The F.R.E.E.D.O.M. Wishlist – Vanit Sethi


indian flag homeless boy


As India celebrates its 69th Independence Day, here is my list of Six Wishes for the nation 


“You have to dream before your dreams can come true.” — Dr APJ Abdul Kalam

On the occasion of 69th Independence Day of India, it may be apt to begin by dreaming what we want our nation to be, the way Dr Kalam would want all of us to do, especially the youth. Of course, dreaming is the easier part, the harder one being making those dreams come true, for which you have to work to a plan. But one has to make a wishlist to at least chalk out one’s idea of an India we would like to see. So, I begin with this simple wishlist – seven things I would like the nation to be free of – each letter of the word F.R.E.E.D.O.M standing for the things we need freedom from.

fear of Terror Attacks: For the past about 30 years, our country has been subject to frequent terror attacks from one domestic group to another, coming to this stage of rather blatant state-sponsored attacks from across the border. While our western neighbour has been thoroughly discredited in the eyes of the world, so much so that even their one-time allies are now slowly leaving them to their own fate, our responses to such attacks should also be sharpened, and we must do everything at our disposal to protect our citizens.

After all, isn’t the right to life a fundamental right? So, if there are international groups clearly operating with the sanction and active support of a nation’s armed forces and intelligence agencies, we must hit them where it hurts most.

Of course, the methodology and modus operandi should be left to those whose task it is and who understand it best, but at least our human rights groups must stop supporting those people who kill our people at their will. They can’t be anyone’s friend, so stop this facade of trying to reform them, please! We want to be free, going about our jobs without worrying about what lies in that bag in the corner.

Religious Fanaticism and Regional Parochialism: These ‘isms’ breed terror. The action of killing without compunction has its roots in the minds of those who are poisoned or brainwashed by these ‘isms’ – especially the first ‘ism’. Our nation has to send this message out loud and clear – we cannot be run by those to whom religion and region are of prime importance. Religion should have absolutely no business in the running of any government. But it should be also understood that alliances with parties firmly based on appeals to certain communities should be a ‘no-no’ for the major nationalist parties. If majoritarianism is bad, so is minorityism.

One cannot be acceptable over the other. And leaders who openly incite communal violence and root for terrorists just because they belong to their community must be shunned and ostracised at all levels. So too, those who keep touting the ‘sons of the soil’ theory. India is one nation, and all citizens are free to move anywhere in the country for education, employment, business, or any other purpose.

It’s high time now for all kinds of reservations and quotas to be done away with if we want India to be a globally competitive nation. Merit must be the sole criterion for selection in any field. If quotas haven’t uplifted those it was meant to, obviously they are not working. Some other ways should be found to broaden social justice. Calls to declare more and more communities as ‘backward’ are laughable and ridiculous. Put an end to such practices. Let all religions and regions be truly equal, at least in the eyes of the law.

Endless, Mindless Debates on TV: 24X7 TV is killing the sanctity of news and debates. Three weeks non-stop on the so-called ‘Lalitgate’, slanging matches over canteen subsidies for politicians, and bleeding heart appeals to save the life of a known terrorist were the absolute low points of TV channels, especially the pretentious, ‘enlightened’ English channels.

Irrespective of what Sushma and Vasundhara did, they pale in comparison to the multi-crore scams of the previous Congress regime; canteen subsidies have been very frequently utilised by journalists covering Parliament, and there is a lot of hypocrisy and double-speak over subsidies – everyone loves to have them, but others should not have them – industrialists can have them, but farmers should not; journalists can have them, but politicians should not. Oh, stop this farce.

And TV talking heads – please also think about the lives of those whose dear ones are killed mindlessly by terrorists before showing your sympathies for killers. If nobody deserves to be hanged, nobody deserves to be killed either. Please have more sensible debates on TV, if you must have them at all. And for heaven’s sake, every minor incident is not ‘Breaking News’.

Excessive Culture of Consumerism: ‘Have this, have that’, ‘two for one’, ‘grab the latest mobile phone’, ‘stop paying rent and buy our flat’. Where are regulators in advertising? There is so much fleecing of customers and consumers at every turn in today’s market-oriented culture that much of the time most consumers do not even realise they have been taken for a ride. And most of the time they come to know of it much later when it is already too late. Thanks to consumer courts, at least unscrupulous traders are brought to book every now and then. But we need stronger consumer and advertising guidelines and laws to prevent hiding of facts from the public.

