The cauldron of India's unrelenting problems is simmering. Corruption, militancy, terrorism, casteism, poverty and economic inequity are rudely shaking the very foundation of its social and political edifice. There is widespread dismay that the situation is worsening by the day. Now, if we know that the situation is worsening, should we allow it to continue? Our silence or lack of response not only fails to deter but actually encourages vested interests to further their mendacious cause.
It is indeed paradoxical that Indians while being one of the most "god-fearing" people in the world are also perceived as one of the most corrupt. With over a billion people and an enormous reservoir of talent and resources, India still struggles to cope with, apart from corruption, terrorism, poverty, casteism and a host of other social inequities. This is shameful to say the least. Now what can we do to change this?
The frustration of our youth and the middle-class, denied opportunity and growth commensurate with their abilities and ambition, is translated into terrorism, militancy, fraud and corruption. Those who unleash this wave of terror and create this cesspool of corruption are more often than not provided refuge and protection by the rich and the powerful. While they claim to be messiahs of the downtrodden they do not hesitate to threaten the very system at its roots. Where lies the solution?
Gautam Basu would say we need to initiate a concerted drive to instill patriotism and love for the country among the people. Since we take our nation for granted and rarely ask ourselves what we can do for the country and not what the country will do for us, this probably could be a pragmatic, albeit slow, solution. But my lawyer friend R.K. Singh would say "nationalism is not the right choice in this global village of ours". He feels nationalism has a parochial edge to it as we transcend borders with the help of technology and the people of the world become international citizens. "Today we need global leadership," says Singh.
But what good can leadership of the comity of nations do when our own home is not in order? Can we lead the world while we struggle to lead our own people to a better future? We have given a system of governance to ourselves. There are many inherent flaws in this system of governance, and these flaws are growing cancerously.
Gautam agrees with me when I say we need to have a national movement against corruption and terrorism. Sudha Passi too supports this wholeheartedly. During a number of meetings that members of the Build India Group had among themselves, there was a broad consensus that we need a new national movement, this one against corruption and terrorism. How are we to galvanize the nation into unleashing another wave of a movement of this colossal scale? Can our educated citizens spare the time and will for such an initiative? How do we identify the ills that we wish to have eradicated? How do we fight corruption and terrorism and other insidious ills that plague our society while we do our duties as family men, professionals and sons and daughters at home?
Nishant Dutta wondered how such a movement could be organized and made to sustain itself in the battle against the twin evils. Kiran Patra and Avtar Nehru agreed on a national movement but wondered what its modalities would be.
For quite some years now I have been thinking about how to have a movement in which we can involve all kinds of people from all levels of society in the cause of the nation, and how we can organise mass protest against corruption, terrorism and militancy. For this we need to first inculcate a sense of Indianness in the minds of each and every individual from Kashmir to Kanyakumari and from Kohima to Kutch and all other islands forming part of this country.
Every Indian parent teaches his child to recite a prayer of honesty and truthfulness. Every Indian mother tells her wide-eyed offspring the triumph of good over evil. We have a natural propensity towards reposing an unshakeable faith in Providence. Yet from our colossal nursery of millions of children are spawned thousands of dishonest people to adulthood. This is because we forget undying values of virtue that we are taught in our childhood as we grow up and allow the winds of our times to permeate us. We decide instead to focus on gaining as much money and power as we can. The bestial qualities of human beings emerge to the forefront when an individual is bestowed power by his society. As the bestial qualities such as greed and lust are nourished, the latent cultural moorings are overshadowed. This is where our trouble begins. To overcome this, we must learn to hate, and then abandon, our bestial qualities.
Can we hate corruption or create a sense of widespread hatred against it? My fellow BIG founders had initially planned to name the organisation the "Hate Corruption Campaign". They were charged up whenever we discussed taking corruption head on. But we had to debate endless on a practical way of creating and fostering a sustained hatred against corruption.
After much thought and deliberation I realized that fighting corruption and terrorism will need something far bigger than an NGO or trust or any other social organization. In fact most people would be suspicious of you if you spoke of the evils of corruption and fighting against it. One would have to, time and time again, face the poser "Are you yourself not corrupt?"
Corruption is inexorable. It is omnipresent and fast-spreading. We cannot simply uproot corruption and eradicate it with one decapitating stroke. The only solution, I feel, is creating a pervasive hatred against it. We must be psyched to equate corruption, at least within the portals of our minds, with heinous crimes such as rape and murder. But to universalize this hatred we have to have a working strategy. I feel that a pledge against corruption would sow the germs of such a desirable hatred. This Pledge will institutionalize this hatred. It will be a signpost or testimony that we can revert to each time this hatred that we intend to churn in ourselves wavers. Such a Pledge could be initiated from right in school. Today's school goers are, after all, tomorrow's citizens. We discussed this to the bone and agreed that we need to have something on the scale of a National Pledge.
There are pledges in some form or the other with select target audiences and a sectoral appeal. The Government of India already circulates such an instrument in all government departments to promote transparency among babus. As to what extent this has helped promote transparency and erode corruption is anybody's guess. The current text of the pledge for honesty that the Union Government has adopted reads as under:
"We, the public servants of India, do hereby solemnly pledge that we shall continuously strive to bring about integrity and transparency in all spheres of our activities. We also pledge that we shall work unstintingly for eradication of corruption in all spheres of life. We shall remain vigilant and work towards the growth and reputation of our organisation. Through our collective efforts, we shall bring pride to our organisations and provide value-based service to our countrymen. We shall do our duty conscientiously and act without fear or favour."
The idea is salutary indeed. But the same cannot be said about the results. I spoke to a number of officials, policemen and government clerks about how they feel when they are required to recite this pledge. Most agree that the pledge did not tug at their heart-strings. "The pledge is not touching enough & it is a mechanical instrument. Officials do not take the pledge seriously. It is recited mechanically," is the general refrain.
