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'Divisive forces will have to be curbed'

Former finance minister C Subramaniam actively participated in India's freedom struggle, went to prison several times, met Mahatma Gandhi in person and is one of the few persons from the old vanguard who remain to recall those tales. Yet, for precisely this reason, he becomes extremely busy as India's Independence day approaches.

There was a big queue of journalists, both from India and abroad, outside his residence. As a result, a disappointingly small amount of time was allotted to each journalist. But he walked Rediff On The Net's Shobha Warrier down memory lane, as he spoke about his generation and their struggle for freedom more than 50 years ago.

What are the images that come to mind when you think of India's freedom struggle?

I had the privilege of being present on the midnight of August 14, 1947, when India was declared a free nation. It was a thrilling moment. The Constituent Assembly was in session and I was one of its members. It was on that occasion that Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru gave his historic address, 'Tryst with destiny'.

Once the meeting was over, Sucheta Kripalani began singing the Vande Mataram. After Jawaharlal's speech, we took an oath for the freedom of India and the Indian national flag was hoisted. The British flag was brought down. And free India was born.

It was a historic occasion for all of us. Not only did India become free, but it also heralded the beginning of the end of the colonial era as many other countries gained their freedom. The most unfortunate part was that free India was born only after India, as a country, was partitioned.

Was Partition inevitable? We have heard that it took place because of ego clashes.

Yes, in a sense, ego was involved. In this case, I refer to the ego of Jinnah. He was very persistent in his demand for the partition of the country. And the Muslim League backed him. As a result, partition became inevitable. Otherwise, it might have been averted. We cannot now envisage what would have happened if we had not taken the offer at that time and become free.

We have also heard that, earlier, the Hindus and the Muslims lived peacefully and it was only because of the British divide-and-rule policy that trouble broke out. Was that the truth?

Yes, yes. As a matter of fact, we have lived together for a long time. It was only during Aurangzeb's rule that there were clashes between Hindus and Muslims. Even then, they were not serious differences.

But the British wanted absolute control over India and they adopted the divide-and-rule policy. Therefore, they encouraged the Muslims as far as demanding special rights were concerned and that, ultimately, was how the demand for special rights developed into the demand for a separate Muslim state (Pakistan).

The British were foreigners and might have had vested interest in adopting the divide-and-rule policy. But what about today's rulers? Are they not doing the same thing, that too to their own country? Are they not dividing their countrymen on religious and caste lines in order to get votes?

Yes, it is true. But it only refers to some of the parties. The general trend in the country has revealed an approach for an integrated Indian society which is not based on various religions, castes etc, but on a common citizenship for India. Fortunately, all the governments at the Centre have adopted this policy.

Don't you think they have adopted this policy only in principle? In reality, we are always reminded that we belong to a particular caste, religion, etc?

Yes, I agree. That is why it requires much more effort than what we are putting in today to bring about this integration. These divisive forces will have to be curbed and that can happen through enlightened public opinion, more than anything else. And that public opinion will, I am sure, come about with education and social and economic development. Then, people will be more concerned with these developments than with petty quarrels on the basis of caste and religion. Fortunately, there are positive forces working against the divisive forces. Ultimately, the positive forces will prevail.

C Subramaniam's photographs: Sanjay Ghosh