I was five years old when freedom came and so my memories of events associated with the celebrations are dim. I belong to the post-Independence generation and grew up with pride as a free Indian. Though partition and the assassination of the Mahatma overshadowed the great victory of the freedom struggle, the idea of a free nation and the freedom of its citizens took roots.
The Constitution gave us, and guaranteed to us, fundamental rights and freedom of religion, language and residence, besides equality before the law, irrespective of caste, religion and gender. Elections, freedom of speech and choice of ideology became part of our lives. We inhaled the air of liberation. We have seen ups and downs since then. Wars, violence, the Emergency, instability and press censorship. But we have overcome them and survived. Today I see the dark clouds gather on the horizon.
The debates are on security v/s individual freedom; majority v/s minority rights; freedom of speech and assembly v/s nationalism; opposition to policies v/s patriotism; North v/s South. I shudder at the dangerous slogan of “one nation, one language, one religion, one law, one party and one leader” as a prelude to curtailing the identity and democratic rights of citizens with dangerous implications.
India is a union of states with diverse cultural traditions, which have to be respected and encouraged. Our diversity is our strength. What a citizen eats or wears or believes in is the individual choice.
Riots and lynching by one group to enforce its ideas on another cannot and must not be tolerated if the nation is to survive.
Each one of us has a duty and a responsibility to defend individual rights and be prepared to pay the price, sacrificing our today for the nation’s tomorrow.
Elections are won and lost, leaders come and go and governments rise and fall. But the nation and the idea, that is India, has to stay and be strengthened. This is my prayer for my motherland on this Independence Day.
(The author is a former governor of Rajasthanand Uttarakhand)