Is India truly a Republic? The question has haunted me since long. Of course, answer so far has been obscure. The first time I asked myself the grave question about India's claim of being a "Republic" was when a bandh called by banned militant group United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) thwarted my plans of attending an official function of Republic Day celebration in Guwahati, Assam.
I was not appalled because a militant group stopped enthusiastic Indians from celebrating their national festival. I was angry and deeply hurt as VVIPs and VIPs who enjoyed the day under the cover of thick security blanket did not ensure that public of this great Republic attend the event.
It was long time back. As a teenager, I hated "unwanted" obstruction in my free movement. After that episode, many incidents followed, which forced me to question India's pride in calling itself a Republic and Democratic country. I am well aware that in neighbouring countries the situation is worse. Worse than any Indian can perhaps imagine. But, maybe, as an Indian who has tasted liberty and equality since birth cannot stand slightest of attack on the fabrics of freedom.
And, now when our elected representatives are behaving like "rulers from dark ages", the very set-up of our Republic is at risk of falling apart. Our country seems to have been hijacked by a group of politicians, corporate houses and militant groups. In the process, voice of the countrymen has turned feeble and weak. Yes, the same weak and feeble voice scream loudest at times, when they see unimaginable injustice meted out to them.
Recent past provided us ample evidence about the powerful voice of Public. An example of this is the angry outburst of the nation against the brutal Delhi gang-rape of a 23-year-old paramedical student in a moving bus. The barbarity involved in the crime sent chills down our spines. We all came out in open and made our demand loud and clear at the corridors of power centre. It was a moment of triumph for our nation. And, yes a major victory for the citizens of Indian Republic, who celebrated their 64th Republic Day on Saturday, Jan 26.
For the first time I have witnessed young, old, men, women, grandparents, children...coming out in the open to demand their rights. In this case, security for women. It was humbling to see people raising their demands in a non-violent and democratic manner, without caring if they have a leader to lead them. It was truly a democratic movement. What if it was for a short time? We have proved to the world that "Public" is prominent in a Republic.
But, it was equally sad to witness most of our elected representatives (both from ruling Congress and opposition BJP) remained untouched by the outburst. They maintained a secure distance from the crowd that gathered at Jantar Mantar and other parts of the national capital.
It was not something surprising. Our rulers have always been immune to our problems. Ask those elderly women who were forced to strip naked and staged an angry demonstration outside the Assam Rifles base in the heart of Imphal in Manipur in July 15, 2004. Nude women protestors shouted slogans against alleged rape, torture and murder of 32-year-old Thangjam Manorama Devi by paramilitary (Assam Rifles) soldiers in Imphal.
The death triggered a violent campaign against the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA). But, AFSPA still continues to haunt the daily life of people in North-East India and Kashmir. The army maintains North-East India and Kashmir are special cases, as they are militancy effected areas and thus need such draconian laws. And, it is the same AFSPA, which has been the reason of death for many innocent lives. Is army, which always flaunts its might at Republic Day parade ready to compensate on the horrors suffered by innocent Indians in far-flung areas of the country?
Probably they have no answers. Army Chief General Bikram Singh spoke strongly against beheading of two Indian jawans by Pakistani soldiers at Line of Control (LoC). His "hot words" were termed as "war-mongering" by Pakistan Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar. Will Army chief ever ask for forgiveness for the atrocities committed against innocents in the name of wiping out terrorism?
Unfortunately in our Republic asking answer for tricky question is simply futile. And, it is equally unfortunate that people sitting in position of power never made them answerable to issues related to citizens of this country. Be it steep rise in prices of essential commodities, siphoning off public money by politicians and bureaucrats or poor people fighting bone chilling winter in the open of national capital, often fight of citizens begins and ends at individual level.
Our "leaders" come to us during election times and make promises galore. However, their rhetoric remains confine to election days. After that they blissfully vanish in their own comfortable world.
As we huddle ourselves in front of the television to watch the grand Republic Day Parade at Rajpath in New Delhi, the distance between India's "rulers" and "voters" looks miles apart. Are we ready to walk those miles to end the gap between rulers and ruled in our Republic?