India is a country of rituals. Millions of Indians reaffirm their faith in God every day in temples, mosques, churches and gurdwaras across the land. People love and worship Vishnu, Shiva, Allah, Jesus, Buddha, Mahavira and so many other gods and god men that I may not be able to complete the list. As human beings we love music, songs, bhajans, illumination, pictures and dance as a part of festivals. Traditionally we all love festivals.
I believe we celebrate two types of festivals. One we bask in glory as the saga of our achievements comes out alive in the form of opera or some other symbolic functions like we celebrate Dusshera or Janmashtami. Such functions remind us what we can do for ourselves. It gives us lessons about victory of the good over the evil. The other type of festivals are a promise or commitment. For example, Raksha Bandhan festival, in which a brother commits protection to his sister, or Karva chauth in north India, wherein wives pledge absolute love and loyalty towards their husbands. Similarly, every religion has an occasion for commitment to the faith in some form or the other. The Muslims may observe Ramadan or the Catholics the Lent as a sign of commitment to the faith.
There is another festival of commitment that I will now talk about. Only, instead of commitment of individuals to their faith, families and near ones, I am seeking the same kind of commitment of Indians towards our nation. And this is a different kind of festival & it is not religious but truly secular festival. Yet we can celebrate it religiously and that too, for a great cause. A cause for the nation! This has to be a festival to be celebrated across the country, from the Andamans to Anantnag? And if we observe this festival with the sincerity of our hearts, this will be the biggest festival in our history & the biggest stepping stone for a future which will see greater glory for our country. A future of prosperity and transparency when temple bells and church chimes will ring in a resurgent India with every new dawn.
The main feature of this festival will involve Indians happily reaffirming their love and loyalty for "Bharat Mata" for only a minute by reciting this solemn Pledge? People from so many cultures and communities across the world demonstrate their love and loyalty to the soil to which they belong. We will do it but with a difference.
As we have discussed, most Indians are God-fearing. Many possibly worship this land as a goddess or benign mother. Indians of all religions do not mind bowing before the National Flag. Some kiss the soil of this land in veneration. Therefore, all Indians for that matter would not mind demonstrating their respect to the country in some fashion or the other. We in the Build India Group propose an oath in the form of a National Pledge and a ritual in the form of a National Festival.
Swami Sarananandaji tells me that if a Pledge can be taken by all, or at least the overwhelming majority of, Indians, it will be a historic event. He also finds such an idea in tune with the transcendental message of the Scriptures. Gautam feels that if such a Pledge can be taken as part of an institutionalised National Festival, it will be the greatest triumphal moment for India since the clock struck midnight on August 14, 1947.
There is some magic about taking such an oath in unison. My lawyer colleague T.A. Siddiqui and journalist friend Nadeem Ahmed had once told me that there was greater spiritual satisfaction in saying mass prayers during namaaz with hundreds of others rather than doing the same in private. When I first mentioned my idea of a National Pledge to my 73-year-old mother in Puri, she said: "Nothing could be a greater religion than loving your country; nothing could be a greater prayer than taking such a Pledge".
Such a Pledge, for obvious reasons keeping in mind India's diversity, has to be simple and lucid, and capable of being uniformly translated into all Indian languages so that the time taken to recite it is the same in any part of the country. Prominent short story writer Das Benhur during course of conversation tells me "national pledge is a wonderful idea and we need to do it at the earliest".
It will take some amount of debate to formulate and finalise such a National Pledge. In fact we are inviting suggestions from all over the country? The underlying philosophy of the Fundamental Duties in the Constitution can serve as the edifice of such a Pledge, with an abhorrence of corruption as its focal theme. It should also exhort Indians to love their nation and do their duty to their best. I thought of a draft. My Campaigner friends discussed it exhaustively. Gautam has worked on my draft. We zeroed in on of our many drafts. The last one we concurred is appended at the end of this document. It may not be acceptable to each and every one of us, but we feel it encompasses all that we want it to convey and all that it should incorporate.
Many may ask us what good will a National Pledge do? We would like to ask what good will it not? A National Pledge will be a major step in changing the collective Indian mindset towards the heinous ills that plague our nation. It can be the most effective vehicle to convey the message of hatred against corruption and terrorism. The Pledge will constantly remind us of our national and social duties, so much so that even a child will rebuke his father when he finds his actions lacking probity. Not only will it tangibly infuse patriotism but the shades of regimented discipline that it inherently carries will also build commitment among citizens just as the morning assembly seeks to teach the value of orderliness among schoolchildren. It will also bolster leadership qualities in our youth and instill in them a sense of nationalistic pride.
