On the solemn occasion of Martyrs’ Day, I, along with my fellow-countrymen, pay homage to the sacrifices made by Mahatma Gandhi and countless other revered nationalists, whose names remain etched in gold in the annals of history for their heroism and courage in freeing India from British rule. Today, let us pause for a moment to rededicate ourselves to the core values which Bapu stood for — most importantly, the need to rise above casteism, communalism, regionalism and provincialism of any kind — and commit ourselves to the ideal of non-violence.
It is worth repeating that Mahatma Gandhi, as he spearheaded the freedom struggle, drew inspiration from and acted with conviction on the principle rooted in our ancient tradition — ahimsa or non-violence. This ideal inspired great men across the world, including Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela. Gandhiji also served as an inspiration to Albert Einstein, Barack Obama, Pearl Buck and Steve Jobs, among others. Bapu successfully weaponised truth, satyagraha and peace in his helmsmanship of India’s struggle for independence, marked by tidal waves of peaceful protests.
On the occasion of Martyrs’ Day, duty impels me to recall the names of some of the front-ranking patriots of our great nation, nationalists who sacrificed their lives to liberate the country from the shackles of colonial rule — Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev, Rajguru and Chandrashekhar Azad. What is the common thread that binds these great sons of India who marched to the gallows with a smile and an unwavering commitment to the cause of the country’s freedom? They, along with thousands of their compatriots, placed the nation before the self, valued freedom over slavery and oppression, and rose against the might of the British empire. Their lives stand as a testament to their indomitable will and the courage to practise the ideals which they preached, embodying Bhagat Singh’s immortal words that “the sword of revolution is sharpened on the whetting stone of ideas”.
India today is poised at the cusp of an unprecedented trajectory of growth. Therefore, utilising the opportunities at hand to translate their dreams into reality and drawing inspiration from the past, today’s youth must harness their energy to power the country forward. They must transcend narrow sectarianism and other divisive social barriers and be guided in their life’s journey, in a manner of speaking, by Swami Vivekananda’s stirring call, “Arise, awake and do not stop until the goal is reached”.
For one’s life to acquire substance, one must be driven by a purpose larger than oneself. Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak had wisely counselled that “each one of us will have to subordinate himself to the larger good”. There is no higher task than that of nation-building to which each individual must seek to contribute in his own way, however modest it may seem.
The freedom which we enjoy today is the result of the toil and countless sacrifices made by thousands of sons and daughters of this great nation. In committing themselves to this mission with spirit and grit, they rose above all other social divisions and barriers. This fact serves as a reminder to us that for centuries, India has been a repository of wisdom, anchored in the conviction of vasudhaiva kutumbakam (The whole world is one family). With resilience and resolve, they carried forward the torch of our great nation’s guiding philosophy, which has been the underlying message of the Rig Vedic verse, “Ekam sat, vipraah bahudhaa vadanti (Truth is one, but the sages call it by many names)”.
Let us take a moment on Martyrs’ Day to recollect the fact that our great heroes gave up their youth and sacrificed their lives to give us a better India. They were stirred by a sense of selfless nationalism. The youth of today must emulate their lives and engage themselves wholeheartedly in serving the nation while scripting the story of India’s success. As Mahatma Gandhi aptly remarked: “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” With ingenuity and innovation, the nation’s youth should chart the course of India’s development, lending impetus to the concept of vocal for local.
I would like to remind my fellow-countrymen that Gandhiji’s emphasis on khadi and village industries during the freedom struggle has special relevance today — a Bharat that is atmanirbhar or self-reliant is the Bharat of Bapu’s dreams. The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us a number of valuable lessons, foremost among them being atmanirbharta, which became synonymous with self-esteem. We saw for ourselves, how industrialists, technologists, innovators, scientists and researchers rose to the occasion with missionary zeal during the lockdown, manufacturing thousands of products from ventilators to PPE kits, from medicines to vaccines to finished products in a variety of areas. It is clear that marked by a transformed mindset, the Atmanirbhar campaign has set India firmly on the path of development and national pride.
Martyrs’ Day is an occasion to remind us of the fact that thousands of brave soldiers, some prominent, many obscure, had walked on the thorny path of resistance fighting for India’s freedom in the epic struggle spearheaded by Mahatma Gandhi. While recollecting their immeasurable contribution, and paying homage to their memory, I would like to add that it is our duty to ensure that their sacrifices have not been in vain. Their austerity, forbearance, asceticism, spirituality and self-effacing spirit of sacrifice should serve as a fountainhead of inspiration to all of us.
This article first appeared in the print edition on January 30, 2021 under the title ‘Bapu’s ideals for young India’. The writer is the Vice-President of India.