A Republic`s Hiccups

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It is less than a month since India celebrated the day it became a `sovereign socialist democratic republic` on January 26, 1950 when its Constitution, adopted on November 26, 1949, was finally and officially dedicated to its people. The adjective `socialist` was dropped a quarter of a century later from the preamble by an amendment of the Constitution, but that is another story. Sixty five years down the line, the moot questions on everybody`™s mind should be, how has the Republic translated for different sections of the Indian citizenry? More fundamentally, what is a republic beyond just the dictionary meaning of it? These questions are extremely relevant for the Northeast region, particularly in the event of numerous rebel populations challenging this Republic and promising alternative Republics? Hence, while the rest of the nation celebrates its sovereignty, many State capitals in the northeast merely completing an official formality, this too under tight security for fear of saboteurs. Fearful of getting caught in violent confrontations, most of the public too chose to remain indoors in front of their television sets or else enjoying the holiday as many do by doing nothing. A Republic Day without the public indeed, but this would hardly be any index of the minds of the public, for it can never be ascertained what their response would have been, given a free choice. At least on Republic Day, it has been made sure that the mood definitely is not of a Republic, the sense of individual freedom being what comes to be most conspicuously destroyed.

In recent years, the evolution of the concept of human development indexes have become an indispensable mechanism for evaluating the performance of a Republic, or for that matter any other form of governance. In its totality, it measures the various human conditions that guarantee or destroy hope and a general sense of wellbeing. It also seeks to establish a co-relation between these subjective values and material conditions of living. It is significant that these indexes have become a chief instrument of independent agencies like the UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) to calibrate the performances of nations, coming out as it does with an annual report, now popularly known as the HDR, (human development report). The most fundamental of these human development indexes are things like freedom from fear of diseases, hunger, lack of shelter, aggression, freedom to choose one`™s leaders etc. Then there are the guarantees of education, equal employment opportunities, livelihood, freedom of speech and expression, free media, fair trial and arbitration of justice by an independent judiciary etc. Despite its many terrible hiccups, by comparison, India has not been doing all that bad against this scale. Most of these parameters of measuring the HDR are also incidentally listed as non-negotiable fundamental rights in its Constitution, although as to how much it has been able to live up to these guarantees is where the cloud may be. But still, the inference is, even if in action there have been shortfalls, in intent at least there may be no mala fides.

Take the case of Thailand, one of the most robust and prosperous economies of the ASEAN. Despite the admirable growth of its economy, Thailand still sports some shameful scars. As for instance, it treats its non-mainstream populations like sub-humans. Only a decade ago, the country`™s cabinet met to consider whether many of its peripheral hill tribes should be given citizenship and allowed to vote on vital national issues. Despite the many regional inequalities in the human development indexes, the Indian republic has not been as bad. If one day it can guarantee the sovereignty of the individual citizen as enshrined in its Constitution in its letter and spirit, perhaps there would be no alternative sovereignty for anybody to fight for. In India, places like the Northeast have fallen behind in the developmental march, and it is also true much of this have been a result of neglect, deliberate or otherwise. But at least there is a visible intent to rectify wrongs. The policy of positive discrimination for Schedule Tribes and Schedule Castes, to level out the playing fields, in the form of various reservations in government institutions is just one of these. It goes without saying, a lot however still remains to be done.

Leader Writer: Pradip Phanjoubam

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