Among the very basics expected from any government is safety and security of its citizens, particularly the vulnerable sections like the poor, minorities, dalits, women and children. This is fundamental. Other things come later. People should not feel vulnerable to terrorist, communal, caste, gender or domestic violence. They should be able to breathe freely and live fearlessly—otherwise what is the point of gaining “independence”.

Safety is what independent India should have firmly ensured within the first five to ten years of its existence. Not a difficult goal to achieve at all, given the desire and the will. The safety and social justice should have been ensured whatever it took: persuasion, education, publicity, unbiased and empathetic governance and criminal-justice system—even violence where needed.

However, post-independence, there was no change, rather, there was a change for the worse. The heartless anti-weak, anti-poor and corrupt criminal-justice-police system and babudom continued as in the colonial days. There was no reform or replacement. Poor, minorities, dalits, women and children continued to remain highly vulnerable. There were reportedly 243 communal riots between 1947 and 1964 and there was little improvement in the lot of the poor and the Dalits.

This is what Dr Ambedkar had to say in his resignation letter (from the Nehru’s cabinet) of 27 September 1951:
“What is the Scheduled Castes [status] today? So far as I see, it is the same as before. The same old tyranny, the same old oppression, the same old discrimination which existed before, exists now, and perhaps in a worst form. I can refer to hundreds of cases where people from the Scheduled Caste round about Delhi and adjoining places have come to me with their tales of woes against the Caste Hindus and against the Police who have refused to register their complaints and render them any help. I have been wondering whether there is any other parallel in the world to the condition of Scheduled Castes in India. I cannot find any. And yet why is no relief granted to the Scheduled Castes? Compare the concern the Government shows over safeguarding the Muslims. The Prime Minister’s whole time and attention is devoted for the protection of the Muslims. I yield to none, not even to the Prime Minister, in my desire to give the Muslims of India the utmost protection wherever and whenever they stand in need of it. But what I want to know is, are the Muslims the only people who need protection? Are the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes… not in need of protection? What concern has he shown for these communities? So far as I know, none and yet these are the communities which need far more care and attention than the Muslims.”

It was unfortunate that rather than working and co-ordinating with Dr Ambedkar to get rid of the curse of untouchability in India, and bring succour to the vulnerable sections, Nehru chose to get rid of Dr Ambedkar himself. Nehru even campaigned against him in elections to ensure his defeat! Dr Ambedkar was a multi-dimensional talent, and his services could have been used for many other critical areas too—he was academically and experience-wise most suited to become Finance Minister. It would actually have been great if Sardar Patel had been India’s first PM, and after him, Dr Ambedkar. For a political leader, is it sufficient to be personally non- communal, but do little to ensure communal harmony? If communal riots continue to take place, if the minorities, the dalits and the weaker sections continue to be on the receiving end, what’s the use of your being personally non-communal or pro-weaker sections. The real test of secular and socialist leader, and for his empathies with the weak, is what did he achieve on the ground. India and its rulers since independence cut a sorry figure on this aspect.

Most Indians wish the communalism had been firmly curbed within a decade of independence, and secularism and communalism were made non- issues by 1957. If universal education up to class 10 had been made compulsory after independence, if people had been specifically educated on secularism, anti-casteism and women’s rights, the post-independence generation would have been different, and even those remaining communal and casteist sections could have been tackled. Had Congress done the actual work on the ground of overhauling our criminal-justice-police system and babudom, launched vigorous educational campaign on the issue, held netas and those in administration and police accountable for disturbances and riots, punished the guilty and made examples of them, and adopted a non- compromising attitude to the issue, the curse of communalism and casteism, and of ill-treatment of poor and dalits would have vanished within a decade of independence. It was not an unachievable target. But, when you yourselves allocate seats and win elections on communal, religious and caste considerations, where is the remedy? Most of the so-called secular- socialistic parties have been great talkers, but, non-doers. They want to keep the secular, communal and casteism pot boiling to win votes, because, in practical terms on the ground, they are incapable of solving any real issues.

In fact, this whole debate on parties, people and groups being secular or communal, casteist or otherwise, pro-dalit or anti-dalit, pro-women or male- chauvinists, traditionalist or modern, conservative or liberal is irrelevant to the issue of safety of vulnerable sections of the society, that is, poor, minorities, dalits, women and children. The real issue is “governance”, which includes enforcing “rule of law”. Therefore, if a party claims to be secular, the touchstone of its credentials is “governance”. If its “governance” is poor it is unfit to be called a “secular” party. Like one measures GDP, per-capita income, literacy, poverty, human development index (HDI), quality of living index and so on, one needs to measure GI, “Governance Index”, for each of the states and for the central government. It is this GI which would actually reflect the “Secularism Index” (SI), and the “Anti-Casteism Index” (ACI). SI and ACI can’t be measured by your decibel levels and your protestations. It has to be measured by your real actions on the ground reflected in the GI—a tough call.

Take Singapore. Lee Kuan Yew managed to create a unique Singaporean identity within the umbrella of multiculturalism in just the first 15 years of his rule, despite the fact that Singapore never had a dominant culture to which locals and immigrants could assimilate. They have ensured religious and racial harmony through the decades. Singapore has consistently been ranked as the safest country in the world; and among the top five in the Global Competitiveness Report in terms of its reliability of police services.

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