Looking Forward To 2021 With Hope

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Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high. Where an Indian identity is determined by citizenship, and not divided by the narrow domestic walls of caste, region or religion

RAJDEEP SARDESAI

After a traumatic and turbulent 2020, it’s time to ring in a new year with hope. And since Rabindranath Tagore is being rediscovered by our ‘netas’ ahead of the Bengal elections, this is a prayer for India in 2021 that draws inspiration from the great poet-laureate.

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high. Where an Indian identity is determined by citizenship, and not divided by the narrow domestic walls of caste, region or religion. Where our ‘netas’ realise that true secularism demands that no state authority promote or discriminate against any religion, where equal respect for all faiths must be the basis of our constitutional secularism. Where an inter-faith marriage won’t be demonised as ‘love jehad’. Where a consenting adult couple will not have to prove their love to a district magistrate or a local police officer in India’s most populous state or else be locked up. Where eating beef isn’t a crime in one state, while it is an essential diet in a neighbouring state. Where the state must stay out of the private lives of citizens: what we eat, how we dress, who we love, indeed what religion we choose to embrace are our individual freedoms.

Where agitating farmers aren’t tear-gassed or barricaded in the winter freeze. Where a farmer isn’t looked at with suspicion because he wants to be heard, where a turbaned Sikh isn’t a Khalistani but a kisaanputra. Where ‘jai jawan, jai kisan’ is not an empty slogan but where the jawan on the border is better equipped and the kisaan in the fields is provided greater income security. Where crucial laws are passed by consultation and not by diktat, where key stakeholders are part of pre-legislative discussion. Where dissent isn’t criminalised, where protesting students, academics and human rights activists must be engaged with and not thrown into jail as ‘anti-nationals’ who are charged under non-bailable anti-terror laws. Where handing out patriotism certificates is not the business of politicians.

Where a corona vaccine will be made available first to those most at risk and not to those who wear their VVIP badge on their sleeve. Where no one will label a community as corona carriers simply to cater to rank prejudice. Where public health systems are designed to ensure quality treatment for all and not just for those who can afford the best doctors and hospitals. Where private healthcare recognises the difference between profits and profiteering. Where more budgetary resources are spent on building top-class primary health centres and schools instead of grand statues and monuments. Where science scores over superstition, medical care over ‘taali-thaali bajao’ distractions, clean energy over fossil fuels. Where the fight against air pollution should not become an annual crisis every winter but needs to be resolved on priority. Where we need to realise that the future lies in environment preservation and not in the rampant destruction of precious forest cover.

Where it shouldn’t take a pandemic to remind us of the plight of the urban poor. Where no one has to ever walk hundreds of kilometres from urban shanties to their villages only because a national lockdown is imposed with just four-hour notice. Where the poor and marginalised must not be abandoned so cruelly even as the middle class and elite live in the comfort of their gated colonies and high-rise apartments. Where greater caring and compassion drives us to build a more inclusive society rather than one that privileges a few.  

Where a PM Cares Fund cannot be a body ‘owned’ and ‘controlled’ by the government of India but then also not come under Right to Information laws because it is deemed to receive private funds. That as taxpayers we have the right to know where and how our monies are being spent by the government. Where election funding too is made more transparent: where the information commission doesn’t turn around and say that there is ‘no public interest’ in revealing the details of political donors under an opaque electoral bonds scheme.

Where before we spend public money on refurbishing parliament, we first restore the collective spirit of parliamentary democracy. Where democracy isn’t about the supremacy of one leader but encourages decentralisation in the power structure. Where political parties aren’t a family inheritance but are built on merit and not lineage. Where a robust democracy isn’t just about winning elections but ensuring a level-playing field for all those contesting elections. Where money power isn’t used for buying MPs and MLAs and subverting a mandate, where state enforcement agencies don’t become weapons of threat and intimidation of political opponents. Where institutions are not made subservient to an individual or an ideology, where the spine of a bureaucrat matters more than proximity to power.

Where a sub-continental size country like India cannot be run from an ubiquitous high command in Delhi alone but must truly embrace the spirit of federalism. Where a state cannot be downsized to a Union territory by an overnight firman as happened in Jammu and Kashmir. Where a governor of the state must owe allegiance to the Constitution and not a political party: where, as is happening in Bengal at the moment, a conflict between Raj Bhavan and an elected chief minister is dangerous and avoidable. Where, as in Maharashtra, the governor cannot become a parallel centre for political activity. Where the promise of ‘free markets’ doesn’t become the reality of market monopolies, where the licence-permit raj of a previous era doesn’t become the patron-crony rule of the present. Where businesses are built through innovation and enterprise and not by stealth and skullduggery. Where the vast informal sector is boosted and job-creating industries incentivised. Where growth figures aren’t fudged and image management matters less than hard facts.

Where judges recognise that notions of personal liberty cannot be selective. It cannot be that an octogenarian activist must struggle for weeks to get a straw sipper in jail while politically influential individuals are granted instant immunity from prosecution and arrest. Where judges eschew all post-retirement benefits and where criticising the judiciary isn’t seen as criminal contempt. Where habeas corpus petitions are heard with urgency rather than the allegedly contemptuous tweets of a stand-up comedian.

Where an actor’s suicide doesn’t become a national soap opera while a farmer’s suicide is a mere statistic. Where the news media isn’t a lapdog but a watchdog. Where the duty of TV news networks is to inform not incite, where news matters more than noise, where sense scores over sensation. Where TRPs must stand for Television Respect points and not a crude attempt to get eyeballs at all costs. Where social media platforms can’t get away with allowing fake news and hate speech on their sites. Where a ‘new’ India can’t be built by abandoning the core values of our founding fathers.

Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake. Happy New Year!