Every Independence Day, no one can escape a surfeit of patriotism – from tricolour-waving to Lata Mangeshkar’s inevitable Ai mere watan ke logon”. On my morning walk today, India’s 66th I-Day, one loudspeaker was blaring Apni azaadi ko hum hargiz mita saktey nahin…”. We will never give up our independence.
I felt like asking: did we ever have independence, the kind that is really worth celebrating?
While people in all countries like waving national flags, only in India do we seem to need an overdose of musical energisers to remind us about who we are as a nation. I don’t know of any other nation in the world where there are so many hundreds of patriotic songs promising valour and sacrifice – unless these songs are meant as a substitute for the real thing: belief in oneself, a sense of self-esteem.
If true independence is the ability to act autonomously and responsibly, without being influenced by narrow loyalties, self-defeating mental attitudes and personal insecurities, we need to declare our independence every day, every waking minute, and not just on 15th August.
True independence starts in the mind – and it can’t start without basic self-esteem. India, and Indians, lack an independent mindset primarily due this collective and individual lack of self-esteem.
We don't think we have succeeded till someone from outside tells us we are part of Brics. A Ravi Shankar is a nobody in India till George Harrison discovers him. Our rich businessmen will wear a Rolex rather than a Titan because their sense of status comes from what they can show off rather than what they are, or what they have achieved. Indian shirts have to be named Peter England or John Players to be considered good enough for even ordinary folks to weak. We even give our dogs foreign sounding names - Rover, Scott, or whatever - so that they sound real to us. All this is further evidence of a lack of self-confidence.
Self-esteem, according to Nathaniel Branden, author of many seminal works in this area, “is confidence in our ability to think, confidence in our ability to cope with the basic challenges of life, and confidence in our right to be successful and happy.”
Does any Indian leader ever personify this value? Almost all of them are breast-beating cassandras who think leadership is about reminding ourselves every day about how badly off we are.
Consider where our collective lack of self-esteem has led us. The man who made our I-Day speech today from the Red Fort is the one who is least qualified to demonstrate the importance of independence.
Manmohan Singh is the country’s Prime Minister, but he has never acted like one. For too long, he has sacrificed independence for the job security that comes from loyalty to the Gandhi family. He seems to be singularly lacking in self-esteem. Loyalty to the country will set him free. Free to either serve the country with his head held high, or free to speak his mind once out of the government. But he prefers to stay in shackles.
For the Gandhi family, Sonia and Rahul, I wish them the freedom to be their own selves. They have become slaves to sycophants who have given them the impression that they are great leaders and that India needs them in party politics. This was not what Sonia wanted from life when her late husband Rajiv was still an airline pilot. How come she has allowed self-seeking hangers-on to convince her otherwise? We are often slaves to our followers. Rahul has shown no taste for being a man of the masses. How has he convinced himself that he is the messiah the country is waiting for? True independence and freedom means Sonia and Rahul should be looking into their consciences for the answer.
Or take the main opposition party, the BJP. How come, after more than 30 years of existence, it has not asserted its independence as a political party by asking the RSS to stay out? The RSS claims to be a social organisation, but it is afraid to stay one. It is seeking political clout by seeking to control the BJP - to the extent where it even nominates the party’s president. If the RSS were a self-confident organisation, it would have no need for either minority bashing or the BJP’s political crutch.
The BJP lacks both self-esteem and independence to think for itself. One electoral drubbing in 2004 has convinced it that talking about India Shining is a vote-loser. It has abandoned all its better instincts and is now trying to out-Congress in singing the nation’s dirge. It is unconvinced about the economic reforms it implemented under Vajpayee and now wants to avoid talking about any kind of change for the better.
The BJP has to rediscover its independence to really work for the nation as a truly secular party. It has to chalk out its agenda for the next 100 years, and not think of tailoring its vision for the next election. It can’t do so without a solid sense of self-esteem.
But the lack of self-esteem goes beyond politics. Look at religion. Hinduism and Islam came into eye-to-eye contact several hundred years ago, but lack on self-confidence on both sides ended in mutual mistrust where both Muslims and Hindus look at the other warily.