INDIA @70: A Journey Indeed!
70 years is a long enough time in a nation’s journey for an analyst to sit back and analyze how far the nation has reached from the point from where it started. In the case of India, one can surely say that as a nation India has managed to reach great heights from where it started. And the start was certainly not a great one when India was getting freedom after two centuries of being a ‘jewel’ in the crown of the British empire which was exploited in every way possible in the 200 years of British Raj.
It was the summer of 1947 and the news of partition had already reached the masses. India was going to be divided into two on its north-western borders and in the east. The state of Pakistan was to be carved out of India as the leaders of Muslim League were apprehensive about the future of Muslims in India which would be dominated by Hindus in years to come. Amidst the shock, anger, sadness and panic, India became independent as a sovereign nation-state on the midnight of August 15, 1947.
The country which used to be a leader in world’s GDP when the Britishers set their foot in India went on to become one of the poorest states in the world due to ‘systemic’ and ‘systematic’ exploitation of the British Raj. Only 11% of the 330 million Indians were literate when the country got independence. The real challenge started now for this nascent nation as it witnessed the ‘horrors of partition’. The partition was one of the bloodiest chapters not only in the Indian history, but the world history. Over a million died in the riots that took place due to partition, thousands of women were raped, countless became orphaned and many were left homeless.
The pain and the agony of both Hindus and Muslims was huge. Both sides blamed the other for excesses and it would had been an easier task for Congress government led by Jawaharlal Nehru to side with the Hindus, the religious community he belonged to. But he and his party-men under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi took the difficult but the right step of being committed to the idea of India being a secular nation. They couldn’t let India become a Hindu Pakistan, a state made purely on religious lines.
At that very moment, the founding fathers of this nation were also sitting and doing the difficult task of making the constitution for the country. It was a pretty tedious task and it took almost three years to be completed. Under the brilliant leadership of Dr. B R Ambedkar, who was the chairman of drafting committee of constituent assembly, the constitution was ready by 26th November, 1949. Exactly two months later i.e on 26th January, 1950, the constitution came into work and India became a new republic.
Two years later in 1952, the first general elections were held in the country. It was to become one of the largest democratic elections in the world as now, every adult had the right to vote. India had adopted universal adult suffrage, which looks so normal as one sees it now but then it was a very big thing, almost unimaginable that every adult would have a right to vote and the value of each one’s vote would be equal, no matter whether one is rich or poor.
The new nation soon started on the path of development. The national income which was absolutely stagnant during the British era was now rising with each passing year. Every year, a national building project would start; big dams were built for the generation of electricity. They were called as the ‘temples of modern India’. Many steel plants were built, the seeds of many great institutions were sown in this era.
India was looking to find its place in international politics too and was considering by many nations as the leader of the third world nations. India played a significant part in the Non-Alignment Movement just within a decade after its independence. For a huge nation like India, it was but natural to find its place among big powers in the international system by asserting its position and role in the system.
By early 1960s, India had already fought two wars with two of its neighbours; Pakistan and China in 1948 and 1962 respectively. Winning the first one and losing the second. By this time, the government started focusing to build India’s atomic program along with Indian space program. This was an effort in the direction to become a big power in the coming future. Both the programs were for peaceful purposes as India made its stand clear on the policy of ‘no-first use’.
In the span of six years, India again fought two wars with Pakistan. Both in 1965 and 1971, Indian army showed its strength. The 1971 victory was a decisive one for India and has gone down in the annals of history as India liberated ‘East Pakistan’ from Pakistan rule, which later became Bangladesh. By now, India had shown its ‘intentions’ and ‘capabilities’ as a state. Though, in the economic front, India was facing many challenges. Agriculture output was low as compared to India’s rising population.
Soon, India tasted the success of ‘Green Revolution’ which more or less solved the problem of shortage of food. Other than that, White Revolution and Yellow Revolution were also implemented to ensure the availability of milk and pulses to the masses effectively. Under the socialist policies of Congress government, an attempt was made to nationalize 14 banks in 1969 as the banking sector was not working rapidly enough in spreading credit availability across the country.
