How a ‘new’ India can be built, starting 2021

By Rajdeep Sardesai

 After a traumatic and turbulent 2020, it’s time to ring in a New Year with hope. And since Rabindranath Tagore is being rediscovered by our netas ahead of the Bengal elections, this is a prayer for India in 2021 that draws inspiration from the great poet-laureate.

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high. Where an Indian identity is determined by citizenship, and not divided by the narrow domestic walls of caste, region or religion. Where true secularism demands that no State authority promote or discriminate against any religion, where equal respect for all faiths must be the basis of our constitutional secularism.

Where an interfaith marriage won’t be demonised as “love jihad”. Where a consenting adult couple will not have to prove their love to a district magistrate or a local police officer in India’s most populous state or else be locked up. Where eating beef isn’t a crime in one state while it is part of an essential diet in a neighbouring one. Where agitating farmers aren’t water-cannoned or barricaded in the winter freeze. 

Where a farmer isn’t looked at with suspicion because he wants to be heard, where a turbaned Sikh isn’t a Khalistani but a kisan putra. Where crucial laws are passed by consultation and not by diktat, where key stakeholders are part of pre-legislative discussion. Where dissent isn’t criminalized, where protesting students, academics and human rights activists are not thrown into jail as anti-nationals and charged under non-bailable anti-terror laws.

Where a coronavirus vaccine is made available first to those most at risk and not those who wear their VVIP badges on their sleeve. Where no one labels a community as corona-carriers simply to cater to rank prejudice. Where public health systems are designed to ensure quality treatment for all.

Where it shouldn’t take a pandemic to remind us of the plight of the urban poor. Where no one has to ever walk hundreds of kilometres from urban shanties to their villages because of a national lockdown.

Where a PM Cares Fund cannot be a body “owned” and “controlled” by the Government of India, but then also not come under Right to Information laws because it receives private funds. That, as taxpayers, we have the right to know where and how our monies are being spent. Where election funding too is made more transparent.

Where before we spend public money on refurbishing Parliament, we first restore the spirit of parliamentary democracy. Where democracy encourages a decentralisation in the power structure. Where political parties aren’t a family inheritance, but are built on merit. Where a robust democracy isn’t just about winning elections but ensuring a level- playing field for all those contesting elections. 

Where the promise of free markets doesn’t end up in market monopolies, where the licence-permit raj doesn’t become a patron-crony rule. Where the vast informal sector is boosted and job-creating industries incentivised. Where growth figures aren’t fudged and headline management matters less than hard facts. 

Where judges recognise that notions of personal liberty cannot be selective: An octogenarian activist must not struggle for weeks to get a straw sipper in jail while influential individuals are granted instant immunity from prosecution and arrest. 

Where judges eschew all post-retirement benefits, where criticising the judiciary isn’t seen as criminal contempt. Where habeas corpus petitions are heard with urgency.

Where an actor’s suicide doesn’t become a national soap opera, while a farmer’s suicide is a mere statistic. Where the news media is a watchdog. Where the duty of TV networks is to inform not incite, where news matters more than noise, where sense scores over sensation. 

Where TRPs must stand for Television Respect Points and not a crude attempt to get eyeballs at all costs. 

Where a “new” India can’t be built by abandoning the core values of our founding fathers.

(The op-ed appeared in The Hindustan Times)


Image courtesy of (File photo)

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