India rises but falters

On August 15, 1947, two great visions were entertained by two of the most powerful minds of modern India. One was by statesman Jawaharlal Nehru and the other by savant Sri Aurobindo. Both visions failed to materialise. Why? In the answer to this question lies one of the most instructive lessons of modern Indian history, and also the reason for the whirlpool of moral chaos in which the country finds itself today.
In his speech, on August 14-15, 1947, Nehru had said: “A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance.” What he had envisioned was that the noble values ingrained in the ancient philosophy of India, which were submerged under the debris of unfavourable times, would get rediscovered and be used as an asset. He had hoped that “the best of the old” in the Indian tradition and “the best of the new” in the modern world would get synthesised for raising a great edifice for the future India.
But this vision soon slipped Nehru’s mind. He forgot the soul of governance. It did not occur to him that the Constitution and the institutions that were being set up under it required an inner controller, a moral compass. He took practically no measures to ensure that the administrative structure was underpinned by the value of honest work and creative and constructive zeal.
Nehru had recognised the moment when India’s destiny was taking a sharp turn. But, unfortunately, he could not raise his leadership to a level that could bring about a civilisational change and create elevating national ethos and attitudes. Along with India’s Constitution and Five-Year Plan, he could have been instrumental in the formulation and execution of a comprehensive national regeneration programme.
But that was not to be. A golden opportunity, provided by India’s tryst with destiny, was lost. Nehru, instead of assuming the role of an all-round helmsman and a master builder of a new society, chose to be a mere political administrator. Those who came after him did not even have the capacity to reconstruct the original vision or to evolve another on similar lines. The result is for all of us to see: a huge edifice of governance but made of poor clay; a bloated setup of modern institutions but with a barren soul. No wonder, the country was recently visited by an epidemic of corruption. And now people are out on the streets, demanding, ironically, the creation of more institutions whilst the infection is in the soul, which has been in slumber even in free India.
Separately, on August 15, 1947, Sri Aurobindo, in a message broadcast to the nation from All-India Radio, unfolded his vision of free India: “India is arising, not to only serve her material interests but also to live for God and the world.” It was not to become a “docile pupil of the West”, but to act as a torchbearer of its awakened nobility. It could offer to the world its spiritual gifts, such as those contained in the philosophy of Sanatan Dharma, which according to him, is a universal, eternal religion which embraces all others, providing a metaphysical basis for the ideals of equality, fraternity and national and international harmony.
It was in the context of Sri Aurobindo’s belief in the eternal and universal values, embedded in India’s culture, that he, in his message on August 15, 1947, visualised a great role for it in bringing about a “worldwide union” and in providing a “fairer, brighter and nobler life for all mankind”. He also thought that India would develop “a larger statesmanship”. But what do we find today?
A small group of countries holds sway over global economy and international power structure. And where is the “larger statesmanship”? What effort has India made in the direction?
Instead, India has itself jumped on the bandwagon driven by globalisation, deregulation and other ingredients of neo-liberalism — the ingredients that are creating worldwide imbalances, not only in the economy but also in ecology. Consequently, the country is now witnessing rapid depletion of natural resources and ever-widening disparities of income and lifestyles.
Clearly, both the visions have fallen flat. First, the spiritual wasteland which India had become, due to long years of civilisational decay, was not reclaimed and fertilised to receive new seeds which freedom and modernity had brought. Second, neither the educational system nor the general atmosphere has been tuned to the need for creation of a permanent stream of men and women of character and conscience.
It is not possible to have an honest and elevating framework of governance without providing an honest and elevating mindscape to the nation. We must now pick up the gems from our wisdom tradition and now compose that mindscape.

Jagmohan is a former governor of J&K and a former Union minister

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