And to those Americans whose support I have yet to earn, I may not have won your vote tonight, but I hear your voices. I need your help. And I will be your president, too.It was the morning of 5th November, 2008 when I heard these words from the then President-Elect Barack Obama as a part of his victory speech. This was a proclamation from the man who had just been elected the most powerful man in the world, that he understood the responsibility of the office he was just elected to. They were simple words exhilarating humility and goodwill, at the same time. For the last 8 years, I have had these very lines stuck in the back of my head, and even more piercingly in the last 6-7 months, and specifically in the Indian context.
When we talk about India, we talk about the diversity of the country. 'Unity in diversity' is often the one sentence definition of India cited across the world. It is a society where each person is respected for their individuality as an Indian. It is a society of differences, of acceptance, of respect, and most importantly, of love. But sadly (and disturbingly), in the last few months there's a very strong voice from the extreme right-wing of the country's political class that is harming the social harmony that we, the populous of this country, has consistently taken pride over.
When religion, caste or sexuality is used to seclude and target an individual, it is not just a violation of their fundamental rights, it is also inhumane. The presence of bigots in a society who are the proponents of an extremist ideology, forces those with milder and more amenable opinions to take sides. The atmosphere becomes tense and people fortify themselves in lieu of the impending feuds.
In the last 22 months, slowly but steadily, I have seen the battle lines being drawn. From when your nickname was derived from your name to a time when your political opinions are your salutation. From civility the situation has slowly been turning more and more pertinently hostile. Dissent and disagreement are quickly and dismissively termed as treason.
In all these years, I have never seen people from any section of the society grossly pronounce their superiority and establish their beliefs as decree. I have seen people who listen to opinions and sometimes indulge in a debate. I have seen people criticized, but never belittled, insulted, derided. I have observed the altercations but never seen one that questions the patriotism to the extent of being told to settle in an entirely different country.
The reminder that ours is a democracy becomes extremely relevant in such times. The essence of our democracy runs much deeper than even the diversity which we pride over. Democracy bestows upon us rights, responsibilities and duties. The strength of a democracy arises from the divergent opinions, the distinguishable voices and healthy debates. It is only in a democracy that every citizen, man or woman, Hindu or Muslim, from general or backward classes, rich or poor, is treated alike.
I am a human being first. But, I also am a proud Indian. I am respectful of my roots, and grateful to those that serve in the military and protect our borders. I am a student of science, but being a voting citizen I have an opinion about the kind of governance I want to be subjected to. I am a tax-payer who expects my Government to create and implement laws that would ensure progress. I hope that my country's police force will get to the root of the problems, and that my judiciary will impart quick, fair and unbiased judgments. I yearn for a time when my female friends and sisters can roam around the country with the same level of safety as I often enjoy. I am waiting for a time when reservations will exist for those from the economically backward classes of the society and not the socially backward ones.
But at the same time, I also am a liberal, with no political affiliations or preferences. I am a vegetarian by choice, but I wouldn't mind sharing the table with someone consuming cow or pig meat. I have no religious inclinations and I am still trying to find my balance between agnosticism and deism. I take my freedom of speech and my fundamental rights very seriously. I respect my Supreme Court, but strongly believe it isn't infallible. I want a clean India, regardless of what the Government scheme is called. I care more about the quality of education than the race for marks. I believe that any celebration (religious, political or whimsical) that hinders the normal lives of someone else, is an infringement to fundamental rights.
I take pride in the rich cultural heritage of this country (yes, Mughal history too). I am humbled to be from the land that produced scholars like Aryabhata, Kalidas, Ghalib. I wouldn't shy from calling both Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and Subhash Chandra Bose, great in the same breath. I very thoroughly support the laws that promise equality for everyone despite their sexual orientation. I understand and can speak various Indian and foreign languages, but prefer communicating in English. I think climate change is real. I am of the strong opinion that social inequality is as big a threat to every nation as terrorism.
And guess what? You don't have to agree with me on everything. That's the beauty of a democracy! It gives you the right to form and have your measured opinions, just as it gives me, and every other person we know. We don't have to like them or believe them to be right. We don't have to agree to appease. We just have to be worthy enough to debate each topic on its own merit, and its merit alone. And that's the very same expectation we should have of our elected representatives and by extension, the Prime Minister.
It is easy to divide a society into pieces and distinguish it. It gets you votes, but it can't get you respect or progress. How much ever further wishful thinking may take us, but 'Sabka saath, sabka vikaas' isn't possible without Narendra Modi humbly asserting to every Indian, no matter their affiliations and opinions, "I will be your Prime Minister, too!"