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A long walk to freedom- India@75

As a citizen of India, with a sense of pride and gratification, I feel happy to celebrate the 75th anniversary of India’s political independence/ freedom. This gives me the opportunity to express my deep respect for all the stakeholders involved in India’s freedom struggle and nation-building. Besides, as much as I would like to celebrate, I would also like to pause and introspect our 75 years post-independence journey, compelling me to deep dive and understand the real meaning of freedom, freedom in its truest sense. As Socrates said, “an unexamined life is not worth living”, similarly, “an unexamined independence/freedom is unworthy of celebration”.

Freedom is the most sought-after virtue. There are several interpretations of freedom. For some (liberal view), freedom is the ability to exercise one's own choices. For a few others (socialist view), freedom is the absence of necessities. Moreover, freedom can also be described as the ability to express oneself with “no harm” to others. Freedom also refers to the participation of the people in social and political affairs. Besides worldly connotations, freedom has a spiritual significance. According to Rabindranath Tagore, freedom is the enrichment of the soul through self-realization. Despite, much yearned, freedom (holistic) still remains a long walk for India. In the words of Rousseau, "people are free but everywhere in chains".

Below are some of the multi-dimensional metrics evaluating the degree of freedom India possesses after 75 years of independence.

  • Absence of necessities: despite several reforms (industrialization, urbanization, globalization, privatization), a little less than 75% of people still inhabit rural India. That means, limited access to basic necessities (qualitative) like food, shelter, water, education, healthcare, technology etc. The same has been reflected through the Global Index on SDGs 2022 (published by Sustainable Development Solutions Network) where India ranks121 out of 163 countries.

  • Financial freedom: Albeit, India has been one of the fastest growing economies and is projected to remain so for a considerable period of time, yet, the quest to expand the pie and adopt the trickle-down approach has not yielded the desired results. In India (and for that matter, globally) the top 10% of the population holds more than 75% of the total national wealth. A recent analysis presented in the book Capital and Ideology by Thomas Piketty shows that the inequality virus has been infecting humans historically, sustained by the dominant ideologies and institutions of their times. Today, that virulence has intensified with the hyper-capitalist mode of production, necessitating a BIG RESET in the economic paradigm to hinder the hindrances

  • Political freedom: As per the Freedom In The World index 2022, globally, nearly 75% of the world’s population lived in countries that faced deterioration. India, in particular, scored a little less than 75 out of 100 in political rights and civil liberties, granting India the status of “partly free”. The EIU Democracy index and the World Press Freedom index do not agree more.

  • Spiritual/ Personal/ Social freedom: Spiritual freedom, as defined by Tagore (enrichment of the soul through self-realization), can be attained when one is at its best (physical & mental well-being). In the UN’s World Happiness Report 2022, India doesn’t even find its place in the first 75% of the countries (ranked 136/146). The quality of life has been deteriorating each day. Today’s world couldn’t be more globalised, interconnected and united, yet, humans are being alienated from self. Moreover, today, more people are dying because of suicide than terrorism and crime, social schisms are becoming sharper than ever, and our society is getting impregnated with extreme biases & prejudices leading to crimes of all shades.

However, whatever we may say about India, the opposite is also true. The 75th year of independence/ freedom marks a critical time point in the evolution of the country. Despite all the challenges, India in the 75th year (2022) has metamorphosed itself to a significant extent (several examples & indices resonate the same) as compared to India in the 0th year (1947) and the “Amrit Kaal” (India@75 to India@100) provides us with a narrow window of opportunity to further REFORM, PERFORM & TRANSFORM ourselves.

At this juncture, India stands from a position of strength (political, economic, social, technological, environmental, and spiritual). Politically, India’s exceptionalism has been defying generic trends. Most countries have come together to give birth to their respective constitutions. However, in India’s case, the Indian constitution gave birth to India as a nation. It is a unified democracy (largest) with diversity and India’s positive secularism is distinct vis-à-vis the western idea of secularism and is successful to a large extent.

Economically, the “New India” requires us to adopt an atmanirbhar (self-reliant) approach & not autarkic (self-sufficient), with unfettered atmavishwas (self-confidence) for faster, inclusive and sustainable growth. India is the 3rd largest (PPP) and 5th largest (nominal) globally & the 3rd largest (nominal) in Asia. Furthermore, rapid economic growth makes India an attractive destination for investments, indigenisation, innovation, infrastructure, international trade and inclusiveness. Besides, India uniquely offers 5D competitive & comparative advantages- Demand, Diversity, Democracy, Demography, and Decisiveness, making itself a reliable and trusted stakeholder in global economic growth. Going forward, India should adopt the GLOCAL strategy- global in essence and local in existence, to cherish economic freedom.

Socially, the strength lies in its diversity and demography. India is projected to be the largest populous country by 2023 with one of the largest productive workforces. Moreover, India is considered to be a voice for all places & a place for all voices. The diversity in religion, race, caste & sex makes India a plural, inclusive, sensitive & productive society, fostering peace & prosperity. Despite several attempts being made to polarize the society, yet, by and large, India has been able to keep its social fabric intact.

Furthermore, India has been swift enough to embark on the Industrial Revolution 4.0 journey (after missing the previous revolutions). The evolution of science and technological advancements in India has been breathtaking; be it space, information technology, biotechnology, healthcare, nuclear, agriculture etc. In addition, India’s human capital is second to none. This makes the world difficult to ignore India’s participation while expanding the frontiers of sci-tech developments.

On the environmental front, traditionally, India has been worshipping mother nature, only to nourish and nurture. Its climate-conscious approach is striving to strike a balance between economic development and climate change. The climate commitments (Nationally Determined Contributions) alongside climate leadership (International Solar Alliance, Coalition for Disaster Resilience Infrastructure, Deep Decarbonisation, Leadership Group for Industry Transition etc) and being the champion of climate justice (Common but Differentiated Responsibilities), India has acted as a trailblazer and its contributions shall have a meaningful impact on global climate actions.

On the spiritual front, “The time is ripe for the Indian renaissance”. According to Aurobindo (Indian philosopher), India has a living consciousness that needs to be awakened. The old lamps need new lights. This is the zeitgeist moment for India, as the world is looking forward to India’s leadership (Vishwa-guru). New equilibriums will be forged between India and the world in different areas and at different levels. However, to do so, awakening at the individual level is quintessential, since the state is an individual write large. Thus, it is our moral responsibility to first free ourselves from personal vices like hatred, violence, greed, anger, jealousy etc. This consciousness will spread across different layers like oceanic circles (M.K.Gandhi), empowering the country as a whole.

The Kautilyan (Indian warcraft strategist) advice for the king/state is “the happiness of the state lies in the happiness of its people”. The state should make all efforts to ensure that its citizens stay happy. On the other hand, to make this long walk to freedom short, “we the people” have to avoid the banalisation/ normalisation of evils and participate (proactively, passionately, positively & productively) in the political, economic, social, and cultural processes. In this way, we shall be able to taste freedom in its truest sense.

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