After a traumatic and turbulent 2020, its time to ring in a new year with hope. And since Rabindranath Tagore is being re-discovered by our netas ahead of the Bengal elections, this is a prayer for India in 2021 that draws inspiration from the great poet-laureate.
Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high. Where an Indian identity is determined by citizenship, and not divided by the narrow domestic walls of caste, region or religion. Where our netas realize that true secularism demands that no state authority promote or discriminate against any religion, where equal respect for all faiths must be the basis of our constitutional secularism.
Where an inter-faith marriage wont be demonised as ‘love jehad’. Where a consenting adult couple will not have to prove their love to a district magistrate or a local police officer in India’s most populous state or else be locked up. Where eating beef isn’t a crime in one state while it is an essential diet in a neighboring state. Where the state must stay out of the private lives of citizens: what we eat, how we dress, who we love, indeed what religion we choose to embrace are our individual freedoms.
Where agitating farmers aren’t tear-gassed or barricaded in the winter freeze. Where a farmer isn’t looked at with suspicion because he wants to be heard, where a turbaned Sikh isn’t a Khalistani but a kisaan putra. Where ‘jai jawan, jai kisan’ is not an empty slogan but where the jawan on the border is better equipped and the kisaan in the fields is provided greater income security.
Where crucial laws are passed by consultation and not by diktat, where key stakeholders are part of pre-legislative discussion. Where dissent isn’t criminalized, where protesting students, academics and human rights activists must be engaged with and not thrown into jail as ‘anti-nationals’ who are charged under non-bailable anti-terror laws. Where handing out patriotism certificates is not the business of politicians.
Where a corona vaccine will be made available first to those most at risk and not those who wear their VVIP badge on their sleeve. Where no one will label a community as corona carriers simply to cater to rank prejudice. Where public health systems are designed to ensure quality treatment for all and not just for those who can afford the best doctors and hospitals. Where private healthcare recognizes the difference between profits and profiteering. Where more budgetary resources are spent on building top-class primary health centres and schools instead of grand statues and monuments.
Where science scores over superstition, medical care over ‘taali-thaali bajao’ distractions, clean energy over fossil fuels. Where the fight against air pollution should not become an annual crisis every winter but needs to be resolved on priority. Where we need to realize that the future lies in environment preservation and not in the rampant destruction of precious forest cover.
Where it shouldn’t take a pandemic to remind us of the plight of the urban poor. Where no one has to ever walk hundreds of kilometers from urban shanties to their villages only because a national lockdown is imposed with just four hours notice. Where the poor and marginalized must not be abandoned so cruelly even as the middle class and elite live in the comfort of their gated colonies and high-rise apartments. Where greater caring and compassion drives us to build a more inclusive society rather than one which privileges a few.
Where a PM Cares Fund cannot be a body ‘owned’ and ‘controlled’ by the government of India but then also not come under Right to Information laws because it is deemed to receive private funds. That as tax payers, we have the right to know where and how our monies are being spent by the government. Where election funding too is made more transparent: where the information commission doesn’t turn around and say that there is ‘no public interest’ in revealing the details of political donors under an opaque electoral bonds scheme.
Where before we spend public money on refurbishing parliament, we first restore the collective spirit of parliamentary democracy. Where democracy isn’t about the supremacy of one leader but encourages a decentralization in the power structure. Where political parties aren’t a family inheritance but are built on merit and not lineage. Where a robust democracy isn’t just about winning elections but ensuring a level playing field for all those contesting elections. Where money power isn’t used for buying MPs and MLAs and subverting a mandate, where state enforcement agencies don’t become weapons of threat and intimidation of political opponents. Where institutions are not made subservient to an individual or an ideology, where the spine of a bureaucrat matters more than proximity to power.
Where a sub-continental size country like India cannot be run from an ubiquitous high command in Delhi alone but must truly embrace the spirit of federalism. Where a state cannot be downsized to a union territory by an overnight firman as happened in Jammu and Kashmir. Where a governor of the state must owe allegiance to the constitution and not a political party: where, as is happening in Bengal at the moment, a conflict between Raj Bhavan and an elected chief minister is dangerous and avoidable. Where, as in Maharashtra, the governor cannot become a parallel centre for political activity.
