As 15 August draws near, India begins to gear for the annual celebrations of freedom won at the stroke of midnight on 14-15 August 1947. But beyond the usual celebrations, it is important to try and follow the mood of the people to understand how they feel about the day and what it means for them.
The older generation, especially those born around 1947 still feel a strong sense of connect and belonging to the struggle that their parents had to go through to achieve freedom from British rule, but for the younger generation of today, especially those now in their late teens and twenties, what significance does 15 August hold for them, beyond a holiday from school, college or work? Actually, it is interesting that the day evokes different sentiments for different sections of people and it would be worth while to try and take a peek into what the day possibly holds for various sections.
The significance for the Prime Minister and his party
15 August probably means the most for the Prime Minister of the country as this is the day he reaches out to the nation in an attempt to exhort the people to unite with a sense of purpose and nation building, not an easy task, keeping in mind the vast options available to the people, right from TV channel flipping on a holiday morning, to planning a visit to the nearest mall, or just visiting a relative or friend.
In such a scenario, it was a remarkable achievement when Narendra Modi, as Prime Minister of India, delivered his maiden speech from Red Fort on 15 August 2014, and managed to get all sections of people and from all ages, to listen to him with rapt attention on TV and Radio, in addition to those who were physically present at the Red Fort. The atmosphere across the country was electric and the nation truly felt a wave of patriotism, coupled with hope and optimism for the future.
However, one year down from that day and PM Modi faces a different India, one where the political opposition has managed to recoup and launch a blistering attack on the government and has succeeded in stalling proceedings in Parliament. People’s euphoria has certainly waned and they are beginning to question the government’s silence on various scams that have now come to light. However, there is no question that several policy measures taken along with various social welfare schemes launched by the present government will have a positive impact on the economy and on people’s lives, but these will take time for the benefits to percolate down and show.
So this year’s speech for PM Modi will be one to placate the opposition while he will try to reaffirm his government’s actions on various social welfare schemes undertaken in the past year. He will also use the occasion to make some new announcements, especially in the social welfare sector. What more he offers, we shall have to wait and see.
Of course the speech will be followed by the usual ceremonial protocols of 21 Gun salute followed by cultural programmes performed by school children. The same is true for celebrations in various states.
This year the government is laying special emphasis to highlight the role of the Armed Forces and towards that several military exhibitions and programmes will be organised in different parts of the country including small towns. The military will be displaying its role and achievements in various wars fought thus far and will also familiarise the people with various defence equipment and weaponry that they possess.
Flag hoisting ceremonies in states
The flag hoisting ceremonies will be led by Chief Ministers and Governors depending on the location. This year, the day will hold special significance for those people who formally became Indian citizens as a result of the historic Land Boundary Agreement between India and Bangladesh. They will for the first time get to hoist the Tri colour as Indians.
In most states, schoolchildren form the bulk of celebrations by singing patriotic songs, as today is one day when the patriotic fervor is all pervasive and children respond the maximum, when most adults, busy in their daily routines, tend to treat this as just another holiday.
In J&K, the new coalition government of PDP and the BJP will take charge of official celebrations in the state. As in all years, celebrations are likely to be muted and will be held under tight security, while separatist groups will try and make their share of symbolic protests.
In Nagaland and Manipur region, in the aftermath of the recent counter terrorist action by the Indian Army, the government will have to remain on high alert as various insurgent groups may take advantage and try to disrupt celebrations.
Beyond the usual ceremonies, can we reinvent Independence Day as a day to connect people with each other, within our own societies?
If 15 August has to hold importance in everyone’s lives in India in times to come, then the day must be reinvented as a day that is truly for the people, by the people and of the people, and the best way to do that would be to try and bring all residents in our respective communities to get together and commit ourselves to initiate social welfare activities through the day and beyond. This is one area where children could take the lead and force the adults to follow.
In various Resident Welfare Associations and local communities, people gather in the morning for an hour or so to hoist the Indian flag and then they disperse after the usual speeches. This is an absolute waste of opportunity.
Independence Day is not only for ceremonies, that’s just a protocol, but if we could invoke a true sense of community belonging though community participation and service at the local level, that would be patriotic activity in the truest sense. PM Modi has shown a glimpse of this sentiment in most of his public speeches and also in many of his social welfare initiatives like Swachh Bharat. Politics apart, he means well. 15 August has the potential to be a day for all of us to resolve our political, economic and social differences, and come together to re-build and work for our respective communities.
No, this is not a sermon and nor is it a political message, one is too small for that, but as a citizen, one can only highlight that the biggest beneficiary of the initiatives that we may undertake at our community level, would be ourselves. Yes, you and I.
Every year, 15 August comes and goes, and will continue to do so for all times ahead, but if we can resolve to redefine the day, make it purposeful and relevant to present times through social welfare, then the nation as a whole will be able to stand up and justify the sacrifices made by all those, in the run up to 15 August 1947. That will indeed be a true day to raise the flag!
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