What constitutes the good society, the ideal state? An eternal question it has been, one which has propelled political philosophy since the times of Greek-city states to our contemporary era. And, the above interrogation seems to be the most apposite for the Indian society of today. After seven decades of independent nationhood, can India vehemently argue that it has been able to provide a good life for each and every one of the 1.2 billion peoples that make up India?
Rationalists might deride such an interrogation, stating the obvious: that it is certainly neither practically possible nor feasible to provide a good life for every citizen of the country. They might very well argue that the idea of India has been by and large a successful one: both political sovereignty, as well as, consistent economic growth has been instilled. Development has been made almost palpable, corroborated empirically, for instance by our urban skylines dotted indiscriminately by ever increasing high-rises and fly-overs.
But has such a progress been an egalitarian one? Furthermore, does good life only entail economic progress? Has it really made the peoples of this nation-state effectively sovereign in their day to day lives (apart from casting their ballots periodically every five years)? Can it be claimed that the Indian state has enabled each and every one of its citizens to pursue the kind of life (which does not hinder another person’s life-plans) they have reasons to cherish and value?
After seventy long years, why does India need to resort to extraordinary means to instill in its citizens the very notion of what it means to be an Indian? Did our freedom fighters wage the war for independent nationhood so that posterity could use coercion to define the very identity of an Indian citizen: what she could wear, what he could eat, which hands one could hold in public? Or, is it by installing tanks on university premises does India hope to preach its fable, its glory?
How can we even call ourselves developing or developed: when we as Indians are so insecure about who we really are? When some of us are prisoners of our births? When we need to stand upright and pay lip-service to the national anthem at every screening of a movie without even knowing and understanding the full poem of which the anthem is a part thereof? How secure are we about our identity as an Indian, when at the drop of any dissenting voice (be it a whimper or a roar or even a logically reasonable argument) we strive to ‘otherise’ in order to establish the essence of Indianness – our identity?
When our tourism advertisements tend to showcase the diversity of India to the world, why does our politics strive to homogenize diverse ideas and voices at home? Where is that political party, which endeavours to contest an election on the principles of justice, liberty, equality and fraternity? Why do we seek to antagonize, pit citizens against citizens in order to gain political power? Are we really afraid to look into the mirror and see what we have actually become in this independent era?
How long can fear cloud our minds and compel our actions? How long can we be afraid to be ourselves, our own unique bundle of energies? To eat whatever we desire, to adorn ourselves with the clothes we like…to love our fellow beings the way we want to? Why do we need to ensconce ourselves within gated-communities of bigoted, fundamentalist and particularistic visions of good life (be it one of the extreme-right or the extreme-left), when an intermingling of diverse ideas makes a good life a better one?
At 70, then, India must rethink, reconfigure what it hopes to achieve – does it see itself as the catalyst of a life marred by insecurities not just from without but also within; or does it conceive of itself, to wit Tagore, as an abode “Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high”; an entity which facilitates discussions and debates, one that encourages the germination of a plurality of worldviews, steadfast in the belief that the multifariousness of ideas, beliefs and practices enhance the very idea of India.