Indian Republic Turns 71: From ‘Nehruvian’ to ‘Nerovian’ Consensus

Hum layen hain toofan se kishti nikal ke,
Iss desh ko rakhna mere bacchon sambhal ke.

(We have weathered the storm,
Now it is for you take care of this nation.)

The iconic song is written by Pradip and sung by Mohammed Rafi. Hopefully some millennials are aware of this song from the 1954 film Jagriti directed by Satyen Bose. In the school days of my generation (I was born in 1955), it was one of the most popular national songs. Popular and poignant, as it evoked the memories of our national movement as well as a sense of responsibility. It still does.

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  • There have been, and continue to be hurdles in the way of really democratising the complex Indian social structure while maintaining the integrity of the country.
  • The so-called Nehruvian ‘idea of India’ was not merely his, but represented a wider consensus.
  • It is for the first time in seventy-one years, that such a self-righteous dispensation is ruling the country.
  • The Indian republic at seventy-one, is faced with an unprecedented all-round crisis.

India’s Inspiring Journey

This year our republic turns seventy-one, and the warning given in this song is more pertinent than ever. We have been a democratic republic for so long due to the fact that authoritarian world views could not really capture the popular Indian imagination. Even the Emergency was perceived by its own supporters as an exception, not as the norm. Contrary to the rhetoric of ‘seventy years gone to waste’, India has traversed an inspiring journey from a colonially exploited and impoverished country to reaching the threshold of being a super power. This growth is even a greater achievement, taken together with the fact that with all its faults and shortcomings, Indian democracy thrived and opened up the new social and political resources, and India maintained its non-aligned status in a bipolar world.

There have been, and still are hurdles in the way of really democratising the complex Indian social structure while maintaining the integrity of the country.

Nobody can argue that the ideals underlying our Constitution have been realised to a satisfactory degree, but at the same time, only someone with no sensitivity towards the scale of the problem can rubbish the achievements.

This has been possible because the leaders of our national movement took care to imagine and construct a modern nation-state on the basis of traditional Indian values of unity in diversity, and tolerance of dissent and divergence of opinions.

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From ‘Nehruvian’ India to ‘Nerovian’ India

The so-called Nehruvian ‘idea of India’ was not merely his, but represented a wider consensus.

Of course, there were challenges to this idea of India from political opponents, but the consensus continued to hold sway on the Indian imagination in general. This has significantly changed over the last one decade or so. Many people are naturally happy at the breakdown of the ‘Nehruvian consensus’. No harm in it, as long as this consensus is not replaced with a ‘Nerovian’ consensus. Nero is the Roman emperor who ‘fiddled while Rome burned’.

Is such a ‘Nerovian’ consensus really on the horizon?

Unfortunately, yes.

It is for the first time in seventy-one years, that such a self-righteous dispensation is ruling the country.

DK Barooah did not go beyond, ‘India is Indira and Indira is India’, and his party, that is, the Indian National Congress, was made to learn the right lessons in 1977. But today, any critic of the regime is immediately described as ‘anti-national’; is advised to go to Pakistan. Chief ministers speak the language of ‘revenge’; entire communities are stigmatised and are sought to be turned into lesser citizens.

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Undermining of Democracy

The majority party is dismissive not only of the anti-CAA mass protests, but also of the apprehensions of its own allies. Its IT cell and other wings are all out to systematically spread all kinds of fake news. Sincere, professional criticism of disasters like demonetisation is seen as ‘Harvard jealousy’ against ‘hard work’. Democratic Institutions and practices are undermined and intellectuals are demonised. All this, while the economy is going down and unemployment is at an all time high. And yet again the government continues to be in denial mode – ignoring data provided by its own agencies.

I feel sadly vindicated, recalling, that in a TV debate in 2015 itself, I had predicted that “the present dispensation will create Emergency-like cult of infallible leader and fear even without a formal declaration of Emergency.”

The Challenge that Lies Before the Indian Republic

In fact, an authoritarian and majoritarian mindset has always existed in our society. The difference is that nowadays, such a mindset, along with its concomitant regressive attitudes is becoming part of the social consciousness. We are supposed to be living in an era of ‘knowledge revolution’, and yet, all kinds of fantastic nonsense is being peddled in the name of ‘our glorious past’. Large sections of media have very dutifully and consistently contributed in large measure to this terrible rout.

The Indian republic at seventy-one, is faced with an unprecedented all-round crisis.

The Hindi-speaking belt, Gujarat and parts of Bengal and Northeast are in the grips of majoritarian fever, and the Opposition parties seem to be least bothered in seeing beyond their noses. Fortunately, recent events have indicated some degree of disenchantment. But, can this disenchantment by itself stop the emergence of the ‘Nerovian’ consensus?

This is the challenge the Indian democratic republic faces at 71.

(The writer is Contributing Editor for Hindi Quint. He can be reached @puru_ag. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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