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An Open Letter to the Founders from a Young Indian

“You acknowledged the fragility of a unifying pan-Indian emotion, and knew what caveats to heed and precautions to take. You recognised the divisive tendencies which lay at the heart of India’s communal Partition. You knew, too, that we, your progeny, must protect ourselves against these. Yet, we faltered.”

Dear Founders of the Nation,

First of all, big fan. Hope Heaven’s treating you better than ever.

Earth, unfortunately, is in a state of tumult. You might be aware that your great nation is under great duress. We are facing an unprecedented health crisis and its toll on lives — physical, social, emotional, financial and psychological — is devastating.

However, a broader realisation has dawned upon me like a slow, painful, all-encompassing thunderclap – a realisation that someone must write you a letter of apology, if not repentance.

Being a subscriber to your syncretic, inclusive idea of India, I have always marvelled at your confidence in posterity, to mortgage the future of the Indian state to the presumption that Indians would continue to respond to history’s unresolved knots with the same self-possession and composure as you did.

And oh yes, there were knots all right! As one of your foremost chroniclers puts it, had India been a start-up, no venture capitalist would have invested in it. It was an audacious experiment, precisely because it was destined to fail. That it survives despite our faltering is a testament to your foresight.

Reconciling the vision of a pluralistic state with a populace fuelled by the communal passions of Partition was no small feat. Neither was the inculcation of respect for democratic institutions in what had long been a culture of hierarchy and deference — converting ‘subjects’ into ‘citizens’.

You acknowledged the fragility of a unifying pan-Indian emotion, and hence knew what caveats to heed and what precautions to take. You recognised the divisive tendencies which lay at the heart of India’s communal Partition. You knew the slippery slope from ‘Hindi-Hindu-Hindustan’ to a ‘Hindu Pakistan’. You knew, too, that the vestiges of these tendencies will fester, and we, your progeny, must protect ourselves against these. Yet, we faltered. The vivisection we are in the process of fostering unnerves me; it is as latent as it is malevolent.

Had India’s multiple generations of politicians been as faithful to your values, we’d have been golden. Unfortunately, the incentives of power at any cost — moral or human — endemic to politics today, have ensured that morality or any such scruples have been pushed aside for power.

As Orwell put it in 1984, “Power isn’t a means; it is an end.” That’s precisely what the sole modus vivendi of politics has become. Gandhiji’s vision in Hind Swaraj – of politics after swaraj (independence) leading to a Moral State, which would by consequence become a panacea for all ills – remains to this date an almost fanciful notion.

But who is suffering? Who has their heart torn out, as mortuaries and crematoria brim with the sight of doom? Who, indeed, has their conscience paralysed by the guilt of losing their dear ones because they couldn’t find that one thing on time – that one oxygen cylinder, that one bed, that one doctor? The answer is us, the nation’s teeming millions – the descendants of those teeming millions you walked with to make the nation. And by extension of our suffering, you too suffer – having fought in your time for a plural, broad-based society which knows when to remain in solidarity.

I am sorry that you have had to watch the decadence of politics and the erosion of institutions in our nation. I am sorry that Parliament – whose ethos of democratic deliberation you nurtured, all the way from your vibrant debates in the Constituent Assembly – has been effectively reduced to a rubber stamp.

I am sorry that a majority of the modern-day media, instead of autonomously speaking out for the staunch values you embodied, has chosen to be insidiously and maliciously suborned into defending the attacks on those values – or worse still, keeping mum. I am sorry too, that we didn’t pay heed to your prescient warnings about hero-worship in politics, and elevated our leader to a level where he seems to be solipsistic enough to commission a new residence for himself, even during the tumult that we, the people, face.

I am sorry that we never tried to understand the importance of patient, principled discussion and became trapped in echo chambers shutting out every opposing voice. I am sorry that we let our identity matter more to us than our welfare, that we fell prey to the temptation of identity politics based on the very othering you fought against. Most importantly, I am sorry that we forgot what you stood for.

I realise that we are committing a fundamental folly here: We are proving you horribly mistaken in trusting the republic to our moral scruples. Every generation believes that their children and grandchildren will be wiser than them. Therefore, for a generation that shaped the genesis of a democratic culture that was unique in the world, the last thing you would have expected is for future generations to be characterised by an utter lack of constitutional morality – and no semblance of a nobility of purpose, absolutely corrupted by the spoils of power.

You gave us the palimpsest, which you guarded with your life and built with your blood and tears. We defaced it by allowing its holiest river to be defiled by the corpses of our own. You made public interest the motivation; we replaced it with self-interest.

Perhaps some level of kowtowing to self-interest is inevitable in a democracy, but if it crosses the Rubicon, where we have dead bodies piling up on the streets and ashes seasoning clothes put out to dry, the question that must be plaguing your mind is — what the bloody hell have these people done?

Pray for us, dear Founders. Pray for your dear democracy. Pray that it isn’t beyond a point of no return.

We need your solace. We need your strength.

Yours faithfully,

One of the Teeming Millions

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Armaan Mathur is a student of Birla Vidya Niketan in New Delhi. He has previously written for the Student Edition of the Hindustan Times, and is passionate about history, political science, literature and anthropology.