Happy Independence Day, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters. OK, now that we have got the pleasantries out of the way, let’s talk turkey. I really don’t mean to rain on anyone’s parade but it seems to me that reports of India’s independence are seriously exaggerated. Why so, you may ask. Because to me it does not appear that India’s much of an independent country. Independence, if the notion has any meaning, must mean freedom. Otherwise, it is a meaningless word bandied about by the ignorant self-deluded for comforting themselves in the face of bitter reality.
I will not apologize for pointing out that Indians are not free. What kind of freedom do the hundreds of millions have who have to survive on a pathetic few rupees a day? Try doing that for a few days, ladies and gentlemen, and report back how free you felt. Did you like the freedom of going to sleep without adequate nutrition for yourself and your children? Was the bed comfortable? Did you have much of a choice in what you ate or did for a living? How did it feel when you found that you did not have the resources to educate your children, or clothe them or provide them with health care? Did you like it that you did not have running water or did not have a place to relieve yourself?
Economic well-being is definitely not sufficient for living a full life but it is absolutely necessary. That most — if not the majority — Indians don’t have the economic wherewithal to live decent lives (decent by 21st CE century standards, not stone age standards) says something. What it basically says is that Indians are not economically free. Because it is a fact that if a nation is materially poor, it means that it lacks economic freedom. Economic freedom invariably produces material prosperity, regardless of what other freedoms people have or not have.
Freedom — that most awesome of concepts — is multi-dimensional. Among its many facets are the ideas of political freedom, economic freedom, and personal or individual freedom. You can have some without the others. You can have economic freedom without personal or political freedom, or you can have political freedom without economic freedom. But economic freedom has priority over the others. Economic freedom makes the other kinds of freedom meaningful.
Political freedom, for instance, provides people the ability to choose how to organize society, to figure out how to order society and provide for its governance. That choice can only be exercised by people who are not constrained by material deprivation. As they say, to the starving, a loaf of bread is what god looks like. When you are sufficiently materially deprived, you can be forgiven for choosing to follow the most corrupt, unprincipled and self-seeking leader if only he or she promises you a bit to eat. That is what happens to hundreds of millions in India, and if that is what you call freedom, I say you can have it and good luck to you, sir or madam.
Indians are not free because Indians don’t have economic freedom. Why they don’t have economic freedom has something to do with history — as all things invariably do. India’s history has been of foreign domination for centuries. First there were the Islamic invaders, then came the Europeans. Among the Europeans, the British were the most successful in dominating India. And they raped the country to their hearts’ delight. That was the British Raj.
Then they left. Yes, they left. No, there was no war of independence. The British upped and left. Before 1947, attempts were made by Indians to kick out the British but they did not find it convenient to give up India. Only by 1947 was India sufficiently impoverished that the British found it not worthwhile to hold on to India. The well that was India had run dry and the bucket was coming up empty. So they left and handed over the control they had to the ersatz British — the likes of “Pandit” Jawahar Lal Nehru and his cronies.
“Pandit” Nehru and his cohorts found the system that the British had instituted quite to their liking. The British had figured out how to dominate and control the people. Nehru and his gang — and later on Nehru’s progeny — were only too happy to continue with the exploitation and extraction of the nation. It was a well-oiled machine to keep the people under their command. Mind you, “Pandit” Nehru made pretty speeches but that’s about all he apparently was capable of. Governance? Perish the thought.
Yes indeed, there was political freedom of sorts in India. Not for all, however. The people who became free were the ones who took over the reins from the British. They were free from the British but the rest — the people, the masses — merely changed masters, from the British to the home-grown “brown sahibs.” It wasn’t much of a stretch for either the people who ruled or the ruled, actually. The masses were used to being dictated to. Dictation is dictation, and Indians are not all that particular about what the color of the skin of the dictators is. The heel of the crushing boot upon one’s face feels just as hard, regardless of whether the boot is worn by a white-skinned person or a brown-skinned person.
So what would it take for India to be really and truly free. That’s the big question. The answer is surprisingly simple. Indians have to realize that economic freedom matters and it matters critically. Indians must, as a first step, realize that they are living not as free people but people under economic slavery. They have to demand comprehensive freedom before they get it. They will not be given it. They will not be granted it. They will have to fight for it. The people who hold Indians in slavery — under what I call “British Raj 2.0” — are not going to relinquish their control willingly. They will have to be forced.
How can Indians force their rulers? By making it abundantly clear that they are done with being ruled. This they can do by demanding that the crooks find alternate occupations, some means of living other than sucking the life blood of the nation. This they can do by exercising their franchise at the ballot box.
Indians are not given to revolts and revolutions. But it is high time they woke up and took some action — even if it is nothing more strenuous than casting their votes.
It’s all karma, neh?