Sunday August 13 2017

India @70: Has the soul of the nation found utterance?

Harold Acemah

Harold Acemah  

By Harold Acemah

This year marks the anniversary of many historic events; among them, the centenary of the Bolshevik or “great October revolution” of 1917 in Russia; the 150th anniversary of the publication of volume I of Karl Marx’s classic and seminal work, Das Kapital or Capital; the 50th anniversary of the assassination by the CIA of the iconic Argentine revolutionary Che Guevara and the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation led by German theologian Martin Luther.
In the 1970s, a beautiful poster of Che Guevara adorned my living room on which was printed his quotation: “The true revolutionary is guided by great feelings of love.” In Uganda, looks like our indigenous and self-styled revolutionaries are driven and guided by hate, greed and pride!
Seventy years ago on August 15, 1947, the Dominion of India achieved independence after almost 300 years of British colonial rule. That should please Timothy Kalyegira who believes that a few more decades of colonial rule would have prepared Uganda a lot better for independence.
I have challenged Kalyegira’s logic and conclusion. If his argument was valid, Bangladesh and Pakistan which were British colonies for almost 300 years would not be de facto failed states they, more or less, are - like South Sudan and Zimbabwe, needless to mention DR Congo and Uganda.
I have visited India several times on official duty and found the country fascinating and intriguing. One thing which struck me was the impact of British colonialism on the country. Unlike former British colonies in Africa, cricket is India’s national game which reminds me of Uganda of the 1950s and 1960s.
On August 14, 1947, Jawaharlal Nehru, the elegant first prime minister of India who was handpicked and groomed for leadership by Mahatma Gandhi made a historic speech to the Indian constituent assembly which political scientists recognise as one of the great speeches of the 20th Century.
The speech, eloquently delivered in English, is titled: “A new star rises; the star of freedom in the East” and begins as follows:
“Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially.
At the stroke of the midnight hour when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom. A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance.
It is fitting at this solemn moment we take the pledge of dedication to the service of India and her people and to the larger cause of humanity.”
Nehru stressed that freedom and power come with responsibility which rests primarily on the shoulders of representatives of the people in parliament.
He continued: “The service of India means the service of the millions who suffer. It means the ending of poverty and ignorance and disease and inequality of opportunity!”
The commitment to India’s poor and millions who suffer became the clarion call of the Indian Congress Party (ICP) which under Nehru’s wise and selfless leadership played a critical role during the first two decades of independence. Now you know the origins of the popular slogan of UPC, a sister party of ICP.
That great speech Nehru made in 1947 reminded me of a lost opportunity for Uganda at which a national leader should have risen to the occasion to inspire Ugandans with a meaningful, thought-provoking and eloquent speech. The occasion was the 50th anniversary of Uganda’s independence on October 9, 2012.
Only five years later, I cannot remember a single sentence from a rambling speech delivered at Kololo on that occasion. The speech delivered on that day was instead used to insult and ridicule some of our development partners who walked out in protest.
Such a rare moment in Uganda’s history was wasted and will be remembered for a shameless and tasteless display of conspicuous consumption and primitive accumulation of wealth to sustain an ostentatious life style of those who unveiled two brand new custom-made Mercedes Benz 600 stretch limousines flown from Germany. I am advised that the cost of these luxury cars could build and equip a district hospital or a secondary school.
For a least developed country where pupils in some government schools study under trees in the 21st Century; where thousands of citizens are infected with jiggers and die annually of hunger and preventable diseases, the priorities the ruling clique has imposed on Uganda are patently wrong and reflect a sad reality that Uganda’s politics is broken!
India is today led by BJP, a right-wing Hindu nationalist political party which, like NRM, is a hodgepodge of an organisation consisting of all manner of people, including political opportunists, fanatics and greedy men.
Nehru’s grand ideas and vision for India and his commitment to secularism as a cornerstone of Indian domestic policy and to the larger cause of humanity do not appeal to BJP. Congratulations to the government and people of India on the 70th anniversary of independence.

Mr Acemah is a political scientist, consultant and a retired career diplomat.