A pledge has to have the power to touch one's heart. Moreover, why do only officials take the pledge? Why can't every Indian join in?
There is also the moot question whether this pledge should only be against corruption? I always believe that the pledge should serve the bigger and all-encompassing purpose of inculcating a sense of Indianness in the minds of each and every citizen. The pledge should promote nationalism. And the pledge must promote love for one's country.
If such a pledge is institutionalized in the nation's consciousness successfully, it could become an extremely effective tool for transmitting a gamut of messages aimed at cleansing the muck from our social and political fabric. It has to be simple, direct and yet forceful, and should be competently translated into all Indian languages. The common man must comprehend it and relate to it, and must address him directly and simply.
I have seen several NGOs having a manifesto, and even personalised pledges, against corruption. But no such pledge could work in India?
The problem is corruption and militancy have become a fact of life and there will be no dearth of people mocking someone who says he hates corruption. Few would lend him an ear. But what if the majority of Indians cry out aloud against corruption and terrorism? This is the genesis of the "National Pledge" that we in the Build India Group believe should become a part of our collective national identity. In fact this is perhaps the only way of making all Indians hate and shun corruption and militancy. Such a National Pledge, however, must be acceptable to all Indians.
Imagine a situation where the entire country right from the village peasant to the President and Prime Minister solemnly proclaim their love and loyalty to India and in unison pledge to keep the nation's interests paramount in all that they do or say in every day of their lives. It would take a minute to make such an affirmation, but a nation of a billion would be changed forever if we were to abide by it.
Gautam Basu outlined the broad contours of such a pledge: It should be taken by all Indians, in unison, and at an appointed moment. If such an affirmation is made by us in all sincerity at a particular chosen time, an unprecedented wave of unity will sweep through our nation. If we even attempt, with all probity that each one of us is capable of mustering, to make the sentiments of such a pledge the cornerstone of our life and work, the destiny of this country will be scripted anew.
Sixty years have passed since we won our nationhood. We speak with pride about the strides we have made in science and technology, education and economy. We have held our heads high in the comity of nations. As a democracy we have given ourselves an unsurpassed Constitution.
In this backdrop, Dear Campaigners, can we not give ourselves and our country just a couple of minutes in a year to pledge our love, loyalty and commitment to it? Can we not ask our school-going students to rise for a minute at a particular time to pledge their undying respect for India? Can our brave jawans not click their heels in attention, raise a salute to the Tricolour and take this Pledge? Can each one of us not spare a minute or two in a year when we shall think of only India and nothing but India?
Recalling the feedback that we have received from so many people we are confident that such a Pledge will unleash a great wave of patriotism that will course through the veins of every Indian in every walk of life. All my friends agree, but also raise a pertinent question: "How is it doable?"
I shall be coming to that. One of the most pragmatic aspects of such a National Pledge is that its rendition will require little or no expenditure. But it will entail a great deal of sincerity and love for this land. While the Government spends several thousand crore rupees every year in the investigation of criminal cases related to corruption and in dealing with terrorism and other anti-national activities, it will be worth the effort to devote a minute's time to an endeavour that seeks to eliminate these very evils from their roots.
The thought of every Indian taking a National Pledge in unison is not exactly utopian. History gives us instances of millions of people, even entire populations of nations, dedicating themselves to a single thought or emotion to commemorate or honour an event or entity or person. In the United States the Pledge of Allegiance to the Stars and Stripes (the American flag) was uttered by more than 12 million schoolchildren across the Union on Columbus Day in 1892. The original US Pledge of Allegiance had only 23 words. It is significant to note that these 23 magical words keep America firmly in place in the hearts of all its citizens:
"I pledge allegiance
To my Flag
And (to) the Republic
For which it stands.
One nation, individual,
With liberty and justice for all."
The US Pledge of Allegiance has since been amended only three times. In 1923, "the flag of united states" were substituted for "my flag". In 1924, "of America" was added. A providential element was introduced on Flag Day (June 14) 1954 when the words "under God" were introduced after "one nation", to read as "one nation under God". The pledge, which was recited by school children across the country in 1892, became popular among the adults and this pledge had created a patriotic fervor during World War II. In 1945, this pledge received official title as "The Pledge of Allegiance".
As a part of its National Flag Day activity, the US congress recognized the pledge urging all Americans to recite the pledge of Allegiance. When this Pledge is administered, Americans stand facing the Stars and Stripes with their right hand over their hearts, fingers together and placed horizontal to the arm forming as close to a right angle as possible. The arm drops to the sides after the words "justice to all" are pronounced.
This gesture triggered a patriotic fervour that is still evidenced in the veneration that Americans have for their National Pledge to this date. When Thomas Alva Edison died, every American home and office switched off all lights for two minutes to honour the man who illumined their lives. Just imagine what could have been the impact of such a programme in unison.
Singapore has also adopted a national pledge for itself and the pledge is recited in schools during assemblies, during SAF day and national day parade and at national day observance ceremonies. There is a rider that the pledge is not to be used for commercial purpose.
Individuals while reciting the pledge shall clinch their right fists to the left side of their chests as gesture to symbolize loyalty to the nation.
The pledge of Singapore reads:
"We the citizens of Singapore,
Pledge ourselves as one united people,
Regardless of race, language or religion
To build a democratic society
Based on justice and equality
So as to achieve happiness, prosperity and
Progress of our nation".
So US has a national pledge. Singapore has a national pledge. There are several other small big countries who have national pledge. Can we not think of one for our country- A national pledge for India? It is our belief that the new renaissance can usher in with a national pledge - if taken in unison.