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Howdy India: The Heaven of Freedom

National pride is like self respect. People who possess it don’t normally go around screaming that they do.

Howdy India.

Wait. Don’t answer. Everyone knows. Bharat mein sab achchaa hai. Sab changaa si. Baddha majaa maa che. Anta bagundi. Yella channagide. Ellam sokhiyam. Sarva chhan chalala ahe. Shob khub bhalo. Sabu bhala chi. Everything is fine.

And why shouldn’t everything be. The economy is in the black. In fact, it’s soaring like never before. Especially the automobile, fertilizer and steel sectors. The growth in these industries, along with other crucial segments have proved to be beacons for the others because of the way their success has translated into widespread employment. This has ensured that our economy isn’t an economy of abstract numbers applicable to a few, but one of real prosperity impacting many.

What is especially commendable is the way the Government has brought this about. Yes. It’s commendable that this robust, considerably more equitable economy has not been the consequence of a fluke but careful, well thought out planning and execution. No arbitrary taxes, no reactionary tax cuts. Instead: the delivery of a framework that works, by people who know what they are doing. This has renewed faith in the Indian markets and attracted unprecedented foreign investment into the country which – again, because of the excellent frameworks laid out – have resulted in plush capital markets and, well, greater employment.

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What is even more commendable is the way this Government has channeled revenue from this booming economy into critical welfare areas to develop human capital. Our public health and education (including education that leads to greater employment and entrepreneurship) systems are a marvel of the world and we no longer engage in silly debates about whether to take visiting dignitaries to see the Taj Mahal or the Swaminarayan Akshardham as all they’re really interested in witnessing is the wonder that is public health and education delivery in India. (As for the former two destinations, we just ask dignitaries what they would prefer to see and act accordingly. Debate settled.)

Howdy Modi
PM Modi with members of the Sikh community in Houston, US. (Photo: PTI)

A crucial part of public health, and not merely ancillary to it, is the right to food and nutritious meals and so the gamut of welfare legislations as well as systems that guarantee this for our population have been synchronized to work at a collective efficiency of nearly 90%. This is an impressive collective efficiency for such systems in a country like ours.

As for education, the quality of education as well as the direction it sets young minds on, has undergone a series of breakthroughs: it is focused on opening up the Indian mind and filling it with questions and the desire to seek answers. But more on this later.

Surely an economy cannot be the only parameter with which to gauge a country’s greatness, you would say. So, observe how we’ve dealt with law and order in the land. Policing reforms have led to not just an expansion in the number of personnel and facilities but also a great leap forward in the quality and approach of police personnel. The country now has police persons in places where they are most required – places uncharitably called ‘dark zones’ once upon a time – and, more to the point, these police-persons abide by the highest values of the Constitution our founders wrote for us. They abide by these out of a genuine belief in the Constitution but also because there are carefully constructed checks and balances that ensure that they do.

Lynchings are stories from the yesteryears, not truths of today. People don’t find any reason to lynch anyone because they understand – and those who don’t understand are made to understand – that there is no unlawfulness greater than taking the law into your own hands. There is also great faith among our people in the law and the future of that law. It is seen not as an ineffectual or encumbering myth but as an instrument of progress. Those who want the law to work for them work with the law and within its ambit. They work to make laws work as well as to improve and evolve the law. They understand how legislations and policies affect their lives in the short and long run and this incentivizes lawmakers as well as enforcers to deliver a stellar legal system.

 lynching
Representational image

What you witness today among Indians is an innate pride in being an Indian citizen before anything else. That is, before subscribing to any other cultural or religious or caste identity. If lynchings are stories from the yesteryears, conflict based on identity has become a phenomena quarantined in museums. We keep it there so we may never forget and be forever watchful of this dangerous and vile national enemy.

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We are so assured in this pride that we don’t have to scream it out loud, nor make others do so. If someone doesn’t feel it then no matter. We are sure that we will build up such a great nation that, someday, they will. National pride, like greatness, cannot be thrust upon others (forget what some bard in Medieval England said). National pride is like self respect. People who possess it don’t normally go around screaming that they do.

Howdy Modi
(Photo: Twitter/@narendramodi)

It must be said, though, that it’s considerably easier feeling this sense of national pride now that we know that no Government will be able to take it away from us at short notice, along with our citizenship, and throw us into something dubious called ‘a camp’ till God knows when. We have a transparent and well implemented immigration policy in place that places a great emphasis on rights. The rights of humans are paramount in this country. We care for animals as too, and there are legislations protecting them, but humans come first. Nothing illustrates this better than how these rights are safeguarded in states in this country’s farthest corners, and for every community living in this nation. Legislations that snatch such rights away, whether from human beings or entire regions, are a thing of the past too. They don’t even exist in museums because no one is really sure about what they were like. Some historians have undertaken a rather painstaking project to try and uncover the full form of something called AFSPA, for instance. Good luck to them.

While on states, a greater federalism, not just in name but in deed and action, can be seen at play everywhere in this country. We are a country that recognizes that any kind of regional, cultural or linguistic oneness must come about organically if it does, and if it doesn’t we’re happy to enjoy, and explore endlessly, a national culture of limitless diversity.

For if there’s one thing our national culture contains, that most Indians have tapped into, it is a great hunger for knowledge and an endless curiosity about life, the universe and the many mysteries these contain. And we haven’t had to abandon our history to embrace this scientific temper either. No. We dug deep into our terrifically mixed up past to find the kernels of such a temper, along with an artistic temper, at various points and grew them with learnings from around the world. This is significant for the progress our country is making in fields such as literature, art, theatre and cinema as well as fields such as space, genetics, artificial intelligence, and newer scientific disciplines that are beginning to open up. But it is most significant for the culture of curiosity it has spawned that is great nemesis of group hatred as well as personal dissatisfaction. We don’t believe that curiosity killed the cat, despite what another English playwright wrote. Rather, that it birthed the human potential.

And yet, we have incorporated in our quest for knowledge and science a quest for how to live with and not destroy nature. We are working towards this in collaboration with other nations around the world but also understand that a great responsibility lies on us. We understand that when the world is destroyed because of global warming or any other natural calamity, whether it is destroyed bit by bit or as a whole, it will not be a question of which nation is at fault but a question of how we did this to ourselves.

None of the above would have been possible without the freedom to think and exchange those thoughts. The freedom to do this is our country’s most valuable intangible asset, a point of envy for other nations. No law that threatens this is allowed to pass, and previous legislations that did so have been revoked. Especially heartening, in this context, is the Government’s attitude towards its detractors. Those who appear to make sense are approached for a conversation and involved in the process of change— not as unquestioning collaborators but people who wish to make a contribution and who should not be beholden to anyone or any government or political party or ideology for this reason.

This has been helped along by two simple truths. The quality of politicians have grown (for instance, they no longer believe in lip service or in making unrealistic promises they cannot deliver) and polarized voices have subsided. While everyone is entitled to hold a different opinion political workers often reach out across the spectrum to work on projects together. Another happy consequence of all this is that people are averse to the idea of hero-worship. They don’t believe any one person or even party can bring about sweeping change. They understand this has to be a collaborative process made up of many nuts and bolts.

We are moving steadily in the direction of the country where, to borrow words from the great Indian poet, the mind is without fear and the head is held high, where knowledge is free and whose world hasn’t in anyway been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls, where words come from the depth of truth and tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection, where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way in some dreary desert sand of dead habit, and, importantly, where the mind commits to ever-widening thought and action. Simply put, we are moving towards the heaven of freedom that our founders envisaged.

Aren’t we?

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