New Delhi: As India marches into its 65th year of independence, the people who fought tooth and nail for the freedom most of us take for granted feel this is not the nation of their dreams and are troubled by the all-pervading culture of corruption.
Captain SS Yadav, a 93-year-old freedom fighter who served in the Indian National Army (INA) of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, feels that the country has progressed a lot in the last six decades, but corruption too has increased exponentially.
"Corruption has bugged our administrative system badly and I really feel ashamed when youngsters ask me if we fought for the freedom to provide them a corrupt system," Yadav said.
So what does independence mean to him?
He responds promptly: "It means an opportunity to work selflessly for the nation and serve its people. But where is that seen today? Today no one can get their work done without bribery."
Octogenarian Pratima Kaushik, who spent two months imprisoned along with her two brothers in Lahore, fondly remembers moments spent in jail, fervently singing patriotic songs with the hopes of a free India.
She feels that India has got independence but people have failed to understand the real meaning of `azadi`.
"Independence is not as it should have been...there is widespread corruption and back-stabbing. Many times, I think I made a mistake in fighting for the nation and that it was not worth it," an angry Kaushik shot back.
Freedom fighters looked concerned over the ongoing debate on corruption involving senior ministers and administrative officers and supported the demand for a strong Lokpal bill.
"The scams just reinstate that in our country whoever gets a little power tends to misuse it. Who thought Kalmadi was capable of such blatant corruption? Those who exploited the public money must be sent to jail," said the 88-year-old freedom fighter Shashi Bhushan.
Bhushan emphasises that there has been so much discussion on irregularities in the Commonwealth Games but that no one demands the seizure of the money looted from the exchequer.
"Everyone fought for freedom with great enthusiasm. Today, the development we see is the fruit of that very struggle. The freedom struggle continues against communalism and corruption," says the Padma Bhushan awardee.
Bel Bahadur, 86, was only 18 when he enrolled in the INA`s Rangoon training centre.
Reminiscing about those days of the freedom struggle, he says: "A lot of sacrifices have gone into the gaining of our country`s independence and this must be always remembered."
Bahadur reflects that over the years, citizens` love for the country and patriotism have declined.
"Petty politics is the reason that today no one heeds the nation or serves its needs," he adds.