This newsletter is really a weekly public policy thought-letter. While excellent newsletters on specific themes within public policy already exist, this thought-letter is about frameworks, mental models, and key ideas that will hopefully help you think about any public policy problem in imaginative ways. It seeks to answer just one question: how do I think about a particular public policy problem/solution?
Happy Independence Day
— Raghu Sanjaylal Jaitley
It is easy to lapse into cynicism while talking about India. We are guilty of it often. There are policyWTFs galore, economic reasoning is scarce, the politics can be depressing and the public discourse terrible. These are all true. We take no pleasure in bringing these up. We discuss them with passion because we believe in India. In what we have built so far and what we could become in future.
We write this newsletter with a critical gaze. We don’t write enough about why we remain optimistic about India. This is the Independence Day weekend. No better time, I guess, to redress the balance.
As the poet and satirist, Harishankar Parsai wrote:
मैं सोच रहा, सिर पर अपार
दिन, मास, वर्ष का धरे भार
पल, प्रतिपल का अंबार लगा
आखिर पाया तो क्या पाया?
So, what makes us hopeful about our future?
We, The People Are Good
Don’t let a few trolls or a handful of screaming anchors colour your view. We are nice people. Many wrote us off at the time of independence. Ours was an experiment doomed to fail. There are naysayers even now about our prospects. We survived then. We will survive in future too. Because we are a unique people.
We are a compassionate, friendly and a stoic lot. We confound them who measure us using conventional metrics of success. Like Shailendra wrote:
जो जिससे मिला सीखा हमने, ग़ैरों को भी अपनाया हमने
मतलब के लिए अँधे होकर, रोटी को नहीं पूजा हमने
We take life in our stride. This isn’t fatalism. This stems from a deeper understanding of our place in the universe. As Sahir Ludhianvi summed up:
जो मिल गया उसी को मुकद्दर समझ लिया
जो खो गया मैं उसको भुलाता चला गया
Don’t bet against us.
Our Constitution Is Our Guide
Our Constitution has its flaws. Some consider it too liberal; others think it makes the state overbearing. Some find it too long; others feel it comes up short. This may all be true. However, there is no doubt our constitution has strengthened our democracy, protected the weak and continues to act as a tool for social change.
“Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
Where the mind is led forward by thee
Into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.”
Our Constitution is still our best bet to reach that ‘heaven of freedom’. Its structure has stood firm in the face of attacks while being flexible to adapt to the needs of a modern society. 73 years is not too long in the history of a nation. Yet, given how it has fared so far, our Constitution will most likely stand the test of time.
We Have Common Ends And Means
Despite the cacophony and noise in our public discourse, there’s a strong consensus among us on what is good for India and how to achieve it. Surveys, polls and elections over the years have shown our preference for an open and progressive society, our belief in the fairness of the system and our confidence about our future. Our preoccupation with the faultlines in our polity blinds us to the obvious reality that’s around us. We continue to move past historic prejudices, suspicions and biases that fractured us. Ties that bind us get stronger every passing year.
There have been occasional blips in this journey and there are times we appeared lost, yet, history will judge us favourably for what we have done in these 73 years. Of course, the work is incomplete and the pledge that Nehru spoke of at the stroke of midnight hour still remains unfulfilled:
To bring freedom and opportunity to the common man, to the peasants and workers of India; to fight and end poverty and ignorance and disease; to build up a prosperous, democratic and progressive nation, and to create social, economic and political institutions which will ensure justice and fullness of life to every man and woman.
We have hard work ahead. There is no resting for any one of us till we redeem our pledge in full, till we make all the people of India what destiny intended them to be.
We are all in it. Together.
It’s Worth It
What we have achieved so far is precious. That’s worth reminding ourselves today. We will go back to writing the future editions lamenting our state of affairs.
We will do so because we know it’s worth it.
— Pranay Kotasthane
The stories we tell ourselves about ourselves are important. Narratives are powerful; they make the unreal real. And the freedom movement is a pivotal moment of the India narrative. It was as much a moral and social movement as it was a political one.
Independence day is a good occasion to pick up a few strands from those times; strands that remind us that we can be better and we can do better. I’ll just leave you with two books that have helped me understand the India story better.
- The Gandhi-Tagore debates. Few other things reveal more about India of those times than the series of exchanges between Gandhi and Tagore. Both great men used quintessentially Indian philosophical foundations and yet came to opposing conclusions on topics such as nationalism, freedom, and reason. Despite core disagreements in their worldviews, their dialogue continued for nearly 25 years in an exemplarily civil manner.
No wonder then that Jawaharlal Nehru had this to say about these debates:
“No two persons could probably differ so much as Gandhi and Tagore.. the surprising thing is that both of these men with so much in common and drawing inspiration from the same wells of wisdom and thought and culture, should differ from each other so greatly!… I think of the richness of India’s age-long cultural genius, which can throw up in the same generation two such master-types, typical of her in every way, yet representing different aspects of her many-sided personality.”
Thankfully, these letters have been compiled in an excellent book The Mahatma and the Poet by Sabyasachi Bhattacharya. Do consider taking some time off to read this collection. It’s worth it.
- Ambedkar’s writings: Bold. That’s the word that comes to my mind when I read Ambedkar. His writings — ranging from agricultural economics to Pakistan and from linguistic states to caste — inspire in many different ways. Thankfully, most of his writings are available for free on the Ministry of External Affairs website. If you’re short on time, read his The Grammar of Anarchy speech.
PS: Every independence day, I read Nehru’s Tryst with Destiny speech. It is a reminder of India’s many achievements and aspirations.
Read the full edition here.
Disclaimer: Views expressed on Anticipating the Unintended are those of the authors’ and do not represent Takshashila Institution’s recommendations.