Mera America Mahan
Every time I see the painted slogan “Mera Bharat Mahan” on the rear bumpers of trucks, it gives me a jolt. The jolt is a mixture of incredulity, pride, cynicism and hope. Pride in my motherland forces a desperate hope that it is true while my innate cynicism dismisses the idea that India is great as incredible.
For many years I have wondered whether there was something that could make India great. Was there a single thing — a policy, a principle, an action, an accident, anything — that could guide India’s path to whatever greatness is potential in it? What if I compared India to other nations, both successful and failed — will I be able to discern that one single thing? I think I am slowly coming around to the viewpoint that there is such a thing that could be the candidate instrument I have been looking for. I think the US has it and India does not.
The oft repeated similarities between the US and India — both are democracies and melting pots — are superficial and don’t withstand any degree of scrutiny. The dissimilarities are much greater and are significant in explaining why the US is successful and India is not. The most significant difference, I believe, is in the constitutions of the two countries. I have briefly touched upon that topic on this blog but now I would like to zoom in on what I consider the most essential difference between India and the US.
What makes America great has to be the First Amendment to the United States Constitution:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
The First Amendment was adopted on Dec 15th, 1791. It was the first of ten amendments to the US Constitution referred to as the the Bill of Rights. The First Amendment — among other things — built a wall separating the state and religion. As Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1802, he believed:
that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their “legislature” should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between church and State. [emphasis added]
What the First Amendment does principally is it protects the individual from the tyranny of groups — and therefore from the state. It does not allow the state to crush the individual for its own ends. It guarantees an American the freedom of and from religion. It guarantees the American the freedom of expression, and the freedom of assembly. These rights cannot be taken away from him by any act of Congress.
Let me spell out what the government cannot do to an American:
1. It cannot force an American to support any religion. It cannot tax an American citizen and then use that money to promote a particular religion.
2. It cannot force an American from speaking his mind or expressing himself in any form.
3. It cannot prevent an American from peaceful assembly.
4. It cannot prevent an American from suing the government.
India does not have such a constitutional protection of the individual.
1. The government of India taxes Indian citizens to promote religion. Politicians find this liberty very useful for votes.
2. The government of India prohibits free speech. It regularly bans books and harasses authors.
3. The government of India prohibits peaceful assembly whenever it finds it advantageous for vote-bank politics.
In India, the government is powerful compared to the individual. It exercises that power regularly to suppress individual rights. Why is it important to curb the power of the government in a democracy? Because otherwise vote bank politics give the government the incentive to trample on individuals. And when the individual is trampled beneath the government boot, the society suffers and over sufficient time, poverty is the inevitable consequence.
Recently in the news
Item: “State Congress chief Ramesh Chennithala Friday asked Kerala State Women’s Commission chairperson Justice D. Sreedevi to quit after the panel decided to recommend a minimum age for girls to become nuns.”
Item: Chief Minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy of the Congress Party directed the police not to allow the [Ahmadia] community to hold its meeting at any public place as this could create law and order problems in the city.
A delegation of Muslim groups led by Hyderabad MP Asaduddin Owaisi had called on the chief minister Monday to demand that the Ahmadiya, also called Qadianis, should not be allowed to hold their conference.
The controversial sect was to hold its meeting at the Public Gardens, in the heart of the city…
The delegation comprising several clerics said the activities of the sect [like this one, for example?] were hurting the religious sentiments of Muslims as it calls itself Ahmadiya Muslims and warned that the permission to hold a meeting could create law and order problems.
Item: Reservations based on religious affiliation basically are an inducement for people to convert to that religion. Too many examples to recount over here.
Item: Subsidizing Haj travel. This is the most immoral of them all. It taxes Indians who have no reason to promote Islam. This tax is perhaps more immoral than the jaziya that the Muslim rulers forced their kaffir subjects to pay. The Indian government is not an Islamic government and therefore should not force non-believers to pay a tax to support Islam.
Mera Bharat is not Mahan
It is unlikely that Mera Bharat will ever become mahan because it does not have the equivalent of the First Amendment. Lacking that First Amendment, the government of India is free to pitch one religious group against another. This does create conflict and this conflict will only intensify as the government gets more and more bold in dividing the nation on religious lines.
If India does not wake up and restrict the power of the government, India will never become great.
Go read an article in today’s NY Times: “Unlike Others, U.S. Defends Freedom to Offend in Speech”.
Also see my post comparing the US and Indian constitutions.
Marvel at the Prayers for Chief Ministers. (Thanks Kashyap Patel.)