But how do we of the Build India Group go about institutionalising a National Pledge? Such a Pledge has to be taken in unison by the maximum number of Indians from all over the country. It is, therefore, imperative that a particular hour or a particular day is earmarked for this ceremonial recital of the National Pledge by our countrymen. We have decided to call this day the "National Pledge Day". On the first such National Pledge Day will we kickstart a campaign to hate corruption and its sibling evils. This campaign, which we have named "Hate Corruption Campaign", will run in tandem with the movement to instill patriotism and love for the country.
The media will be key to this initiative. Television and the print media will be instrumental in bringing the Pledge into every Indian home just like it does with the Prime Minister's August 15 speech from the ramparts of the Red Fort.
The concept of a pledge is not new in India. In every prayer that we recite everyday there is an inherent pledge that we make. But for the first time we will be having a public reaffirmation of a national missive. Hence the National Pledge will be taken concurrently and widely by the greatest number of individuals together.
A university teacher had once asked us to name a festival which is celebrated all over country by all people of all religions, castes and languages? A friend said it was the Georgian New Year's Day. This applies internationally. On the other hand, we have two other exclusively Indian festivals, that of Independence Day and Republic Day. Both these days are unique. On 15th August 1947 more than 350 million Indians won the freedom to determine their destiny after centuries of foreign rule. And on 26th January 1950 more than 500 princely states officially aligned with the nascent republic to forge one great nation.
New Year's Day has no mode or ritual specific to it. There are only personalized conventions; one may send out greetings cards or choose to celebrate a holiday with a family outing. It's a day spent in thoughts of welcoming a new year of hope and dreams.
A family wedding in India also assumes festival contours. Relatives far and near gather at one place to celebrate and cement family ties. A wedding also serves as a benchmark of one's position in one's family circle. The gifts that we buy for the newly-wed couple are our way of reiterating this position. At other village functions the entire clan gets into celebratory mood. Here the occasion morphs into a carnival, a festival jamboree, involving the entire village and even beyond. Festivals essentially make up merge our identities into the collective and are occasions for mirth. One very significant aspect of a festival is that it provides a great opportunity to the participating people to bond among themselves. When marriage was solemnized into an enduring institution, humankind gave it the colour of a festival. While both partners promise undying faithfulness, their friends and kin celebrate the union in one great display of festive mirth.
Keeping in view the potent unifying force of the festival, Bal Gangadhar Tilak converted a festival into a social and political platform. The rousing call to unite and oust the British was given to the people of Maharashtra on Ganesh Puja. In 1893 he extended the religious celebrations to all over the country to make the occasion a part of the campaign against British imperialism. Thus here we see a family and community festival assuming the dimensions of a national event.
Another example that comes to my mind is an annual festival in Bargarh district of western Orissa. All of Bargarh, a nondescript township known for its fine-quality paddy, is transformed into a sprawling proscenium to recreate the myth of the slaying of Kansa by his nephew Lord Krishna. The city becomes the capital of Kansa and the people his subjects in a month-long colourful pageant called Dhanu yatra. No one is sure who started this unique festival which first happened in the early 20th Century after the British placed a garrison there. The purpose again was to create an event which will involve all residents so that a particular message can reach out to the maximum audience.
When Dhanu yatra was initiated, the British were depicted as Kansa. Citizens of Bargarh had devised a unique method to beat the British ban on nationalist propaganda. Every resident carried a whistle on him. Every time an Englishman beat up or insulted a native the latter would blow his whistle. Anyone hearing a whistle was required to blow his. Thus every resident was alerted within moments of something going wrong. This is how the festival began. The trick adopted by the people to communicate with was a huge success.
The British have left but the yatra continues till today in Bargarh as an integral part of its tradition. Consider this for a moment: Today we have more dangerous Kansas in the form of corruption and terrorism. Such Kansas have proliferated into all corners of the country. What if we all blow the whistle to alert every one else about these Kansas of our times?
In this land of religious festivals, there are no truly secular or nationalist festivals but for August 15 and January 26. The primary intent of celebrating these two days is to inculcate a sense of patriotism and unity among the people. These two days have been declared national holidays. The hoisting of the Tricolour on these two days is a symbolic activity to remind the people of their nationhood. As Sarojini Naidu put it, "under this flag, there is no difference between a prince and a peasant, between the rich and the poor, between man and women."
Many of us feel a tug in our hearts when we hear Vande Mataram being sung or see children carrying the Tricolour walk past with cries of Bharat Mata ki jai. At the same time, do we wonder often how may of us participate spontaneously in Republic Day and Independence Day events instead of being compelled to do so as part of a group or institution?
Indians do not identify with these two celebrations at the individual level. Accept it or not, we do not feel the urge from within to participate in such programmes. These have become mere official dos that we have to get done with. Even in educational institutions many children attend such programmes twice every year simply because they have to or they do not wish to displease their teachers.
Had Indians empathized with these two "national festivals" or made these family events that are participated in with pride, it would have immensely contributed towards inculcating a sense of being Indian in us. This pride could have been translated into solidarity with the nation and contributed to nation-building. But this has not happened.
