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Diwali: A universal celebration

  By Vijay Darda | 09-11-2015

In our every day colloquial language, when someone has a good day, we say that he is celebrating Diwali. This is true for the more fortunate sections of the society. But for the average citizen, the real time for celebration on this festival of lights is with its different elements – that of the dhanteras, the day of the Laxmi Pujan, and the Bhau beej or (bhai dooj), and then the Chhath in Bihar. The epic Ramayana celebrates it as the return of Lord Rama to Ayodhya after 14 years in exile and a victorious campaign against Ravana. But in the present context it has become a festival of universal celebration. Even President Barack Obama of the United States of America celebrates Diwali at the White House.

In this great festive spirit, ideally we should not have any ifs and buts, and this should be an occasion for unrestrained joy. Everyone should soak in this spirit of festivity. But we cannot be oblivious to the set of difficulties that prevail in our society and pretend that these do not cast their shadows on our joys.

We must accept that not everyone in our society has the ability to celebrate this festival in its true spirits. There are obvious differences of class with the most common element being the rich and the poor. Even if we concede that these differences shall prevail, we have to accept that the poor should at least have the basic minimum resources that allow them to celebrate with the same dignity as the rest of us. The problem arises when even the goal of achieving this level of equality is missing from our national agenda. The difficulty is accentuated by the fact that there is no plan of action or time frame for achieving this target. It is presumed that this shall be achieved as a consequence of the development process, on its own whereas the need is to make it a sharply defined programme of action.

It is not just the economy that matters to us,when it comes to celebrating this festival. There is the spirit of universal brotherhood among all our citizens irrespective of their religion caste or creed that has dominate this festival, and it is a painful symptom that we find it missing from our midst due to various factors that are essentially peripheral to our national mission.

Yes, when some people start questioning the patriotism of even our heroes on the grounds of their religion then it is time to ask some serious questions. If Shah Rukh Khan is not a patriot simply because he is a Muslim, then pray who is a patriot? The problem is not that the so-called fringe elements are asking this question. The difficulties lies in the fact that even those who do not belong to the fringe tell Shah Rukh that look at Dilip Kumar, he had to change his name from Yusuf Khan to be acceptable in the film industry. In the first place as Yusufsaab tells us in his autobiography, he took this name so as to avoid the wrath of his father who was opposed to his entering the film world. 

More than that was the pre-partition era when the Hindu-Muslim question had not even surfaced in this light. Nor do they realise that even Haribhai had to become Sanjeev Kumar or even Balraj Dutt had to become Sunil Dutt, and the legendary Ashok Kumar was born as Kumud Kumar Ganguly. So, if Shah Rukh has stuck to his name he is not the first one to do so. Even Waheeda Rehman was given the chance to adopt a screen name but she refused and has remained a popular actor for more than six decades without anybody questioning her patriotism.

To his credit, Shah Rukh has put this issue in the right perspective and told us that respecting each other’s religion is the only way forward. Thus he celebrates Diwali with wife Gauri as she does the Eid with him. Indeed, millions of Indians celebrate all the festivals – Holi, Diwali, Eid and Christmas irrespective of their personal faith in the right spirit of these festive occasions. Thus, we are a great nation, not because our civilisational history stretches back to 5,000 years. But because we have a rich tradition of plurality, and multi-cultural diversity.

It is also a fact that by and large the society functions on these principles, but then the aberrations though numerically insignificant in the national context have a very disturbing effect. To counter this phenomena, we have to reiterate our commitment to fight these tendencies with all our might. This is in effect the price we have to pay for our liberty. All modern developed nations have struggled through various challenges to achieve that status. We have a huge population, and a thriving democracy and because of the very demographics our challenges are divers and complex. This all makes the pitfalls grave.

Through the decades after independence, we have succeeded in overcoming the challenges of food security, and military strength. But the challenge of reaching the fruits of development to the bulk of the poor sections of the population remain. Our polity has also moved to real bipolar structure after the BJP got a majority on its own in the last Lok Sabha elections. It will always remain a landmark development in the history of our democracy as it represented the aspirations of the people who were looking for a different model from that of the Congress. A nation like ours does need this kind of bipolarism. But we need a really liberal polity. It can be of any orientation-right or left or centrist, but it has to be essentially liberal. There can be no compromise on this aspect, and this liberal spirit is fully represented in the manner of the universal celebration of Diwali.

Before I conclude…

The price situation always makes a lot of difference when it comes to celebrating Diwali. We do have a dampener in this respect as the prices of essential commodities as their high levels are a matter of concern. The seasonal variations are a part of the scenario, but we also need a long term strategy for meeting the challenges of ensuring price stability. The main hope being that the prices should be within the reach of the common people should be realised fast.


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