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Nothing diminishes the fact that we are a Great Nation

May 13, 2012 12:43 IST

The history of our nation may not always have charted a linear trajectory to greatness. But that must not distract us from recognising that we continue to find new ways to reconcile contradictions, transcend fault-lines, thus avoiding the pitfalls of so many of our neighbours, says Shashi Shekhar.

Earlier in our series to salute the 60th anniversary of the first sitting of the Joint Houses of Parliament:

Aakar Patel: Parliament's role in making India a great nation is over
Subhash Kashyap: People feel that for our MPs the nation comes last
Arvind Kejriwal: MPs are bonded labor of their parties

Parliament is due to mark the 60th anniversary of its first sitting in 1952. Interestingly, Parliament also had a distinguished visitor in 1952 when it was addressed by Mrs Franklin D Roosevelt. Her remarks reported by the Milwaukee Journal back in 1952 are as much relevant today as we look forward to the role this institution shall play in the future of our great nation. To quote Eleanor Roosevelt:

'Democracies who take their freedoms too much for granted sometimes lose them.'

'We forget that we must work for those things we hold dear.'

As I set about to pen this column, I was seized of the request on how can Parliament make India Great. At the outset I must disagree with other columnists who I am afraid have taken a rather dim and cynical view.

I for one believe that we are a Great Nation. We are a democracy in progress. We are a Republic in its adolescence. We may have wide disparities in income or otherwise. But none of that in any way diminishes the fact that we are a Great Nation.

We are a Great Nation because we survived as a civilisation for over 4,000 years even as others perished. We are a Great Nation also because we as a people have outlasted all those who sought to imperialise us.

The history of our nation may not always have charted a linear trajectory to greatness. But that must not distract us from recognising that we as a nation continue to find new and innovative ways to reconcile contradictions, transcend fault-lines thus avoiding the pitfalls of so many of our neighbours.

So heeding Eleanor Roosevelt's remarks from 60 years ago to Parliament let us recognise that we must not take for granted those things we hold dear and we must work for them.

The greatness of our nation over the centuries arises from an innate sense of justice rooted in the ancient Indian idea of Dharma. My good friend Nitin Pai from The Takshashila Institution raises an important point that the motto for our Constitution should not have been 'Satyameva Jayate', but instead should have been 'Dharmo Rakshati Rakshitah'.

During the Constituent Assembly debates the makers of our Constitution like Dr S Radhakrishnan foresaw the need for that innate sense of justice flowing from Dharma to be reflected in the spirit of the Constitution if not in its words.

The Constitution makers imagined the Parliament of India to be the supreme institution in our system of government. They envisaged a division of power with ultimate accountability to the people through the elected representatives of the Lok Sabha.

Thus, the Parliament of India was not just the custodian of the interests of the people of India, but it was also envisaged to be the vanguard of Dharma that holds the fabric of our nation together by its actions.

Today, the Parliament of India may appear to be a raucous madhouse at times, its sheen diminished by the actions of those within and by the words of those from the outside. Today, Parliament may also appear to be lacking in credibility when viewed through the prism of the politics of the moment.

Its actions at times may appear to be contradictory to both the original intent of the Constitution and the spirit of Dharma. Its agenda at times may appear to be swayed by a value system that is motivated by alien political ideologies working against the spirit of Dharma.

Nevertheless, Parliament has distinguished itself with a sense of rule of law to rise to the occasion whenever it was put to the test by our democratic experiment. Let us not forget we are an adolescent Republic and a democracy that is still a work in progress.

The wide disparities across our nation have created a deep trust deficit between people and politicians, between political parties and between various identity based groups and across many of our public institutions.

The solution to bridging this trust deficit does not lie in further fostering grievances and victimhood by seeking refuge in alien political ideologies that widen fault-lines while exacerbating the trust deficit.

Instead the solution lies in rediscovering that spirit of Dharma so we can restore trust to our public transactions and trust in our public institutions. There is no other project of greater national interest for the next decade and beyond, than the national project to restore trust by rediscovering the spirit of Dharma.

The Indian Parliament being at the head of all of our public institutions has the greatest responsibility towards this national project.

As our Parliamentarians sit down to mark the 60th anniversary I fully expect that there will be empty platitudes in words and much cynicism in many hearts. But a small beginning must be made somewhere towards this national project to restore trust.

So even if one member of Parliament manages to resolve himself or herself within his or her mind on a commitment towards this national project it would be a start.

A commitment from our Parliamentarians to rediscover the spirit of Dharma in our laws and transactions would go miles towards keeping the hope alive that we as a great nation will continue to survive and thrive.

Shashi Shekhar is a social media commentator on Indian politics and public policy. His blog can be found at http://blog.offstumped.in

Shashi Shekhar