India at 60: what next?
India poised. This is what an imposing billboard tells me every day I pass it by on my way from home to my beloved college in north campus. I travel by the Delhi metro, feel proud of it and rejoice at the news that more Indian cities will soon get the gift of efficiently-run and well-maintained metro railway in the near future. The dazzling malls, impressive high-rise corporate offices and glittering multiplexes in Gurgaon and Bangalore impress Indians and visiting foreigners alike. The GDP is pegged at an all-time high of 9.2% for the current fiscal, more and more foreign companies are exploring Indian markets and finding them an attractive destination for massive, long- term investments, Indian business houses like are quadrupling profits and merrily buying out international giants, the latest example being the much in news takeover of Corus by Tata Sons, and Indians living abroad are making their presence felt in their chosen fields, be it science, medicine, business, or arts and entertainment. The green revolution has resulted in a steep rise in domestic food production and has therefore ensured that India no longer suffers the humiliation of begging the western world for poor quality food grains in order to feed its hungry millions, and has also brought India to a position where it can help other nations meet their food requirements. Health care provided by several hospitals, with exceptionally well trained and qualified medical staff and state-of-the-art technology, is at par with the best in the world. Roads are the backbone of a country’s infrastructure, and the ambitious ‘Golden Quadrilateral Project’ aims at strengthening this very backbone. Apart from ensuring faster movement of people and finished goods, this project will result in quicker transportation of agricultural produce from villages to town and will therefore benefit rural and urban development programs alike. Nehru’s brainchild, the IITs, along with IIMs and several colleges in universities across the country are counted among some of the world’s best higher education institutions. Alumni of these colleges have proved themselves to be exceptionally capable of handling positions of responsibility as teachers, administrators, political leaders, sociologists, scientists, theatre personalities, movie makers, painters, doctors, engineers, and so on, and have thus contributed positively in the emergence of post- colonial India as a strong, dynamic, confident, and increasingly self- dependent nation.
To catalogue all of India’s achievements in the past 60 years is an uphill task, as there are just so many of them. Yet, today, the position that most of us find ourselves in is one which oscillates between the two extremes of tremendous optimism about what the future holds for us and scepticism regarding our ability, as a collective force, to overcome factors which can act as potential hindrances in our path to progress. In fact while we have been enormously successful in fields as diverse as space exploration programs and the IT sector, our sense of pride at these accomplishments diminishes a bit when, a closer look at the graph of the country’s development reveals some rather discomforting, below par performance in certain key areas. Inadequate focus on primary education, especially in rural areas, has resulted in only a marginal improvement in the country’s literacy rate, which is currently 59.5%, a far cry from what can be deemed even remotely respectable. A list of individual Indian women like Ms. Indira Nooyi, Dr. Kiran Bedi, late Ms. Kalpana Chawla and Ms. Shabana Azmi who’ve disregarded gender barriers, and combined hard work, perseverance and sheer genius with certain favourable factors such as great educational opportunities and supportive families to reach the acme of achievement in their chosen fields will be a seemingly endless one. But the high rate of female foeticide and abysmal sex ratio of the country as a whole and of some of the most economically advanced states such as Punjab, Haryana and the NCR in particular, throws light on continuance of a rigidly patriarchal society in which gender bias still appears commonplace. As other aspects of life get increasingly modernized, one observes an alarming rise in the hypnotic influence of extreme right- wing groups such as the Bajrang Dal over large sections of people from all over the country. Not even the most bullish week in the history of the Bombay Stock Exchange salvages the nation’s pride when dented irreparably by such monstrous acts such as the Godhra and post- Godhra riots, or the spine- chilling burning alive of Graham Staines and his two sons by frenzied religious fanatics. Reliance’s newest petrochemical refinery might make their Jamnagar project appear child’s play, and the Tatas might declare their intentions of taking over the planets Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto tomorrow, but as long as we keep getting such interesting news through newspapers delivered to us by malnourished, half- clothed child immigrants from Bihar and eastern UP, we’ll continue to languish at an embarrassing 126th position in the Human Development Index. The inhuman beating up of peacefully protesting Honda workers in Gurgaon, the recent Nithari massacre and the brutal atrocities perpetrated by police and army in sensitive areas such as Kashmir and Manipur, all reinforce the disheartening conclusion that unless your status equals that of someone like say, the head of Adobe in India, you’ll find it tough getting recognized as someone who holds the right to demand social justice. Hyderabad might be hailed as the IT capital of the country, but this information means little to the families of those farmers from Andhra Pradesh who are driven to suicide due to failure of crops every year.
At this crucial point in time, the immortal words said by Pundit Nehru on the glorious eve of India’s independence almost sixty years ago, come back to our minds. He had also said that freedom and power brings responsibility. Today, several of us find ourselves vested with great freedom and power, and therefore, with the responsibility of bringing about a meaningful change in the lives of the less privileged majority. There are several ways of doing this. A balance needs to be achieved between say, inviting MNCs to set up base in India and ensuring that they do not violate environmental standards while building offices and factories and also provide ample compensations to the project affected persons (PAPs). To decongest big cities like Delhi and Mumbai, immigrants should be provided with enough reasons to stay back in their native states by focussing on infrastructural development in not just the metros, but also in smaller capital cities like Patna and Ranchi. Governments should dare to dream big, as dreaming big is the first step towards achieving big. There is no reason, for example, for there to be only a single AIIMS or a single Delhi University in a country of over a billion. Just as every village deserves a primary school and a dispensary, every stat in the country deserves at least one fully equipped hospital and a well- run university. Adequate funds should be poured in rural development programmes to make them attractive enough to young, energetic individuals to be able to turn their backs to the currently much more alluring prospects in bigger cities. Most importantly, the nation should strive, as a whole, to take firm stands on issues of national interest. If a government dares to misuse tax money, or chooses to do nothing to stop the mass murder of a particular community, the rest of the nation should make it clear that they won’t stand such regressive policies by voting it out of power in the next elections.
Finally, to go back to Nehruji’s words, and modify them a bit, the achievement of 60 years of independence marks not the beginning of a period of rest, but one of incessant striving, to end the poverty and ignorance of the suffering millions, to wipe every tear from every eye. And as long as we fail to realize the great visionary’s dream, our task will be deemed far from over.
India at 60: what next?