Citizen Responsibility: Invoking the Sacred

My fellow Indians,

Unless you are living on another planet you have all probably heard, read, watched most of the news and analyses there is about the recent bold step introduced by the Government of India led by Prime Minister Modi. Yes, I am speaking of the demonetisation of the large currency notes (of the denomination of 500 and 1000). A lot has been said, written, analysed, re-analysed, criticized, doubted and questioned about this momentous decision and the way of its execution. Nothing new can be said there.

But I wish to bring to your attention just one thing, something, I, as an ordinary citizen, believe to be the most under-appreciated and perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the way this decision was presented to the nation. And that one thing was said clearly and powerfully in the Prime Minister’s address to the nation on November 8, 2016. By speaking of that one thing, he once again demonstrated how a well-intentioned leader can raise the bar of political discourse. And also do much more.

Let me explain. 

In a democracy, most astute leaders and politicians when speaking of citizen participation and citizen responsibility, speak of it as a moral-ethical ideal. Of course, in India there are still many politicians who hardly ever speak of such a thing because they continue to follow the old ‘royalty’ model, in which the ‘rulers’ rule over the ‘ruled’, and in which the rulers from time to time handout doles and such things to keep their voter base satisfied, for at least some time, that is until the next election cycle. 

But those who do speak of the ways an ordinary citizen can contribute to the work of nation-building, they invoke the ideal of citizen participation as a fundamental basis of a good democratic system. They try to speak to that part of the listener’s mind which is moved to action (even if it just means lending support and approval) by the moral-ethical notion of doing the right thing. Fair enough. 

What Prime Minister Modi was able to do – at least in my opinion – through his address to the nation on November 8 was something of an entirely different nature. He invoked the sacred dimension of citizen participation in the work of nation-building by appealing to something deeper in a listener’s heart. That’s how at least I heard that part of the speech. 

He spoke of the short-term inconveniences that some people may have to bear because of the discontinuation of Rs.500 and Rs.1000 currency notes. He spoke of the difficulties some financial institutions may have to face in the coming days as they try to help their customers and at the same time get their systems updated and reconfigured. He spoke of the sacrifices people will need to make for the long-term benefit that is possible because of this one step. And when he spoke of sacrifice, he reminded the nation of some real stories of real sacrifices ordinary citizens have made for the good of the country.

The PM chose to focus on stories of people who made personal sacrifices, even at the cost of inconvenience, with this keen aspiration that their sacrifice be a contribution to the larger work of nation-building. Such a sacrifice, such an offering has a sacred dimension to it. It is sacred because of the purity of the aspiration behind it. It is sacred because it comes from a place much deeper than simply the moral-ethical layer of the mental being. It comes from a place of love. Love for the country. Love for the fellow Indian. Love for the work that must be done.  

The Prime Minister appealed to the citizens to make an āhuti (offering) into the yagna (sacrificial ritual) of India’s ongoing fight against terrorism, corruption, black money and fake currency. The inconvenience people may have to bear for sometime is that āhuti, that sacred offering, that sacred work that must be done by the citizen, by one who wishes to see and work toward a better India.

This sacred dimension makes all the difference in the way we look at our work. It can be any work, our daily work – personal or professional, work as a social being, work as a nation’s citizen, any work at all. When we invoke the sacred in our work, we raise it to a whole other dimension, add a whole other, a higher meaning and purpose to it. The vibration of the being engaged in such a work – physical, mental or any work involving any part of our being – is of a different quality. The person doing the work can become conscious and aware of this subtle qualitative difference, and so can the one with whom or for whom the work is being done.

The subtle difference created by invoking the sacred dimension of all our work brings the necessary peace to the mind which would otherwise keep bringing up all kinds of doubts or questions such as – why do I have to do this work? what will be its outcome anyway? what difference will it make for anyone? what’s in there for me? why can’t I do it some other time? why go through all this trouble? what shortcut can I take to finish it fast? what if I skip this part of the task and get it done earlier? why should I be inconvenienced? what and how can I manipulate so that I don’t have to go through all this trouble? why can’t someone else do it? what is really the need for doing it? etc etc. This (and more) is what the Bhagavad Gita says, is work of tamasic quality. 

By invoking the sacred-ness of any inconvenience some citizens may have to go through for a short while as things get stabilized in a few days’ time with the supply of new currency notes in circulation, Prime Minister Modi did two things. First, he once again raised the bar of the political discourse (something he has successfully done many a times through his speeches on various occasions, I wrote about one particular example here). Second, and more importantly, he also raised the level of citizen role and responsibility several notches above the way we typically are used to seeing.

