Why such a question now?
There are a few books that have come out in England about the British nostalgia for their bygone days.
Is this the country once lured over the entire globe, the sun never set on the British Empire, as boasted by Churchill?
Winston Churchill, the arch imperialist, and the very bull-dog he was and he looked and all this past is gone. Scotland is threatening to go a separate country and there is this self-doubt and self-questioning. Two books. One makes case for Britain being the only country in the World to have upheld individual freedom.
The other book dwells upon the Commonwealth as the only hope for Britain to have some international influence. Fine. What do the Indians of today feel about their own individual freedoms?
Do Indians inherit the love for their freedoms as Westerners are supposed to do?
There is not much seriousness here for Indians when their freedoms are taken away or when they are suppressed under various, known or invidious forms.
Why we don’t care for our freedoms much?
First we never had had any period in our long history when freedoms or such questions arose. In the West there is the long period of freedom struggles. The Magna Carta of the 12th century defined the British quest for third freedoms. No taxes without representation. This was the battle then.
From this period started the rule by law. The current books written in Britain take all the credit for them; the author calls what are terms as the “Aglosphere”. He also includes the US in this sphere. Poor Brits!
They don’t want to give credit to anyone or to any other history. The truth is that the Western tradition starts with the Greek and Roman histories and legacies. It is the Greeks who gave the concept of individual freedom from the 5th century Pericles funeral speech as given in the Thucydides” Peloponnesian War.
This is the great text, great history written in the scientific sense of the word.
The point is that every public school boy of those days (when I was at Oxford in the 1950-60s) would recite by heart in the original Greek history textbook the famous per clean speech. It is deeply stirring and deeply moving and captivating!
I myself had sense this thrill when my Oxford friends recited these lines for me.
Then, there is the other great, why greater legacy. That is the Roman legacy.
How can we forget, this is not just a legacy for the West, it is for the entire world, entire humankind, that Rome became an empire and a great civilisation with its unique evolution of a rule by not one man but by a Senate.
Roman Republic, by its very definition, is all about rule by Senate, rule by two persons, then three persons, the triumvirate, by proconsuls and by debates and by such orations by Virgil and others.
The Roman history is a history of the evolution of a disciplined citizens, army and every branch of the government. The very life and triumphs and tragedy of Julius Caesar exemplifies the rise and fall of democracy, republican ideals and also the rise and fall of dictatorship.
So, arose the term, Roman Law. Yes, there was no concept of rule by law before.
It is these legacies the West inherited. And Britain alone can’t claim or monopolises the legacy.
Also, as for the rise and spread of individual freedoms, liberty as such we owe to the French Enlightenment the other modern versions. The quest for liberty, equality and fraternity we owe to the French Revolution.
Now, as for India, yes, surely Indians didn’t have any tradition of individual freedom in the secular sense. So, in a way we owe to the British occupation for inheriting this practice of freedoms and democracy in India.
But then we have to search for some of the basic premises. Do we practise rule of law today as enshrined in the Constitution?
This is a question that calls for some uncomfortable issues. We are, lately, moving away from the Constitutional path. We have sabotaged, yes, it is the right word, many institutions and institutional practices. This is long topic.
Here it is enough to say that we, as citizens, have to become more sensitive to such issues like freedoms, human rights, right to privacy etc.
Also, a resort to basic practices of Constitutional obligations to practice the spirit of democracy, no dynastic rule, no nomination culture and also no corrupt practices of various kind. Jai Hind.