Liberty`s Lost Occasions: Independence Day and Others

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Amar Yumnam

Independence Day and other National Days are always days of celebration for all exemplifying what nation is about, what liberty is and what not positive aspects of belonging to a nation and her democracy. But in India all these are increasingly becoming days on which the citizenry have necessarily to sacrifice their liberty for the cause of the nation. Eid has produced the violence and consequent communal tensions in Jammu region of the northernmost province of the country called India. Nearing the date of the Independence Day of this year sees the streets of the country’s capital – Delhi – being populated by empty but coloured bitumen-drums on all sides controlling traffic and the security personnel guarding the drums. Imphal is no different. Here the residence of the provincial head of the population has just experienced a bomb blast making the people confused about the meaning of such inconsequential attacks except that this could lead to further curtailment of the liberty of the local population; this only confirms the weaknesses on both sides of the whatever. The weaknesses of governance have also been revealed by the disclosure of the non-functionality of CCTVs which were installed by public money following a similar earlier attack on a much smaller scale. All these country-wide approaches to administering the country establish two things at least. First, improvement in effectiveness of governance does not necessarily imply expanding the size of government but something else. Second, security forces alone cannot ensure security. Here the general lesson of Economics needs to be recalled. It says restrictions and more restrictions can lead to inefficiency and emergence of covert methods to bypass them. The recent lessons and emerging reforms being contemplated in the United States regarding the orientation to security are of immense global value. The “zealous security culture” of America has learnt from the experiences with two whistle-blowers, Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden, that ensuring the core values of liberty is much more important for national purposes than the overenthusiastic protection of security. While the security approach can create opportunities for the wolves to wear the clothing of sheep and exploit the country, and the sheep would be punished for doing the needful (mark the case of civil servant Durga in Uttar Pradesh).

Now coming to the original question raised in the beginning as to whether we should be continuing with the situation of national days as days when we sacrifice our liberty for whatever reason, the time has come for all of us to deeply ponder on the issue. Instead of somehow celebrating such days for the sake of it and without much social meaning, we should introspect collectively and individually on what could be the solution to the impasse. The observance of these days under strict security paraphernalia only devalues the worth of these days. On the contrary, in an unfortunate way it creates a kind of habituation to it and develops a kind of hatred for the arrival of such days as they only lead to lose of liberties; these are the most unexpected and undesirable outcomes.

The time is now for us to seriously evaluate the effectiveness of security approaches as solutions to both internal and external protection. Except in the case of the Mizoram insurgency, the security approach has little to display as success stories. In fact, the Mizoram intervention has been a success story mainly because of the follow-up meaningful development interventions and people-involved governance reforms. In Jammu and Kashmir, the untold stories of miseries and miscarriages of security approaches have only deepened the crises. In Manipur, the fall-out has been alienation of the general population and the emergence of a kind of marriage of convenience between the actors of wolves in the guise of sheep on both the state and the non-state sides. Democracy does need her critics and we should zealously guard the emergence of these critics. But the reality is increasingly turning out to be a situation where the wolves would ensure the side-lining and ultimate elimination of these critics. The final outcome would be the demise of democracy itself.

The continuous adverse impact of the landslide in the national highway on the life and economy of the people of Manipur stands as testimony of the priorities of Indian governance as a democracy. For decades, the people have been bearing with the absolute poverty of connectivity with the rest of India and sacrificing on the potential scope for economic improvement. The world has now got the technology and India has now got the financial capability to improve and restore any such disturbance on highways within days. Now Independence Day in Manipur has to be observed with trees cut down for firewood for the kitchens and walk up to any place of celebration in the absence of fuel for vehicles. By the way, democracy has no meaning unless it ensures participation and zealously at that.

The way things are happening, China is evolving as increasingly more democratic than India. In 1983 the officials in China said: “when there is a choice to kill or not to kill, choose to kill”. In 2005, the advice turned to “kill fewer, kill cautiously”. As a report in the latest edition of The Economist emphasises, the credit for the “sharp decline” in world’s executions must be given to this country. It is as if the world should now be giving credit to China for every positive improvement in social indicators; global poverty objectives have been achieved in the sense of reduction of numbers because of the Chinese performance. But mention China, everybody in India gets jittery, and bring North East into the picture, suspicion becomes the rule.  Whatever the case, India has lots to learn from the Chinese development experience of recent decades and American lessons on liberty administration in recent months. Security is not the monopoly and the solitary responsibility of the security forces. People and their development have more significant roles to play in ensuring security.  This lesson needs to be imbibed as a core value of governance instead of pre-election approach as in the case of food security. We should also be absorbing the lessons of the American reforms under way regarding administration of freedom.

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