Shekhar Gupta, one of India’s most prolific journalists, interacted with students at Lady Shri Ram College on 27th January 2015, speaking on the topic ‘Whose India is it anyway?’ The talk was organised by Interface- The Academic Society of LSR and saw quite turnout of eager students wishing to interact with the journalist they had so often read.
Mr. Gupta’s talk largely had an idealistic approach to the topic; however, this was seen as optimism and inspiration by most and not as a lack of pragmatism. He began by quoting the Preamble to the Constitution which has the words ‘democratic, socialist, secular and sovereign’. He pointed out that ‘socialist’ and ‘secular’ were added much later but focused on the fact that we are a ‘republic’ and that in a republic the people should be deciding what kind of government they want.
In trying to emphasize that India belongs to its citizens, Mr. Gupta talked about the roles and positions people from the backward castes and classes have played and held and illustrated how our society continues to be prejudiced through examples.
One example that he used was that of the media coverage that Modi’s customized pin-striped suit received and that which Mayawati’s pearls and handbags receive. He argued that when people like Modi and Mayawati sport these items of clothing or accessories, attention is drawn to them but when Vasundhara Raje wears her pearls, nobody bats an eyelid. Nobody bats an eyelid even when sworn Communists use luxury watches or pens. The prejudices that our society lives with were exposed with an example as simple as this.
He also brought up the issue of ridiculing people who don’t speak English well. He took the example of the USA where even great politicians like Henry Kissinger could speak with distinct accents and it wouldn’t matter whereas in India, we are quick to make a person like that an object of ridicule.
Mr. Gupta was very optimistic about India’s progress and also cited the example of Jaipal Singh Munda who came from a most marginalized community yet raised his voice back when the Constitution was being framed to prevent compulsory prohibition because it was the way of life of his people. Gupta argued that this showed how our Constitution allows every citizen to raise her or his concerns.
Calling India a ‘work in progress’, he hailed the country’s democratic institutions as important checks and balances on majoritarianism and extremism. Gupta said that he believed that India is changing; it is no longer a country where one’s status and success are inextricably linked to that of your parents. The biggest example of this, of course, is PM Modi.
In course of the talk, India’s democracy being imperfect was acknowledged but Mr. Gupta reiterated the sanctity of the Constitution and said, “India gave itself this Constitution, we have to live up to it.”
He ended the talk by saying that the Constitution should have never mentioned ‘unity in diversity’. Instead, it should have been ‘celebrate diversity’. That, for Shekhar Gupta, is the Indian identity; not one but a myriad of identities.
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