Friday, September 16, 2011

HOW FREE ARE YOU?


Reflections of a young adult on the susceptible position of a subverted concept

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high….…Into ever-widening thought and action, Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.”

- Rabindranath Tagore

I belong to a country that is currently sixty-three years young, but, when I look around me, the thoughts that are ricocheted seem centuries old. This paradox called India is a paradigm of ancient dogmas intermittently arrayed with a sense of an artificial modernity. Maybe, this is the reason we still revel in dynastic politics while wriggling simultaneously in despair to free ourselves from the clutches of poverty and indifference.

The question that arises in my mind is, ‘How free am I?’

Keeping the facts in mind, my attempt in this essay is to emphasise on the need to wipe out the diffidence of the youth towards the country and encourage them to assume responsibility as ‘Architects of the Future.’

This essay will serve as an exposé on the issue at hand ‘How Free are you?’ by highlighting four important themes:

Part one focuses on ‘Civil Society as a primeval need of Modern Man.’ The following section, will deal with the ‘Idea called Freedom’. The third part elucidates the Role of Freedom in a Democratic society and its gross manipulation in various fields under ‘Freedom: A Democratic Sham.’ The final section, ‘I can be Free: The Audacity of Hope’ will counter these problems with a simple seven- step workable youth program supplemented by comments by Dr. Shashi Tharoor and Mr. Rajdeep Sardesai.

Civil Society: The Primeval need of Modern Man

As we deliberate on the various periods of history, we study the progress of Man from being an absolute nomad to a social animal that cannot thrive in isolation. It is from this need for social contact that the first civilisation emanated and today continues to flourish. [2]

The case, however, seems to have changed drastically over the years. Given the current deplorable scenario on the political front and the dismal display of the hunger for power and money, I am forced to recall and re- think if Lao Tzu was right when he stated,

Exterminate the sage [the ruler] and discard the wisdom [of rule], and the people will benefit a hundredfold”[3]

As I contemplate on the issue at hand, reality strikes hard and I am faced with the quintessential question: ‘What have I done to secure my freedom?’ The issue at hand today is one that we all as responsible citizens should be vigilant about. As a young adult, I am faced with innumerable questions on the economic, political and social health of the Motherland I love.

A major determinant is the perception of man that works on two levels: individual and social. Man primarily seeks to serve an individual purpose first, fulfil his self- interest and then if he finds it in his interest he looks to the benefit of mankind.[4] This gives rise to the involvement of the common man or colloquially the ‘Aam Admi’ who must rise above all and perform his civic duties as pre- determined by the supreme law of the land, The Constitution of India. The law bestows a certain amount of authority to elected representatives of the people. Here, it is imperative to note what an Indian strategic analyst pointed out regarding the difference between ‘power’ and ‘influence.’ He said that a country may earn its title as a superpower but if its influence is on the wane it is in need for active coalition-building.[5] We are forced to ask ourselves, ‘To whom do we owe our solidarity? Is it to the country, a political party comprising of flawed human beings much like ourselves or something greater?’

Freedom: An Idea or a Practice?

If we are to study the question posed in the previous section, we must first deal with the idea called ‘Freedom.’ This concept may be best defined in the words of Bertrand Russell who said, “Freedom in general may be defined as the absence of obstacles to the realization of desires.” This means that there is no scope for any sporadic hurdles if we want to consider ourselves free. Now, a concept remains so until it is put in practice but, here it is that we confront the naked truth. Although, India won her Independence at the stroke of the midnight hour on the night of 15th August, 1947, she attained a limited ‘paper- freedom.’ This is because the lust for power was overwhelming to the sons of the soil. The fact that pristine politicians like Pandit Nehru, Sardar Patel and others existed cannot undermine the reality that corruption exhibited its ugly countenance through the lower rungs.

Today, India features in the ‘Top 100’ list in terms of Corruption. On reading this statement you and I are now forced to cogitate on the more important point, ‘When we talk of realisation of desires, whose desires are we talking about?’ The ancient Latin Proverb, Optima corrupta pessima’[6] comes to mind.

Freedom: A Democratic Sham!

We have already seen the role that Freedom should play in the logical sense. Now, we will deal with the Reflections of Freedom in the modern day scenario. The Commonwealth Games scandal and the 2G Spectrum Scam will go down in History as the darkest period of Indian Democracy. All our achievements of this period have been overshadowed by the incessant need for supremacy. It is now a distant dream for anyone to wake up one morning and read a newspaper headline that is free from the scar of another politician’s wayward ways. The immediate effect of this permanent blot on the political circle has evidently affected the economic sphere as well. Foreign investors are questioning the credibility of the country. Research shows that India is to take a severe hit financially in 2011-2012 as a result of the dent on the country’s reputation.[7] Stagnation on the economic front will further widen the Great Economic Divide that is prevalent in India.

We call ourselves a Pluralist democracy that has transcended the most important barriers of religion and language. The point however is that it is not enough to only show unanimity on the outset and not make the best use of the opportunities that society has to offer in the service of the country.