The year 1974 became another turning point in India’s history as India conducted its first successful nuclear test under the project ‘Smiling Buddha’. The very next year was to become one of the lowest points in the Indian democracy when on 25th June 1975, a ‘national emergency’ was set in motion by the then prime minister Indira Gandhi. The 21 month long emergency suspended all the civil rights of people, right to freedom was snatched, media was censored; journalists were jailed, politicians were imprisoned and students were sent behind bars.
The people of India replied back by throwing the congress party from power in 1977 when fresh elections were recalled. For the first time, a non-congress government came to power due to sheer will of the people of India who rejected the 21 months emergency out rightly. A black chapter in Indian democracy ended. By this time, Indian constitution had been amended 50 times. The very important 42nd amendment was enacted and the words ‘socialist’ and ‘secular’ were added to the preamble of the Indian constitution.
India continued on its path of development as it was excelling in many fields. India had lauched its first satellite Aryabhata (named after the famous Indian mathematician) in 1975 which immensely helped Indian in the field of telecommunications. By early 1980s, Bollywood and Cricket had captured the imagination of the nation as the two primary sources of entertainment.
While on one hand, India managed to win the Cricket World Cup in 1983 amidst all odds, the Bollywood industry was becoming the marker of India’s ‘soft power’ across the world. Indian movies were watched and admired by a large international audience. During this period, India hosted the Asian Games for the second time in 1982, the first one was hosted in 1951. At this juncture, colour television came to India and changed the landscape of Indian TV industry.
By the end of 1980s, India was shifting its focus to become a technological powerhouse. Sensing the need of the hour, the government focused its attention in the arena of ‘information technology’ and as a result, the age of ‘computers’ had arrived. In the political spectrum, massive changes had started to appear. Single party governments were then replaced by ‘coalition governments’ at the center and Indian economy was in a state of great turnmoil by the start of 1991.
India was deep in the ‘balance of payments’ crisis. The crisis was solved through Liberalization, Privatization and Globalization (LPG reforms) of the Indian economy. For the first time, Indian markets were completely open for foreign investors. This brought a sea of change in Indian economy which has now moved from the old system of ‘License Permit Quota Raj’. The decade of 90s was a ‘paradigm shift’ for the nation because the effects of LPG reforms could be seen on every sector of Indian economy which affected Indian polity and society as well.
By the end of the last millennium, India became an economic power to be reckoned with. The government of India decided to become a nuclear power as well. In 1998, India declared itself a ‘nuclear power’ nation after conducting successful nuclear tests at Pokhran. The very next year in 1999, India was facing Pakistan for the fourth time for a war in Kargil. India again showed its supremacy over its arch rival by driving them away from Kargil.
The new millennium came up with new challenges for India. India became a victim of terrorism as Indian parliament came under attack in December 2001. Throughout the decade, numerous terrorist attacks happened in the country, the most prominent being the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, which happened on 26th November 2008. But such cowardly attacks couldn’t deter India to grow both economically and internationally.
As a society, Indians become mature. The last decade would be remembered for two great things. Firstly, the Right to Information Act (RTI) and secondly, MNREGA (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural employment Guarantee Act). Both these acts immensely empowered the masses. While the RTI gave an opportunity to people of India to know what the government is doing for them, MNREGA guaranteed employment for atleast 100 days.
As the decade came to an end, India’s outlook had grown in the arena of foreign policy. India managed to have friendly relations with all the big powers. The Indo-US Civil nuclear agreement was a result of good Indo-US relations. The second decade of 21st century brought a new change in the way civilians resisted against the government and on various issues related to democracy.
Indian people came out on streets to protest against corruption by the government to the issue of women being raped in the national capital. Civil society movements gained momentum in the first half of this decade. The year 2014 is another major point in Indian history, as for the first time a non-congress government with a clear majority came into power in the parliament. BJP, under the leadership of Narendra Modi is now in power for more than three years. A lot has happened in the last three years. From the foreign policy initiatives taken by the Indian government to a public debate on sensitive issues like secularism and nationalism, India has certainly matured as a democracy where people genuinely like to debate and dissent.
To sum up, the last 70 years have been a beautiful journey for a nation whom many great powers were not giving a chance that it can maintain its freedom and sovereignty. India showed the world its place in the international system and continues to keep moving ahead for a better future.
(Martand Jha is a Junior Research Fellow at School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi)