Vote for the future of India’s soul

As India heads into a general election, the choice is stark. Around us lie the ruins of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s rhetorical “naya Bharat” (new India). The problem was not with the idea, but with its execution. A nation divided, fearful, and beset with anxiety is not the new India of any Indian’s dreams.

So what should be the animating idea of a truly inclusive new India? It is the idea of one nation made of many kinds of people. An India where it does not matter what religion you practice, what language you speak, what caste you were born into and what colour your skin is. In our new India it should only matter that you are Indian. That idea of India is under threat today from those who seek not just to rule India, but to change India’s very heart and soul.

Illustration: Bhaskaran Illustration: Bhaskaran

What we want in India is unity. They want uniformity. We believe in an India that unites our people. They seek to divide us. We need the strengthening of democratic institutions at all levels, with transparency and accountability enforced through the Right to Information Act and an active Parliament. They seek to weaken these institutions, hollow out RTI, disregard Parliament and promote one-man rule.

What we require in our new India is a leadership that empowers people and harnesses their collective strength in the pursuit of national objectives, not someone who sees people as instruments of his own power.

Our new India must derive its support and strength from all sections of our diverse society. Their new India speaks of one faith and reduces others to second-class status.

Their idea of new India is one of exhortation: Make in India, Digital India, Start-Up India, Stand Up India, Shut Up India. Our new India must be one of consultation. We must never speak of “India Shining” without asking who India is shining for. Our new India must follow policies that promote higher economic growth and also ensure that the benefits of our growth are enjoyed by the poor and disadvantaged sections of our society, with a guaranteed minimum income for the poorest of the poor.

The choice is clear. We can have a new India that belongs to all of us, led by a government that works for all of us. Or, we can have a new India that belongs to some, and serves the interests of a few.

You can choose a new India that embodies hope, or one that promotes fear. You can support a new India united in striving, or an India divided by hatred.

I believe we can look forward to a new India with confidence, if not with optimism. But we must build the new India on solutions to our major challenges. We have to overcome our poverty. We have to deal with the hardware of development, the ports, the roads, the airports, all the infrastructural progress we need to make, and the software of development, the human capital, the need for the ordinary person in India to be able to have a couple of square meals a day, to be able to send his or her children to a decent school and to aspire to work a job that will give them opportunities to transform themselves. We have to tackle and end corruption.

We need to conquer these challenges, real challenges which none of us in India can pretend do not exist. But it must take place in an open society, in a rich and diverse and plural civilisation, one that is open to the contention of ideas and interests within it, unafraid of the prowess or the products of the outside world, wedded to the democratic pluralism that is India’s greatest strength, and determined to liberate and fulfil the creative energies of its people.

Our new India must shine. But it must shine for all. Vote responsibly. Vote for the future of India’s soul.