It is rightly stated, “Poverty and prosperity are not matters of land. Poverty or riches or personal satisfaction depend on man, on his culture and on his political arrangements. Understand that and you will understand the most important cause of wealth deprivation.”[8] It is shameful to note that in a country with 1.21 billion people we are struggling with a whopping 41.6% below the International poverty line.[9] Sauvik Chakravarti summed up the entire situation in a simple statement encumbered in Truth. He said, “We as a nation have been woefully ignorant for far too long.”[10]

In the political and economic spheres of our country we need to focus on the issue of collective planning that needs to be complemented by political consciousness for it to work in favour of the Aam Admi. Ultimately, the members of the Government are very much answerable for their actions to the people who elected them. The recent 2G Spectrum Scam brought to the forefront the issue of corruption at the highest levels of the political hierarchy. No one man can be held responsible for what happened. It was the callousness on the part of all those concerned to maintain a check on the working of the Telecom industry. As if that wasn’t enough, the Commonwealth Games Scandal took the cherry, the icing and the whole cake! In fact, a popular comment doing the rounds these days is that the oncoming monsoon session of the Parliament may just have to shift to Tihar! It is when I read statements like these from the naïve youth who call themselves the ‘Future of India,’ I realise we need to work our way out of this disgraceful situation. The Youth of today are slowly losing their faith in the workability of a Democracy in the country. Before we can concentrate our attention towards finding plausible solutions for this problem, we need to focus on other difficulties that are leading to social dispiritedness.

The Government of India recently passed a bill in favour of a thirty- three per cent reservation for women. However, this has failed to make a compelling impact on the majority. The reason I do not support any form of Reservation is because it gives rise to a hackneyed society. We all would prefer to have a healthy competition, rather than show unwelcome pity to a deserving female candidate whose potential may never be recognised because she falls under a category called ‘Reserved.’ The age- old myth of Reservation becoming some sort of status symbol is definitely a farce. The lesser we believe in it the better will be our future. A similar problem is faced by deserving students who lose their seats because of reservation.

A glaring issue when we talk of Freedom is the issue of Economic Growth. As I peruse the newspapers each day, I am apprehensive about the catharsis of the Economic Crisis. Edward Wilson once stated, “We are the first species in the history of life to go out of control on a global scale.” Although the statement may seem astounding, the truth in it cannot be undermined.

The major pillar of a glowing Democracy is its Free Media. In fact one of the first propagators of a Free Press, John Milton has given the essence of Truth in media in his essay Areopagitica, “Though all the winds of doctrine were let loose to play upon the earth, so Truth be in the field, we do injuriously by licensing and prohibiting to misdoubt her strength. Let her and Falsehood grapple; who ever knew Truth put to the worse, in a free and open encounter.”

Today, the media it seems has succumbed to the indomitable power of money. The integrity of the media is at stake especially because it has now engrossed in the trivial. This is a matter of serious concern and so it is essential that both the Print and Broadcast forms of communication must be scrutinised. I do not believe in ‘Media- gagging’ but I am in favour of a positive restraint. Given the corruption that is rife even in the Media today, Mr. Rajdeep Sardesai shared his views on the Responsibility of a Free Media and Student Participation. He wrote,

“I think the quality of the news will improve when we invest greater time and effort in content generation. News can be fast food only up to a point. The prime responsibility of the media is to report the news as they see it without any personal agendas influencing it. I wish the student community would get more passionate about public life, and their attention span should not be fleeting. There is more to news than a 140 character tweet! Explore the complexities of news, look for shades of grey, and not black and white descriptions. [11]

I can be Free: The Audacity of Hope

Since we have studied the major issues that affect the Indian political system we realise the reasons that young people are soaked in political indifference. The need of the hour is to find a solution to the impending problems rather than fall prey to worthless Criticism.

Lord Byron once remarked, “Nothing is as difficult as the beginning.” So, keeping in mind the various problems that our country faces, here is a simple Seven- Step Program recommended in order to have a substantial increase in the percentage of youth participation in the country.

1. Introduce Day Training programs, workshops for the Youth to broaden their views about Politics.

2. Political Counseling and setting up of Political Engages at regular intervals throughout the year and not only at the time of elections. Make the Youth believe in their leaders!

3. Induction of young Turks in the Indian Parliament.

4. The use of various media like Twitter and Facebook to connect with the people. Excellent examples include, Mr. Kevin Rudd, former Australian PM, Omar Abdullah CM of Kashmir and Dr. Shashi Tharoor, Former Under- Secretary General to the UN and currently a prominent Member of Parliament in India. All these popular international personalities have created a virtual platform for Political Accountability apart from connecting remarkably well with the young minds!

5. Establishing schools that work for an overall development of the student and imparts not only secular and cultural values but also a greater degree of civil consciousness.

6. Each political party must include Youth Participation compulsorily in their Party Manifesto and recruit committed young people in the cadre.

7. Finally, establishment of schools specializing solely in the field of Politics and Governance like the MIT- School of Governance in Pune would be a welcome relief.

With the hope that this essay has fulfilled its task of elucidating upon the current trends of Political Apathy in the Youth in the context of a free society, I conclude in the optimistic words of Dr. Shashi Tharoor,

“The only answer is to get involved! Young people must know they should not be indifferent to politics because it determines their opportunities in so many ways. We all get the political leaders we deserve, so if we stay apathetic we allow others to decide for us who makes the policies that shape our futures...”[12]