This is what makes all the difference in leadership, I think. Leaders not only inspire and encourage the people to do their best — that is important no doubt, but that is not all. A good leader also inspires each individual in the mass of people to get in touch with that which is highest, the most sacred, in himself or herself and then act from there. 

It is very easy for a cynical mind to pooh-pooh all this talk of sacrifice and offering, and see it all as merely a wordsmithery of an orator, or worse, the usual rhetoric of a clever politician. But that is a choice of analysis made by such a cynical mind. I, on the other hand, choose to see it differently. I see it as a reminder to invoke the sacred in whatever little contribution the humblest and the most ordinary citizen can make toward the larger work of nation-building. I see it as a reminder to see that the sacred is not separate from the secular, and that by ignoring the sacred dimension of our citizen participation we only end up going deeper into the shallowness of frustration, cynicism, hypocrisy and snobbery. The choice, as always, is ours. 

I close with these words of Sri Aurobindo, from a speech he delivered in January 1908 during his active revolutionary days.

“Nations do not prosper without self-sacrifice…. The self-respect of the nation is our religion, self-sacrifice is our only action or duty. We ought to give proper scope for the divine qualities in us to shine forth. Trifling emotions ought to be given up.” (Sri Aurobindo, speech delivered on 31st January, 1908)


Your fellow Indian

This post was re-published on the popular portal India Facts:

31 thoughts on “Citizen Responsibility: Invoking the Sacred

Add yours

    1. Thanks, Chaitali. This was really a heart-felt writing for me, because this decidion really seemed to me the right thing to do given the way things are in our country at the moment. I am glad many readers connected so well with the thought expressed in this post.


  1. I think it has become fashionable to find something wrong in everything that our Prime Minister does. People cannot see beyond their hatred and dislike. If you ask them the reason, they will go back to 2002. And as far as I have seen, they know nothing about 2002 as well.
    I agree with everything you have written here, Beloo. We as citizens have responsibilities and I feel happy to be included in this by the PM. It is as if even I’m contributing to something good for my country which I otherwise can’t and even don’t. I hope people read sane voices like yours and try to see beyond their political and apparent ‘moral’ dislikes.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh I agree, Naba. If you want to look liberal and cool at this time in India, all you have to do is say/write something against the PM and voila! It is silly that most people who keep on abusing the PM don’t even bother to look up all that research that exists around the 2002 events. But then facts aren’t important when it comes to living with prejudice and hate!

      Anyway, I agree with this point completely that by making this a people’s participatory movement, the PM has won many many hearts and raised the meaning of democratic participation. It is amazing how despite so much stringent and hateful nonsense and rumour mongering by opposition politicians and media more than 80% public are still with the PM and see the value of this critical decision. India is indeed waking up! That’s all I can say.

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment.


  2. Love the way you have articulated your thoughts on PM’s inspiring leadership, Beloo. Prime Minister Modi’s historic move will definitely have a bearing on the economy as a whole, and is only for the nation’s good.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Shilpa! Glad you enjoyed the post. I agree much good will come out of this one important decision. But then I also think that this is just the beginning and many more steps are yet to be taken in this “clean-up India” drive. Let us hope and pray the best for our motherland.


  3. Beautifully written. I totally agree with what you say. I loved the PM’s speech as always and the sincerity cannot be missed. We cannot change the cynical mind because it has decided to hate this one person. I agree with Naba says, everything gets rewound to 2002. When they could tolerate the demon of a Congress I don’t understand the high moral standards they have for Modi.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Uma for your generous praise. I was quite moved by this speech also, and like you could really feel the sincerity in his words.

      As for those who keep going back to 2002, I don’t even know what to tell them since they really aren’t willing to listen 😦


  4. Absoluyely Beloo..and I cannot agree with you more on this..I am just back from the bank doing the deposits and exchange and when I got to hold the new notes , I felt euphoric for the first time- for being part of a honesty building exercise that is surely going to change the way our country will be in a short term and doing my bit as a responsible citizen!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Sunita for the optimism in your comment 🙂 I like the way you speak of honesty-building exercise. Indeed by being a small part of this exercise we build upon our self-esteem as a citizen of this nation. It is heartening to see such mass support for this decision despite all the rumour mills and propaganda by some corrupt politicians and the sold-out media.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. When I went out yesterday and the day before, I couldn’t find a single person complaining. Particularly yesterday when I went to the bank to deposit the cash my maid had wanted me to change for her. She had just got her salaries from her houses some days earlier – all in big notes. Plus some stashed away money of her own.

    The branch had run out of cash and there was a long queue of people waiting to deposit the money nevertheless in to their accounts. The bank staff seemed animated and excited to be participating. The autowala who took me there asked me if he could withdraw his money with a cheque after depositing it into his account. I heard not a single voice complaining anywhere – on the roads, in shops or in clusters of people chatting at the dhaba.

