We conducted a writing competition on the occasion of Republic Day 2022 and asked our participants to pen down their thoughts and opinions on chosen topics. Here are the entries that won our hearts.
Written By: Vikas Prasad, MBA(IB), Batch of 2020-22, IIFT Delhi
As Victor Hugo said in his magnum opus Les Miserables, nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come. The idea of freedom envisaged on the banks of river Ravi in 1929 envisaged by the founding fathers of our beautiful nation not just wanted us to be free from the chains of colonial rule but from all the social and economic inequities that were plaguing the country. The present political and global landscape resoundingly want us to go back to the inclusive, permeable and compassionate Idea of India.
Policymaking has become more arbitrary, institutions have deteriorated, and the economy's structural flaws have been exacerbated. All but a few companies have had their animal spirits sucked out. Zombie business organizations are sitting above the wreckage of debt-fueled expansion, waiting for politicians to indicate what, if any, role they still play. The defeatist self-reliance rhetoric that afflicted our parents' age has reappeared. Politicians are driving a rift in society by exploiting religious divisions and caste tensions.
Historically, the term Purna Swaraj has emanated from the British Colonial era where the country and its citizen were subjugated to the worst form of oppression and deprivation from the basic necessities of life in the very land they called their own. The resolution taken by the Indian National Congress on 31st December 1929 marked the beginning of the large scale movement towards the goal of complete self-rule against the Britishers.
The resolution also declared that it is the inalienable right of the Indian people to have freedoms and to enjoy the fruits of their toil and have the necessities of life. They also decreed that if any government deprives a people of these rights and oppresses them the people have a further right to alter it or to abolish it. In the contemporary era, when every voice of criticism and dissent raises eyebrows, we need to go back to the roots of our independence movement which asked us to stand up for the weak and the marginalized.
One of our foremost thinkers, Amartya Sen calls for 5 distinct freedoms: political freedoms, economic facilities, social opportunities, transparency guarantees, and protective security. Political freedom refers to the extent of a citizen’s rights and aspirations to affect policy change at all levels. A democratic foundation laid by the constitution does give the agency on paper but in reality, that privilege is now concentrated in the hands of a few parties and individuals who have made the entry barrier of policymaking so high that it is beyond the reach of the common man.
The rot in the political system is clear with over 43% of the MPs in the present parliament having criminal cases pending against them. The development measures take the backseat when the policymakers themselves are incompetent and just focused on winning elections at any cost. There is an urgent need for reforms here which begin from amending the RPA Act 1951, which would stricter punishments for the MPs and MLAs. I would also suggest adopting the German model of State funding for elections, strengthening of Election commission and having a tech-enabled universal form of voting system.
It is often said that leaders are the reflection of the people they represent. It can’t be more true in a country like India where the society historically is marred by the conservative roots with discrimination of various forms inflicted to the marginalised sections of the society from lower castes, tribes, Muslims and women among the others. The lack of social opportunities reflects poor representation in every position of authority from the legislature to executive to judiciary which perpetuates the misery and exploitation.
The prejudices and biases that have been mainstreamed through emboldening of hierarchies over centuries put a severe restraint on India’s potential to capitalise on its massive human resources. The absence of equitable opportunities by virtue of these social unfreedoms is turning the demographic dividend into a demographic disaster. All this is evident through our poor ranking over the years in the global Human Development Index (131 in 2021) which puts across a shoddy picture of the country’s real development despite the fact that we have entered the top 5 GDPs in PPP terms.
The need here is to provide universal access to quality health and education to every citizen of the country which requires a large amount of public investment in the space. Every rising economy on the global stage spent decades honing and developing its human capital by doing so before embracing the economic stimulus (China, Vietnam, South Korea). With public spending of only. The expenditure on education is a paltry 2.9% and R&D is around 0.5% as a proportion of the GDP. Economic freedom thus requires the state to provide equitable quality employment opportunities for everyone by creating a sustainable ecosystem.
In FY 2020-21, India spent 1.8% of its GDP on health, compared to 1-1.5 % in previous years. India's entire out-of-pocket spending accounts for approximately 2.3 % of GDP. This is extremely low when compared to the OECD(7.6%) and other BRICS countries (3.6%) in the health sector. This was on full display during the pandemic where we lost lakhs of lives due to the lack of preparedness and poor health infrastructure incapable of handling this exigency. India also ranks abysmally poor in the global hunger index (101/116), which shows how poor we are in child mortality and stunting as well. The social and economic freedoms in my view cannot come to fruition unless the basic necessities of hunger and health are satisfied.
In education, we need to utilize the tremendous technological progress in the startup universe to realise the true potential of our children. With over 40 unicorns in 2021, there certainly is the capability and the resources to create some groundbreaking change. In India, it is required that we extend R&D and move beyond paper presentations and patents to a broader contribution of societal value. We also need to provide close linkages with the global laboratories and corporate world to adapt and modernise curriculum that is in line with their necessities.
The need of the hour is to increase spending in the social sector, as envisaged by the numerous committees and economists. It empirically indicates that this is the way towards sustainable flourishing economic development, not the trickle-down theory which until now has only benefitted the certain few at the top of the food chain. The phenomenon becomes evident from the recent Oxfam report on inequality which says that 10% of the population holds 77% of the total national wealth.
In terms of compassionate belief systems with accommodativeness as its anchor, India is no longer the India of our historical legacies or even our hopes. We appear to be sliding away from our commitment to an India that is inclusive in spirit and thrust, federal in the polity, modern in vision, critically literate, spiritually dialoguing, economically prospering, and socially tolerant and outreaching at this time. We have drifted away from encouraging social harmony in a multicultural and interdependent environment, which are key values of federal India. This India has the potential to shine a billion or a trillion times brighter with rich rainbow colours, propelling the country forward in a variety of ways. Thus realise the idea of Purna Swaraj both in letter and spirit, we need is to embrace the inclusivity that defines the country of India.
As Mahatma Gandhi famously said, we must become the change we want to see, we should start at our home. Every action of our physical freedom is manifested through our mental construct which needs to be free from societal and historical prejudices.
So, the next time your parents ask you to follow or believe in something irrational, just ask WHY? Else, We are poised to lose, not find, the ethical understanding of who ought to be a citizen of India.
About the writer
Vikas can be described as a connoisseur of everything interesting. He is a quizzer with keen interest in reading. If “beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder” is applied practically, he would simply apply it everywhere as he believes beauty always hides in plain sight and in everything around.
You can reach out to Vikas on Linkedin: linkedin.com/in/prasad-vikas