Mature republics must take note of problems plaguing them. Alas, they do not always do so. It is heartening to see, therefore, the President of India, Pranab Mukherjee, taking note of some of the biggest problems plaguing India at the moment- problems that can unravel despite gains the country has made in 69 years of its existence. He observed, profoundly, that the forces of violence, intolerance and unreason do not harm individuals, they rather hit the very core of nationhood. To quote him
“Our finest inheritance, the institutions of democracy, ensure to all citizens (sic.) justice, equality, gender and economic equity. When grim instances of violence hit at these established values, it is time to take note. We must guard ourselves against the forces of violence, intolerance and unreason.”
Things reaching this point so that the President has to take note of them on the joyous day, the eve of Republic Day, must worry every citizen of India. They must think what has brought a country that should have been worried about continuing hunger, the biggest humiliation as the President had noted in his acceptance speech, that forces millions of their compatriots to go to sleep on an empty stomach every night. They must have been thinking about ways to tackle malnutrition that leads to the stunting and wasting of a huge section of its children and has been referred to repeatedly, as a National Shame.
President Pranab Mukherjee, one must acknowledge, never lost sight of these pressing concerns and did rightly so. He had asserted the need for elimination of ‘hunger, deprivation and marginal subsistence’ from the base of the country’s expanding population, even in his address to the nation on the eve of Republic Day 2013. He had, in fact, called this the primary purpose of wealth creation.
India should have been worrying about its slowing economic growth, too, as it would cause loss of jobs and add to already high rates of unemployment in the country. This too had figured in President Pranab Mukherjee’s concerns consistently. One can easily recall that in his 2013 speech, he mentions very clearly that the young cannot dream on an empty stomach, a theme that kept recurring in his speeches.
This is why India must be concerned about the forces of violence, intolerance and unreason replacing real issues it needs to deal with urgently. These forces, as President Pranab Mukherjee noted, do not hit an individual alone. They undo the whole system meant to protect everyone. They may start with manufactured rages against the most vulnerable sections of the citizenry but seldom do they stop at that. They target all. It is just that they ensure doing that, one by one.
A problem much bigger than this, however, is the way these forces target public institutions, justice institutions being the foremost of them and try to delegitimise them. They try to supplant justice mechanism with rages over ‘hurt sentiment’, pretended or real. They throw serious criminal charges against those dissenting with them with impunity and substitute the required legal process with violence. They try to take the judiciary out of the equation and bring in ‘mob justice’.
All of this, one must recognise, compromises the rule of law and the justice institutions meant to enforce it. They have started drawing blood in India with a number of rationalists killed for their beliefs. They have started forcing people into committing suicide by labelling them anti-national, the suicide of Rohith Vemula, a young Dalit student being the latest addition to the list.
They do not stop at jeopardising the criminal justice system alone. They also compromise the state’s capacity to ensure social justice, to fight hunger and all the deprivations that come with it. A people fighting for mere survival in the face of such an onslaught won’t dare to queue up in front of a public distribution system shop (ration shops). That is, if the shopkeeper dares to open the shop in such an atmosphere,s in the first place. That is, also, if the state with limited resources gets left with some for such shops and other schemes while being forced to spend a huge part of it to combat such forces.
It is sad to see the need to fight these forces of violence, intolerance and unreason becoming the most pressing one for the republic. It is ominous to see that they have occurred in the President’s speech while the ones like need of eliminating hunger, deprivations, unemployment and so on have disappeared for the first time. The republic must take note of this if it does not want to turn into what many of its neighbours have become.