, making the democracy more powerful. All governments will get to focus on governance for five straight years and India will finally escape the perpetual election mode.
Citizenship Bill: India is already overpopulated and is dealing with serious security and terrorism issues. Also, the demographics of many Indian states have changed unimaginably due to the illegal immigration, which has gone on unhindered for decades. Passing and implementing the bill will be a hugely unpopular move, as vested interests have actively misrepresented it to be against the second highest majority religion in India. But Modi, now back with a powerful mandate and not new to taking unpopular decisions in national interest, must go ahead and show his commitment to it.
Judicial Reform: The Indian Judiciary is reeling under the strain of over three crore cases; 60,000 of them in the SC alone. And yet, the Supreme Court of India functions only for 193 days a year, with a forty-five day long summer break. This colonial timetable, which was set for British officials, has no utility or relevance today. Millions of individuals go through severe emotional and financial distress, as their cases get drawn out forever. Not taking action now would be criminal. Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, guarantees the right to speedy justice, and we must not make a mockery of it. The judiciary is meant to help the common man fight his battles, not to break his spirit. The Apex Court has specified a minimum of 225 working days for junior courts. This must be applied to the Supreme Court itself as well, along with possibly a rotating vacation system for judges; but carrying out these measures would depend on the level of our commitment to our Constitution, to justice and to the people of India.
Governance is an important issue for which various institutions come into play—The Executive, Judiciary, Bureaucracy, Media, Civil Society at large et al. The prime players however remain the elected representatives of the people, the bureaucracy and the judicial system. Governance becomes weak and inefficient when there is lack of accountability and dishonesty. There is a vital need to reform India’s bureaucracy and make it answerable to the people. There is also a need to ensure that our justice delivery mechanisms are able to deliver justice in time. This is a challenge that will take many years to accomplish, but we do hope that this government starts the process in real earnest.
In conclusion, let us remember that the 21st century is touted as the Asian century, primarily due to the growth of India and China. In terms of economic output, Asia will equal the output of the rest of the world in 2020, and thereafter surpass the same, which is why the term ‘Asian Century’ is becoming more popular. This is indeed a stupendous achievement, as barely two decades ago, in 2000 C.E., the Asian economy was just one-third of the world economy. India thus will have an important role to play in world affairs in the coming decades. In the 17th century, Asia was the envy of Europe with India and China alone having nearly half the worlds share of GDP. We now have the opportunity to re- invent ourselves and regain our lost glory. But that can only come about if we look into internal fault lines and weaknesses in our society and in our governance structures, and take the necessary steps to tackle them. The challenges are indeed many and they all will have to addressed if we as a country are to find our rightful place under the sun.
Aarti K. Pathak is an accomplished writer who has covered diverse subjects from family, relationships and parenting to her favourite one, her discoveries of India. She is former CEO of a web portal and was editor of Chicken Soup of the Indian Soul-Teen Talk Growing UP. She is also a NET qualified Economics professor. You can read more by her at sparrowtimes.wordpress.com/