How India managed to become free and establish formidable, secular democracy under conditions of extreme complexity and challenges

Today India celebrates independence day. I want to use the occasion to recall the circumstances under which India attained this hard fought freedom. 

Before 1947, India was ruled by the British and Indian people citizens were relegated to second class status; they suffered great inequity under the British colonizers. And yet the leaders fighting for an independent India never resorted to bribery, greed or succumbed to temptations of easy money. It was the spirit of patriotism that was overflowing in every freedom fighter. All leaders like Gandhiji, Nehruji, Bose, Patelji were united and focused on the singular objective of achieving freedom for the nation.  Today we differentiate between them use them to sow seeds of divisiveness. We forget that these very same leaders stood shoulder to shoulder and achieved our independence. There must have been arguments and debates among the leaders but for the good of the nation, they resolved, compromised and in the end presented a united front. Countries like India and the USA stand out as unshakable democracies precisely because the founding fathers in these countries spoke with unity and created a phenomenal, forward looking constitution that is still providing marvelous guidance on all sorts of issues. India particularly deserves a mention because at the time when India attained independence, there was extreme poverty, low standards of education, more than 15 official languages, more than 32 official dialects, and many religions, sub-sects, diverse attire, rituals and mannerisms among people.  While India was fighting for independence from colonial rule, it wasn’t clear, towards what? Prior to colonial rule, in India, there were many states ruled by kings and queens and princes. So now should India be handed over to the progeny of the kings or will the newly birthing country have the gall and the commitment to  carve a new path towards democracy?

While the princely states were clamoring to go back to their kingdoms, then came another curveball when Jinnah who was until then involved in the freedom movement alongside India’s founding fathers, now at the dawn of independence, made a fresh demand for his own independent country, that would later become Pakistan. The complexities were becoming very apparent to the British and suddenly they were in a big hurry to depart, knowing well that if the entire country gets thrown into the chaos while they are still at the helm then it would drag them into huge disgrace. Even without this level of complexity, there are several countries in the world that have failed to establish and sustain a democracy, after the colonial powers left. It’s not just Pakistan but countries like Kenya, Peru, Bolivia, Sri Lanka, Ethiopia have been thrown into chaos, after the colonizers left. Many people judge and criticize that the freedom fighters did not resist the partition. But it is easy to be critical in hindsight. However, at the time, When Jinnah demanded a separate Pakistan, if it had not been approved by India’s founding fathers, then the whole plan of the British leaving the colonies could have been jeopardized. India’s peace-loving, democracy-minded leaders came together and accepted it. 

However, freedom was still not within easy reach. Yet another complexity and challenge had to be tackled. As the colonizers were leaving in a tearing hurry they did not see through to the process of partition for it to take place in a safe and systematic manner. Even on the dawn of independence, it was not clear where the boundaries of the countries would be. Some states were given the right to choose the country they would join, others were partitioned, the provinces of Assam, Bengal and Punjab were divided in half and even there the boundaries were not clearly drawn. On the morning of 14th and 15th, when people woke up from sleep, many came to know that they wished to be in one country but were in another. On account of people not knowing the boundaries of both countries prior to the partition, at the dawn of independence began the massive movement of people between India and Pakistan. As hundreds of thousands of angry, thirsty, hungry mobs of people gave up their homes and their livelihoods and began walking in both directions, at some point extreme carnage and violence began. Untold numbers of women were raped, countless homes and areas were set on fire, and countless lives were lost. Even at that time the freshly minted leaders of our brand new secular democracy, stayed united and established peace. There was not a single leader who considered taking advantage of the situation for personal goal and sought to provoke the people for personal power. The leaders stood united and cajoled, inspired, scolded, begged and fasted until the violence stopped and inspired people to remain calm and maintain peace, prudence and respect towards each other.

It is easy to fight, whether it’s for our personal freedom or for our rights or to conquer or win over someone or something, whether it’s against an individual, within a family, or for the sake of religion or even for homeland. But establishing peace is not easy because to attain peace, we have to give up something, to give in somewhere, we have to compromise and be willing to lose a little. In India, we have a joint family system where many members of an extended family live together. Some do so, unhappily and out of necessity. But there are many happy and peaceful  joint families. I have often talked with them and it is very illuminating. From the main patriarch or matriarch to children and grand-children, every member is likely to say that often they have to make sacrifices for the sake of others but they do so willingly and in return achieve deep bonding and mutual love and support.

In the middle of such chaos, without even a prior country to go back to, amidst so many challenges and under such complex circumstances, India succeeded in forming a secular democracy that has sustained to date. It is on account of India’s founding fathers who respected each other and stood united to forge a new path for the country. In doing so, sometimes they sacrificed their bodies, sometimes their family life, work life, and sometimes even their principles in favor of the larger goal of establishing secular and sustainable democracy in India and to put the country on the path of greater prosperity and progress. The Indian constitution that came into existence three years after independence also shines a light on how with unity and forethought they created such a forward looking and visionary document that to date it continues to provide guidance and road map. There is tremendous beauty in our diversity. While the current winds of divisiveness are sowing seeds of mistrust and chaos, perhaps we can remember our legacy, the sacrifices of our freedom fighters and the inspiration provided by our founding fathers to move ahead with unity in our diversity. In this day and age, young people often travel to other countries to learn about different cultures and their unique customs. In India, we have the diversity of several countries, all within our borders. Can we dare to hope that we may learn to move forward not by suppressing our diversity but by adorning it, by making it our glory, by celebrating our differences and leveraging them and making our differences, our strength. 

Jai Hind, Jai Bharat, Salam India!!



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