by Parth Jhaveri
For some reason that I have yet to understand, this video brought a tear to my eye.
We live in a cynical India. Everywhere I look, I see people giving up on the idea of India, an idea 156 years in the making. With corruption, poverty, a skewed sense of social morality (one that frowns at women in skimpy clothes and whistles at item numbers with equal gusto), and a hundred other evils, who could blame them for giving up? These circumstances make it easy for us to become cynical; nothing is ever going to change is it? Wouldn’t it be better to just leave on the pretext of an education, or to sit comfortably isolated in our ivory towers, cushioned from the constant degradation around us? I certainly thought so, as do many members of my generation.
There is a man in the mountains however, a man who, under the shadow of snowcapped peaks, still believes in the idea that is India. Shyam Saran Negi, has believed in this idea all his life, and for the past 63 years, he has, in the face of cynicism and doubt, made a pilgrimage to cast his vote. In 1951, he became independent India’s first voter, and though he saw his country, recently untangled from the bounds of oppression, fall into the hands of the selfish and the corrupt, he never lost faith in the spirit of this great nation.
When our forebears fought for the idea of India, they did so not for us Cynics, but for the true believers like Mr. Negi. They fought for an India rooted in its culture and its traditions, but open minded and progressive in its thoughts; they fought for an India diverse in its composition yet accepting and understanding in its nature; they fought for an India where equality and liberty abounded, where honesty was valued, and where every man’s worth was decided not by virtue of his caste, creed, or religion, but by the strength of his character and the sweat on his brow. I ask you, where is that India today? The India of 2014 is as religiously polarized, as it is corrupt, as socially regressive as it is unaccepting of diversity. The freedom of expression is readily pulped, while justice is meted out only when it is convenient to those with means. We have achieved our freedom, but our population still remains oppressed.
When at the stroke of the midnight hour we attained our freedom, we did so in peace, not in violence. No shot was heard around the world. The shot was heard 4 years later however when Mr. Negi cast the first vote in Independent India and began what would become the largest democratic exercise in the history of mankind to that date. In a matter of 2 months, 800 million Indians will again cast their vote and exercise their great power to shape their collective destiny. But as we move into this election, we must as a nation realize that we aren’t voting for a person or a party, but for the spirit of Mr. Negi, the spirit of our forefathers and for the idea that is India. We must acknowledge that this idea is worth fighting for. And though not all of us will be able to affect change at a massive level, we must try. Whether it be paying a cop or cracking a billion dollar deal, we must keep in mind the idea of India.
To paraphrase John F. Kennedy, we may not achieve the idea of India in the next 5 or 10 or 20 years, or indeed in our lifetimes, but let us begin. Be proud of India, maybe not for what it is today, but for what it stands for. And remember that we the people hold the power to affect a change.
About the Author
Parth recently completed his 12th standard board exams at the Cathedral and John Connon School, Mumbai, and will be studying Economics and International Relations at Tufts University this Fall. His area of interest includes Parliamentary Debate, Model UN and Indian Politics.