    You are right. When the PM had appealed to the citizens, he evoked a participatory response from the citizens. But yes, there are the Kejriwals, Mamtas and Ragas who are fanning dissention as they see themselves upstaged and their sources drying up. They will stoop to any extent to discredit the government and the PM.

    As always, the words of Sri Aurobindo you have shared strike true over a century later.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Zephyr for sharing your experience. Sometimes I think the only people really complaining are those who would anyway complain about everything in life 🙂 And of course those politicians and media stars whose careers and fame depended on black money and illegal ways of acquiring cash! It is really amazing to see how much support the PM’s move has among ordinary Indian masses, despite the inconvenience some people have to go through because of the logistical reasons of implementation. But the fact that more than 80% people are so strongly behind this decision says a lot about how this one thing has raised up a new optimism and hope among Indian masses. Such energy is bound to bring great dividends in the years and decades to come. Praying and hoping the best for India!


  6. I commend him for this bold decision, and other changes he’s made. However, I am skeptical about how much real change would India go though, considering that corruption is in our veins!

    Hope for the best though…somebody has at least dared to make a difference!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Alok for sharing your perspective. I join you in this hope and prayer for our country, may she achieve the heights she deserves in the years and decades to come!

      But I am not sure I agree with this idea of corruption being in our veins 🙂 Sure there is something in the lower human nature which makes it difficult to get rid of all corruption – but that is a universal trait, not just Indian. As for why there is systemic corruption in a society, discussing that would take many blog posts, so I simply share this article with you for an alternative perspective.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I absolutely agree. First things first, which other PM in the country has addressed the nation via so many channels? Like we always appreciate others, we need to appreciate what’s happening within the country. It’s easy to criticize and find faults but was there any other way to weed out corruption?
    I have never been a BJP/Modi supporter for reasons known to the world but there has been work and if there is good work, why should I complain? Thanks Beloo for writing about this and sharing Sri Aurobindo’s words.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks, Parul for your honest and heartfelt comment. It is this kind of honesty and open-ness of an average Indian which is behind the massive support this decision of the PM has received among the public. I wish our antagonistic media and corrupt politicians in the opposition would wake up and smell the winds of change. India is indeed waking up, people want to feel the spirit of action, the dynamism of change. Sure there may be temporary setbacks, some misfires, but to do nothing and keep complaining that the system is bad, bad, bad – it is something most Indians aren’t willing to accept anymore.

      Liked by 2 people

  8. What an outstanding move by the PM. And yes by asking the citizen to participate, he has ensured that the move will have the support of the common man. Yes, there is inconvenience but then a measure of this scale is bound to cause some inconvenience. For the sake of the nation, we all will tolerate some hardship.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes indeed, for the sake of our motherland such inconveniences aren’t worth any complaining, I feel. I just wish our mediawallahs and those corrupt politicians would grow up and develop at least some common sense and see how they are fighting a losing battle when more than 80% of Indians are behind this move despite some initial hardship. But I suppose that’s too much to expect from such selfish sections of the society!
      Thanks, Rachna!


  9. Seven quick things we have learned about India in the days following the demonetisation move:

    1. There is plenty of goodwill and cooperating spirit among Indian masses.
    2. There is no shortage of creative on-the-spot-thinking necessary to work through immediate and temporary problems.
    3. There is a great desire among the majority of Indians (regardless of class, caste, creed) to make things better for all Indians.
    4. There is an easy willingness to sacrifice short-term convenience for a long-term gain, if the cause feels right and fair.
    5. There is a bubbling energy and dynamism among the majority of Indians that when channelised in the right direction is the nation’s biggest resource.
    6. There is a uniquely Indian way of doing things which though may take a bit of time but is very effective in revealing the hypocrisy of those who had created a false image of themselves as champions of this or that cause.
    7. There is no shortage of economists in the country.


  10. This made me feel all warm and fuzzy. What a man our PM is. Future generations will envy us for we lived in the times of giants like Modi and APJ Kalam.

    PM Modi has an unerring talent to raise the bar- on your thought process, your behavior and on your pet peeves. That is exactly the kind of leadership the world needs.

    I just search for and watched the DeMo address to the nation last year. And I’m impressed afresh!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes that was quite an address! Last year I hadn’t watched it ‘live’ but when I did watch it the next day I could see why there was such a reaction/response from both the supporters and the critics. He really has a way of inspiring people to do/be at their best, but of course the openness has to be there in the listener as well. Because there are several who remain closed, or rather choose to keep their minds either due to a blind belief in their ideologies or narrow self-interest.

      Glad this post made you warm and fuzzy 🙂


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