India –The Big Idea

A nation is a dream attached to a piece of land.

It is the dream of how occupants of that land will lead their individual lives and interact with each other, as a going concern. In last mile, this translates to what their guiding values and administrating institutions are.

It is also about how these occupants will defend their land in both space and time. Space defense is needed from rivals (both territorial and ideological) and time defense is needed around how they define their popular history.

The first time concept of nation came into being was when British empire overrode all the local regimes prior to it and established one central monarchy in all of southeast Asian landmass. Survival was the guiding value for population at large and the administrative institutions were geographical provinces based on local cultures plus a central legal system for the entire Raj. It was a nation in a start-up mode.

Now at independence from british rule and for the landmass that was left after partition, the idea of a nation had to be forged anew in the terms defined above. Its values and administration was to be defined as also its defenses needed to be delineated.

Retaining much of the colonial administrative infrastructure as it is ( regional provinces, penal code, civil services…) the new constitutional assembly had the task of defining the guiding values of “we the people”. Survival could no longer be the sole guiding value. They came up with 3 others and gilded them in a constitution. These 3 values which were to inform and guide all the future generations occupying the landmass were: Liberty, Secularism and Democracy. The ideological stance that they were supporting for its people was “Unity in Diversity”. The landmass defense was in mobilizing a standing army and the version of history retained again was largely neutral and in most parts colonial.

To expound on this dream a little more, in this newly minted nation, citizens were invited to live with freedom of expression and have a choice around who would rule them whereas the state was signaled not to espouse any religious affiliations and not to prosecute or do policy, around religion of its citizen. This all tied neatly into giving an expression to the diversity of people that occupied this landmass. Everyone had equality of expression and opportunity, as no one was to be unduly prosecuted for their views, ethnicity or religion. That was the big idea around the new nation called INDIA. Churchill is on record saying that this idea would fail and Indians would come back to British asking them to rule again.

History, like urban living, sometimes gives you strange neighbors. In a unique turn of events, a contrasting experiment got set up in the landmass that got independent at the same time but did not abide by this dream .Their guiding values for that landmass and its citizens were “State Religion, Bounded Freedom and Partial Democracy”.

They also retained the same colonial administrative infrastructure ( however supplemented the penal laws with religious laws as state now had an overt religion). In terms of their defense the army had to play an important role, as state religion meant an authoritarian regime, which always needs a strong territorial defense to project its strength. Also they had to substantially re-write the history from a religious perspective to be consistent with their dream. The result of that dream is that Pakistan has had long bouts of military rule, its citizens do not have total freedom of expression and the state is weak and crumbling; which makes local warlords powerful and prone to violence. The only saving grace is that it is not a failed state yet.

Now as citizens of a country who get their empowerment from the doctrine that our founding fathers crafted; we must always be on guard to defend these 3 ideological cornerstones of our nationalism. We must remember that Liberty is interfered by restricting speech and pursuing inappropriate search and seizure; Secularism gets interrupted by overt or covert, minority or majority appeasement and democracy gets sidelined by sustained propaganda. So to discharge our duty as aware citizens, we must teach ourselves about the tricks and techniques that opponents of these values employ, to undermine them.

Citizens of a country are custodians of its values as soldiers are the guardians of its frontiers.

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