If the richer western world considers India as a dumping ground for their waste, we must take strict action against such companies. We’ve had enough pollution of our air, water and land. MNCs must not think they can lower their quality standards in India and get away with it. We should not tolerate any more Andersons flying away scot-free after being responsible for the deaths of thousands of Indians. They should be brought to book and those helping them must be taken to task. We definitely want a cleaner air to breathe, cleaner water to drink, and cleaner cities to live in. Development yes, but not at the cost of our environment.

Destructive Disruptions in Parliament: Over the last few days, we have witnessed daily disruptions in Parliament on our TV screens. The government was simply not allowed to speak by a united opposition led by Congress. The grand old party had decided that they would not let the government work, come what may.

By the end of the session, the other opposition parties too had enough of the Congress’ disruptive tactics, and decided to break ranks with them. It started off with Lalitgate and the Vyapam scam, but even when the ruling party said they were open to discussions the way Congress wants them, the Congress was unrelenting, but finally agreed when the other opposition parties did not support them.

And then, the last two days of the monsoon session were a virtual war between the Gandhi family and Modi-Sushma-Jaitley, plunging the nation’s highest decision making house into new depths. While the Congress justifies its actions, saying the BJP had done the same when they were in the opposition, two wrongs do not make a right.

Besides, in the UPA’s second term, there was hardly any work getting done, as the government was struck by a policy paralysis due to the massive multi-crore scams taking their toll, compared to which Lalitgate and Sushma’s actions seem like a Sunday picnic. Whatever it is, the nation has had enough of these disruptions now, and are demanding parliamentarians to be accountable to the public who pay for their sessions through taxes.

Everyone is now demanding that the ‘no-work, no-pay’ policy be applicable to parliamentarians too. The nation is waiting for work to get done for faster economic growth, and for that, parties like the Congress must allow the government to function and not place obstacles in their way at every turn. They are not endearing themselves to the public this way. If at all, people are getting more and more disgusted with this party that has not learnt so far to accept their massive defeat in the 2014 general elections, and the fact that a chaiwallah can become the prime minister of this country.

Oppressive Corruption and Red-tapism: The time is now ripe to put an end to massive corruption in high places that characterised the Congress regime. We want no more 2Gs, CWGs, and Coalgates, but we also don’t want Lalitgates and Vyapams.

The BJP, which has come to power on an anti-corruption campaign, cannot afford to be soft on corruption at all. They must take action where required, even if it is within the domains of the state governments. They must not defend the indefensible, and if mistakes are made, they must accept them gracefully and seen to be taking action. Otherwise, the people will lose faith in them too, and think that all parties are similar and double-faced – one face in the opposition, and another while in power. Also, India’s bloated, self-serving bureaucracy must be cut to size.

The red tape must be thrown away. Our babus must not be allowed to dig in their heels, secure in their boroughs. They too must be made accountable at every step. They too must perform or perish, and their terms of service must depend on their work output, not on their running personal errands for arrogant ministers. We want performance-oriented netas and babus. Throw out the arrogant, self-serving, slothful types. We don’t need them anymore.

Moral Policing and Media Trials: Of late, there has been an increasing tendency for those in power, and those who wield power – mainly politicians and policemen – to judge and impose a certain unwritten moral code that goes against all liberal, secular values enshrined in our Constitution. Thus, self-styled organisations like Ram Sena disrupt Valentine parties and haul up couples seen cosying up in public, and the police are trying to be holier than thou, venturing into terrain which is not their concern at all, maybe at the behest of their political bosses.

It’s not the politician’s job to decide what should be the size of a girl’s skirt, whether she should drink at pubs or not, and whether she should be seen late at night partying with male friends. And please, we are sick of the vague, reprehensible justifications for rape. Keep your medieval mindsets to yourself, and lay off ordinary citizens letting their hair down after a hard day’s work. Also, the viewers in India are wise enough to make their own decisions. They don’t want the self-righteous media to decide things for them. Especially, they are all sick of unwanted media trials, where the media acts as the judge, jury and executioner.

Let the people decide for themselves – they are already speaking out their minds in private blogs and social websites. And those in power have no right to control them or go after them. Every citizen has the right to express his or her opinions. So, an advice for our ‘sewaks’ and scribes — don’t take the citizens and viewers to be fools. You are being made fun of everywhere. Don’t make asses of yourself. Put an end to moral policing and media trials. Period!

I would like to conclude with a few lines from Rabindranath Tagore’s most famous poem in his Nobel-winning Gitanjali that aptly sums up what our nation must strive to be:

Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls

Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high

Where knowledge is free

Into that heaven of freedom my father, let my country awake.

All opinions and views expressed in columns and blogs and comments by readers are those of individual writers and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Caravan Daily







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