I discussed the National Pledge with several friends, acquaintances and colleagues, and extensively with my excellent team of Campaigners. I also thought on how this Pledge could be linked to some kind of a ritual or festival with nationalistic flavour involving the entire country. Such a festival would be India's one true National Festival.
The idea of a National Festival is to bring people together to sensitise them towards their motherland and dedicate themselves to its betterment. And if there ever was a time when we needed such a festival the most, it is now. I believe a National Festival should be organised simultaneously all over the country on a particular day during which every Indian would take the National Pledge in unison and commit himself to his country.
My Campaigner friends agree that a National Festival with a National Pledge will indeed be a powerful instrument in building national unity. If you do not agree, ask yourself what the impact of such a festival is successfully organised and such a pledge meaningfully taken.
In the years preceding our Independence in 1947 almost every Indian newspaper had joined the campaign against British rule. The media has proliferated today in its reach and access. The Internet has also increased the speed of communication exponentially. If the media gets involved in propagating even a cracker of an idea, the message will reach millions of Indian homes instantaneously. That is the power of the media; and ours is a media-centric proposition.
To begin with, we can involve schools and educational institutions. We first can try with them. The pledge will truly be a mass movement. If all conscious people in the country motivate their neighbours, friends or relatives to take the Pledge, the message can also be amplified to millions of others through the e-mail and by word of mouth. This would be an excellent beginning and the impact would be tangible indeed.
I am sure you would agree that this model is workable. Why should we not give it a try? One fine morning we will see citizens, office-goers, servicemen, students, housewives and children come out of their homes in an unrelenting wave of solemn purpose to take this pledge in unison at sites which will be hallowed by their patriotism. Such a moment would be the greatest moment for national unity in our history.
If the National Pledge is taken even once, the consequences will certainly be startling. And if the Pledge Festival can be institutionalised and observed with true patriotism and zeal, the nation shall be changed forever. Greater transparency in our national lives and a lessening of corruption due to a change in our mindsets is inevitable. An Indian who has pledged himself to the nation will think twice before he allows corruption to even cross his mind.
Dear campaigners, never must you once feel, while reading this book or discussing it, that we are spreading the message of loving our nation at the expense of hating others. When I respect my country will I not understand that others too respect theirs? The purpose of taking a National Pledge is to reiterate that our nation's interests are paramount for all of us. My country comes first, and I am proud to be its citizen. This principle applies to all men of the civilized world. Nationalism never implies that you hate another country. If you love your soil and your land, you love all humanity and the whole world. You hate only the bestial qualities in yourself. If we shut our eyes for even a moment and ask ourselves what bestial qualities we have, our conscience will answer us truthfully. Only when we learn to hate our bestial qualities will be become better human beings and, by extension, better and more worthy citizens. Perversion within oneself transforms us into thieves, fraudsters, rapists, murderers, hooligans, mafia men and even terrorists. And once we are one of these there is no coming back. The Pledge is the pill that can cure an entire gamut of social ailments. Let us then take it, and take it in unison!
If a victory by the young Indian cricket team at the Twenty20 World Cup can instill so much patriotic fervor and Indianness amongst us, imagine the lasting impact of a nationwide affirmation of Indianness made by all Indians. A National Festival can unleash similar euphoria, and with more lasting impact. Let all our celebrities, public icons and opinion-leaders from all fields - who command respect by virtue of their merit - take the lead in this unique mass movement. Let the media, the entertainment industry, the clergy and the governing class take the lead to endorse such a festival to the common man. And let the aam admi take it upon himself to treat this as doing his bit for the nation.
Taking the Pledge in unison will take less than a minute. The Pledge, however, has to be associated with some kind of festival for setting the stage. The modicum of such a festival can be left open to the opinion of the people. The one rider is that such a festival must be truly secular and in no way hurt the sentiments of any community or religion. This shall be a festival for all India, by every Indian and for all time to come.
Friends and peers who have been enthused by the idea have come up with many suggestions. The National Festival has to be a secular festival, but it has to be observed religiously. Let the pledge be printed on a greeting card-sized paper that is flushed with the colours of the Tricolour. Let it be translated in all Indian languages. Let it adorn the porch of every household like a solemn pennant on the appointed day. Let it also be displayed in our homes, schools and offices as a totem that we take pride in. Let it reach every nook and corner. Let it enter our hearts and homes!
At the stroke of the appointed hour, let the sirens and conches be blown, let the cymbals crash, drums beat and bells ring to augur the sanctimonious moment.
It is Pledge time!
Let every Indian fill his heart with pride and step out of his home to pay homage to the nation. Let us take the Pledge solemnly, and with our hearts and minds resolved to abide by it for the rest of our lives. Let the Pledge be uttered in unison, and let it ring in our hearts true!
That is all I ask.