By Suresh Pattali
Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by domestic walls
Where words come out from the depth
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.
– Rabindranath Tagore
I want the freedom to say, without being tattooed as a naysayer, 70 years of independence have been lost in political whataboutery. In the beginning it was the heart versus the mind. Or the rural versus the urban. Mahatma Gandhi romanticised villages as a self-sufficient and truthful building block for an India based on equality. Jawaharlal Nehru flirted with industrialisation as a short cut to material prosperity. Gandhi told the people to go back to their villages. We travelled 70 years in the opposite direction. The rural India that Gandhi witnessed a century ago never moved beyond a television, a cell phone and an Aadhaar card. The urban India that Nehru envisioned is bursting at the seams, widening the rich-poor gap.
I want the freedom to ask, without being branded as a Maoist, who is responsible for the woebegone predicament of our womenfolk in the villages who are forced to hold their bowels and bladders till it gets dark? India leads the world in open defecation. I want the freedom to ask if Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, Morarji Desai, AB Vajpayee, Manmohan Singh and all others who came before Narendra Modi knew that nearly half of their countrymen — 636 million of us — lack toilets, a crisis that, according to experts, contributes to diseases, childhood malnutrition, loss of economic output and violence against women.
I want the freedom to ask, without being branded as chicken-hearted, why has the country, which mass-produces doctors and engineers, failed to teach the Indian male to respect women and tell them, dignity of women is our collective responsibility. I want the freedom to ask, without being called a nonconformist, that will my daughter ever be able to walk alone at night to buy a scoop of ice cream without the fear of being pounced upon by sexual predators?
I want the freedom to eat, without being called unpatriotic, what exclusively suits my palate, and not religion. It’s my constitutional right. I want the freedom to reject a menu card shoved into every Indian throat in the name of religion. I want the freedom to have cha with my female friend or travel with her on a motobike without being hunted down by moral vigilantes.
I want the freedom to be a patriot without being a nationalist. If my cousin can wear the Real Madrid jersey, I want the freedom to keep, without being charged as an anti-national, the right to cheer and wear a Pakistani jersey. I want the freedom to watch a game of cricket in sportsman spirit and not in patriotic pretentions.
I want the freedom to declare that I do not want to be a pawn in the hands of any religion, caste or political party. At the same time I do NOT want the freedom to hurt religious sentiments in the name of creative expression, unless otherwise endorsed by all parties concerned.
I want the freedom to remind the Indian lib-left that making creative freedom a one-way street is hypocrisy and appeasement. I want the freedom to call a spade a spade. I want the freedom to differ, without being called anti-poor, with the political game to make Rohith Vermula a Dalit martyr. I want the freedom to say India’s reservation system is a multipartisan conspiracy to cover up the failure of various dispensations to uplift the poor in 70 years. With cries for quota rising from every nook of the country, we have to redefine the math of percentage! I want the freedom to say it’s a shame that what India couldn’t achieve in 70 years, others, including World War victims, did in a couple of decades. I want the freedom to say criminalisation of politics and corruption and, more significantly, their ballot endorsement, is what ruined the chances of India to become a model nation, not a superpower.
I want the freedom to say the biggest political betrayal in Indian history was the failure of the communists. Consigned to history in Europe, they were given a fair chance by the Indian voters in different states and coalitions, but their political supremacism hacked at their own existence. Marx is no more than a pickpocketed refugee in India.
I want the freedom to say, without being ear-tagged as a rightist, give Modi a chance. He talks big; let’s see if he walks the talk. At the same time, I want the freedom to tell him that by locking himself in a hermetic cone of silence in times of crises will not do any good except alienating his own followers. He has promised to build a new India free of casteism, terrorism, corruption and nepotism. I want the freedom to remind him that a new India should NOT be built on the foundation of alternative facts that people at 11 Ashoka Road have been busy rolling out. Let the Taj Mahal be Taj.
Suresh’s philosophy is heavily influenced by Ulysses: ‘I cannot rest from travel: I will drink. Life to the lees’