Where the promise of ‘free markets’ doesn’t become the reality of market monopolies, where the licence-permit raj of a previous era doesn’t become the patron-crony rule of the present. Where businesses are built through innovation and enterprise and not by stealth and skullduggery. Where the vast informal sector is boosted and job creating industries incentivized. Where growth figures aren’t fudged and image management matters less than hard facts.
Where judges recognize that notions of personal liberty cannot be selective. It cannot be that an octogenarian activist must struggle for weeks to get a straw sipper in jail while politically influential individuals are granted instant immunity from prosecution and arrest. Where judges eschew all post retirement benefits and where criticizing the judiciary isn’t seen as criminal contempt. Where habeas corpus petitions are heard with urgency rather than the allegedly contemptuous tweets of a stand up comedian.
Where an actor’s suicide doesn’t become a national soap opera while a farmer’s suicide is a mere statistic. Where the news media isn’t a lapdog but a watchdog. Where the duty of tv news networks is to inform not incite, where news matters more than noise, where sense scores over sensation. Where TRPs must stand for Television Respect points and not a crude attempt to get eyeballs at all costs. Where social media platforms cant get away with allowing fake news and hate speech on their sites. Where a ‘new’ India cant be built by abandoning the core values of our founding fathers.
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake. Happy New year!
Dear Mr Sardesai
A very happy New Year to you and yours
I’ve recently watched a discussion on YouTube among you, Shashi Tharoor and Gideon Haig at the Jaipur Literatrue Festuval. If I may, a few minutes of your time, i wanted to share a few of my thoughts.
I live in upstate New York, quite far from the nearest cricket field. I’ve watched you on a number of Indian television shows, and meant to write a little earlier. When I first saw you on a news show a couple of years ago, I noticed your surname, distinctive, and I was aware of only one other person who had it.
It was the autumn of ‘84 or ‘85, I was working at a General Practitioner’s clinic in Earl’s Court in London. My boss, the GP, was a gentle old fellow from Calcutta. Some of the patients at the clinic were passersby, not registered with the clinic, this because of its location. There was a gentleman standing on the pavement, just outside the front door, one late, bright afternoon. He appeared fairly tall, well-built, with neat hair, a smart suit under a creamish gray, light raincoat. He carried a briefcase. He walked in, strode up to the front desk and politely asked to see the doctor. He put his name down on the clipboard, D. Sardesai. The surname is not one I’d come across often, there was only one I had heard of, Dilip Sardesai.
I was a cricket fan, actually I was mad about the game, if truth be told, in those days. (All that changed when I came to the United States for further medical training in the early 90’s, before the internet took off, but that’s another story). I hesitated, then quietly asked him if he was indeed the cricketer. He said yes, and smiled. We didn’t say much, he was there to see the GP, a cold or some such symptoms. I don’t remember if I told him I’d seen him play in ‘74 on the England tour, Ajit Wadekar’s Indians, and I can’t remember if he was on the Cricket Club of India (CCI) side I’d seen as a schoolboy in Nairobi in ‘70 or ‘71.
It’s stayed with me that I met your father for a few minutes, and I wanted to share that with you.
I was very familiar with the Indian sides of those years, the mesmerizing spinners, and Gavaskar, Vishwanath among a whole host of others, the elegant Vengsarkar, and your father a solid batsman. The CCI side i saw in Nairobi was captained by Hanumant Singh, and included Abbas Ali Baig , who got a flashy hundred, Vishwanath, two very powerful hundreds from him, Vijay Manjrekar (whose son Sanjay I saw play for Nairobi Gymkhana about 20 years later) and Salim Durrani.
I also understand your father’s from Goa. My family’s from Nairobi, migrants to Kenya from the Punjab in India, now part of Pakistan, in the late 1890’s. All of my schooling was at a predominantly Goan school, St Teresa’s in Nairobi now 50 years ago. My friends were mostly of Goan heritage. The diaspora, as they say, now in England, some in Canada. A friend from school has now gone to Goa to retire, never having lived there in his earlier life. A circular world.
Thank you for your time, i wanted to share with you my meeting your father, for a few minutes, many years ago. Whenever I’ve seen you on TV, it reminds me of that brief encounter.
Sometimes I watch the cacophony of news, chorus, debates, on Indian TV on YouTube.
Keep up the good and difficult work that you do, it informs many people of the state of play in your country, as we all go through these difficult times. If only the noise could be kept dawn a bit on television, and not just in india.
Thank you, and stay safe.
upstate New York