On August 8,1942, Mahatma Gandhi launched the historic Quit India movement, paving the way to the nation freeing itself from the yoke of colonial oppression in 1947. Gandhiji’s clarion call of “Do or Die” in his celebrated Quit India speech at the Gowalia Tank Maidan, Bombay, lent a sense of urgency to the growing upsurge against British rule, with the entire nation standing as one. The collective will of the Indian people, driven by a zeal to govern themselves and shape their future, found expression in the momentous events that followed, leading inevitably to the freedom of the country on August 15, 1947. Eighty years after Gandhiji’s call for Quit India, marking a watershed moment in the history of the freedom movement, as India celebrates 75 years of Independence under the defining rubric of Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav, let us pause to reflect on our accomplishments, take pride in the milestones we have achieved and ponder on ways to tackle squarely the many challenges that we still need to overcome.
It is pertinent to recall the fact that in weaponizing “Ahimsa” or non-violence to resist the colonial tyranny of the British, and making it one of the cornerstones of the freedom struggle along with civil disobedience, Gandhiji gave a guiding moral philosophy to the masses and galvanized them successfully across the country. The significance of the mantra of “Ahimsa” lies in the fact that it is rooted in the cultural and civilisational ethos of our great nation. Importantly, during our freedom movement, slogans like “Vande Mataram”, “Jai Hind”, “Inquilab Zindabad” or powerful symbols like ‘Charkha’, ‘Rakhi’, Salt or Khadi acted as a binding force for the masses.
The Father of the Nation was ably supported by a glittering galaxy of other eminent leaders and thousands of lesser-known freedom fighters who valiantly fought for India’s Independence, including many who selflessly sacrificed their lives for the larger cause, bound by the principle of non-violence. It was indeed an unparalleled phenomenon in the annals of human history.
India’s brush with barbaric invaders who looted, plundered, pillaged and left a trail of destruction across the country and scheming colonizers, who enslaved it using the philosophy of divide and rule, is a saga of disunity and passive resistance. Of course, there were glowing exceptions who stood out such as Prithviraj Chauhan, Chatrapati Shivaji, Maharana Pratap, Rani Laxmibai of Jhansi, Alluri Seetarama Raju, Veerapandiya Kattabomman, Lachit Borphukan and Rani Abbakka, among others. However, as history tells us, these tales of courage, grit and patriotic zeal, were localized and few and far between. Nevertheless, neither the invaders nor the subsequent colonizers both of whom tried to strike at the roots of India’s ancient culture employing diverse means, could sever the thread of cultural and civilizational continuity that binds our great nation.
India, undoubtedly a leading player on the global stage today, managed to unshackle itself from centuries of subjugation and colonization on August 15, 1947, and in the 75 years of its journey as a free nation, has notched up a vast array of impressive achievements. We need to draw inspiration from our long-drawn freedom struggle, which was a journey of resilience and hope. It is a journey which continues to motivate us to keep setting higher benchmarks in all spheres of human endeavour and stay focused in times of adversity. We have a large pool of human resources, among the most talented in the world. Therefore, India needs to leverage its demographic dividend in order to realize its full potential in terms of economic, scientific, technological and human resource development.
On this historic occasion, as we take justifiable pride in many of our significant achievements in diverse domains, let us take a moment to look at the challenges we are beset with and need to overcome. Our hard-earned Swaraj must translate into Suraj at the grassroots level across the country and the maladies of poverty, illiteracy, gender discrimination, corruption and inequalities of all hues must be stamped out—this should be our overriding priority.
Good and fair governance holds the key to development if we are to build a truly egalitarian society rid of all inequities. Ancient Indian civilization was one whose cultural ethos was permeated with the idea of equality, unity and inclusivity. Guided by a spirit of nationalism, we simply have to turn to our ancestors to build a strong, vibrant nation whose creative energies will be harnessed to their fullest potential.
Universal and affordable access to quality education and healthcare must be the focus of our attention, as a nation. Rural India cannot be left behind in this mission which would involve all stakeholders, drawn from both government and the private sector. Improving rural infrastructure across the country must be fast-tracked and integrated into the larger development narrative. Promotion of mother tongue will revolutionize the educational landscape by making it more inclusive and equitable.
With his unbounded greed, man has caused irreversible damage to the environment. Today, climate change is real as a global phenomenon. Conservation is our only hope for the survival of the planet and we must direct our collective energies towards this end with missionary zeal. Our scriptures mirror the cosmic vision of our ancient culture. They are replete with examples of the worship of the divine in the elements, rivers, mountains, holy plants and trees. We only have to go back to our moorings to draw inspiration and strive to secure the future of succeeding generations. In other words, we need to preserve nature and protect our culture for a bright future.
An overpowering, transcendent emotion of love for Bharat Mata binds us all when we recount the glorious phases of our freedom movement. Duty impels us to revisit our rich past by informing ourselves of the contribution made by our great freedom fighters to liberate the country from oppressive and exploitative colonial rule. This is an occasion for us to recall the sacrifices made by many of our iconic, as also lesser-known freedom fighters to realize their common dream of a free India. It is our moral responsibility to collectively put our shoulder to the wheel and devote ourselves to the overarching ideal of building a vibrant, prosperous and egalitarian India of their dreams.
The author is the Hon’ble Vice President of India.