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A Slip of Destiny.. - Views on News from Equitymaster
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  • Aug 1, 1997

    A Slip of Destiny..

    "At the stroke of the midnight hour", proclaimed an emotional Jawaharlal Nehru, "while the world sleeps, India will awake to freedom." I must have missed something there. A calculation of time zones suggests that if it was the stroke of the midnight hour in India on August 15, 1947, it must have been 9:30 in the night on August 14 in Paris, 8:30 in the night in London, and 2:30 in the afternoon in New York. Not a time to sleep for most people in any of those countries. And given that the Allied Army had just wiped out Japan and Germany and that Africa was still colonised while China was economically inconsequential, the "world" in 1947 was limited to USA, Britain, and France - the victors of World War II - who were all awake at the stroke of our midnight hour.

    So, maybe Nehru got this whole thing wrong. Maybe his speech writer had written "while the world awakes, India will slip into freedom" and maybe his speech writer was a Gujjubhai who got his spelling and pronounciation of "slip" wrong and wrote it as "sleep". And maybe this "tryst with destiny" was actually a "slip of destiny" in which the speechwriter was suggesting that this whole thing of India was a mistake. If parents can make mistakes and give birth to unplanned babies, surely statesmen have the right to make errors of judgement and create nations that were not supposed to exist.

    But Nehru was a showman and he had to make this great speech with this grand one-liner which had to go down in history, for Nehru, you see, was like many of us fund managers and research analysts: strong on presentation, weak on content, and ready with those missile one-liner jabs that are flashed on CNN, MSNBC, Star, Reuters, and whoever else is willing to call us. I mean, how many times have you heard a research analyst (FII, non-FII, or just Fake) tell you with a straight face: "Politics does not matter, the market has discounted all poitical uncertainty". The interviewer wants his one-liner to show on the 9 pm news. He doesn't care about its contents. So let the world sleep, and let India awake - man, who cares about facts?!

    Well, I don't want to puncture all these celebrations that are going on all over the world about how India has awoken while the world has slept over the last fifty years. No, sir, not me. I mean why should I be the party-pooper pointing out that over the last fifty years we have probably added 200 million poor people to our population and are rapidly heading towards an environmental and health catastrophe of epic proportions while the world is moving onto a higher, faster technological plane.

    No, no, let the wine and champagne flow in all the 50 Years of Independence parties and let us not worry about whether this nation's tryst with destiny is actually a tryst with disaster. Let us atleast be thankful that over the fifty years that we have awoken as a nation the man who will be giving the Fifty Years of Independence speech in Parliament or Red Fort will be Prime Minister I. K. Gujral and, even if he was to resign due to some silly CBI enquiry, his duly elected Prime Minister wife will be able to speak fluently in English and will give some great quotes to technologically spruced up journalists waiting to catch all of India's glory in a 60 second dash of electronic beams. Let us pray hard, as a nation, that there is no change in government between today and August 15, 1997 so that we can continue to delude ourselves with great quotations and good orators what a country of achievers we are.

    And our achievements are many: we are the world's largest democracy. Got that, Mr Journalist? Democracy. Where the voice of the people is heard by elected representatives who give us the government we want and the government we deserve. Yes, we have our share of problems what with tensions on the Hindu-Mulsim front, sparks due to caste and class problems, sometimes a language riot. Hey, no one is perfect and we are still evolving as a democracy. The British, you see, took over two hundred years to experiment with democracy and we have just about completed fifty years - barring a brief period when Madam Indira decided we could be stripped of our powers and our organs. Better to be a democracy than a bullying autocratic regime which gives you food, clothing, and shelter but not the ability to read (or write) such anti-national, anti-people articles like this one!

    But we have done a lot. After fifty years we have atleast managed to stay together as a country, keep the democratic flag flying high, and maintain the fiction of a nation united in spirit. The fact that we could have done a lot more is obvious and the opportunites lost along the way are staggering and frustrating.

    As an Indian and a holder of an Indian passport, I feel lost, lonely, and cheated. Within India, I am a minority because most people will never have the same opportunities made available to me. Globally, Indians are considered smart people but the country and its systems are branded a mess, the holder of an Indian passport viewed with suspicion and contempt. I feel cheated because this is not what the history books promised us. This is not what Nehru's speech or Gandhi's fight for freedom was all about.

    Mahatama Gandhi said, "If I did not have a sense of humour, I would long ago have committed suicide". But now I am tired of laughing at our foolishness and stupidity. At the stroke of the midnight hour on August 15, 1997, while the world goes about striving towards economic progress I will sleep silently knowing that not only did India lose the economic race but also surrendered the spiritual mantle that we held high for so long. May we forgive ourselves with laughter and try again. Jai Hind.



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