It is Good Friday and two days on we shall all be celebrating Easter — Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, all are looking forward to the long weekend and Christians will go to church to commemorate the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, and then prepare for the ressurection on Easter Sunday. India has absorbed within its persona diverse faiths and the rituals that accompany those beliefs. It is its greatest strength and privilege. This layered ‘sharing’ has encouraged and allowed for a wide-ranging general knowledge about other communities and their religions, philosophies, patterns of life, habits and preferences. It made India a land that remains inherently curious, tolerant and ‘all-embracing’, in spite of the tribulations that we have to endure when this truth about us as a people is misused by weak, manipulative, self-serving politicians.
In this new millennium, this volatile information age, where technology has punctured privacy and where often the weak and less-informed can use the half-truth to destroy, the one strength that is special to our nation state is the extraordinary diversity of cultures, faiths and traditions, which have co-existed here in spite of gentle as well as brutal interventions and assaults. We need to protect and nurture this god-given, historical cushion, and on this strong base, build a modern nation state that will set just and humane norms for a stable future. This fundamental inclusiveness that lives within our larger culture and our diverse people has been defined superficially, in one simple and unsatisfactory word — secularism. We are an inclusive people, period. If the political class of today ceased to chip away at that which makes us stand apart from parochialism and polarization, India could lead the world at every level. That should be the aspiration, endeavour and socio-economic-political goal. Nothing else.
This sub-continent never ‘lived’ within the confines of ‘commandments’. Interpretations were sought, dialogues were celebrated, differences were respected and consensus was sought. Our ancient norms, tried and tested through the millennia, ever-adjusting to changing times, are the ‘elements’ that the contemporary world around us is struggling to introduce into its structures of good, transparent, inclusive governance. Why did India allow this fine sensibility and profound legacy to dilute and disintegrate into parochial chaos? Why did our leaders, at the time of Independence, not delve into our great past and choose the best from the treasure trove of ideas, to assemble a sensible manual that would guide this country?
Ayurveda, homeopathy, yoga, herbal cures, weaving, fine skills of the hand, building expertise, art, music, dance and theatre traditions and their contemporary renderings in the film industry, are a few of the areas that affect the majority of Indians and could employ vast numbers to radically multiply the GDP. For decades, these important sectors that have a huge international resonance in the world of today, have been neglected, abused by our governments, their skewed priorities set in alien models of growth that make Indians feel uncomfortable in their skins as they are compelled to renounce the familiar. The irony is that there is a world market for all that we have destroyed.
This does not imply that India should subsume its modern and necessary infrastructural development, high-end precision manufacturing, high-tech projects, and other similar businesses in its blueprint for growth. I only want to emphasize that in a country that lives, operates and thrives at many socio-cultural and economic levels, all the layers need to be supported equally for this young, federal, democratic nation state to transform itself into a superpower.