'A Just Society By Just Means'

India was to be, as Nehru told André Malraux, 'a just society by just means'. 

67 years on, as we seek to redefine India, we should return this vision. It is the time to make a fresh start perhaps, as we haven't achieved a just society and lost sight of the just means - and indeed, any appetite, as it seems, for such grand imagination. But that should precisely be the reason to reimagine!

Ideas such as these are often laughed at, as rhetoric that means nothing. Yet, here is a poor illiterate country, which instituted a liberal democracy, and managed to hold together despite its diversity and difference. One must be conscious of its many failings, but this should not undermine what India has achieved. The current ruling generation, which has seen none of the privations of colonialism nor made any sacrifices, may want to mock the struggles Indians waged, but such ignorance can only lead to a return of history and continued dependence. Ideas such as these, successful or not, can liberate, make us think and inspire us to imagine again.

Indeed, such visions are imprecise. One can argue endlessly about the meaning of justice. These statements are devoid of details, and it does not tell us what would constitute 'just means'. However, Nehru was, justifiably, not prescribing a way, but was laying out a vision. That we may even expect him to tell us everything, might sufficiently explain why we failed to achieve the aim. It was an invitation to us to imagine, to be just ourselves, in our private lives as well as with our social selves. This is an invitation we must belatedly pick up.

India's glory lies in its future rather than in the past: The best days are still ahead of us. It may perhaps be by attaining the founding vision, a just society by just means, lifting ourselves up from the poverty, illiteracy and hopelessness, we can attain our greatest goal, a dignified life for all citizens. To do this, in the face of all our constraints, would be a great achievement of statecraft.

Sadly, our failure is not one of imagination, though it may seem to be so at this moment. It was, rather, our lack of pride, our acceptance of a fake failure and meek surrender to some alien ideas as it was preached to us. It is through this, the acceptance that we failed because we couldn't build a consumer economy, we were persuaded to abdicate the search for a just society or just means. We were told that we had done well with electoral democracy, which was the mere first step, and failed in everything else. And, we were told not to imagine any more but subjugate ourselves to ideas imported from elsewhere or from an imaginary past.

But this is not the road to redemption, but an invitation to put the clock back and forget - and busy ourselves in the chores of daily life without any pretension to imagine the future. And, indeed, this means abandoning hope - the hope that makes any nation great - and slumping into self-serving ambitions that extend not beyond the paycheck. And, together sink in the acceptance of our inferior existence in the universe, limited by the aspirations and ideas of the others, a mere cog in the wheel of history and not its designers. This pathetic abandonment of the grand vision of India is not merely a failure of will, but a betrayal of freedom in itself, because, as in Nehru's vision, India was to be beacon of freedom from colonialism and its attendant values.

Which still dominate us, in new forms, affecting our desires, values and senses of self. Only the will, the courage, to imagine again, would free us from our 'self-imposed immaturity' (as in Kant). Dare to imagine should become the new mantra for new India, and we should return to the unfinished job of creating a just society by just means.



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