As India celebrates its 75 year of Independence there is quite a bit to rejoice about Indian sports. The Indian contingent has just come back from Birmingham after having notched up arguably its best-ever performance in the Commonwealth Games. Whatever the showing in other individual events the bottom line is how the Indians fare at these quadrennial events headed by the Olympics.

Last year, Indian sportsmen and women bagged an unprecedented seven medals at Tokyo, including an individual gold for only the second time in their Olympic history. There has also been a steady rise in the medals tally in the Asian Games and Commonwealth Games in recent years. This gives the impression that India at last has turned the corner as far as excelling in international competitions is concerned.

However, there is no denying the fact that considering its size, population and economy India is still underperforming on the big stage. The improved showing in various events in recent years might have made the mood more optimistic. Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, "the golden period of Indian sports is knocking on our doors.'' He was complimenting the Commonwealth Games squad on their fine performance at Birmingham. Last month while inaugurating the 44thChess Olympiad at Chennai he said, "there has been no better time for Indian sport than now."

One would like to think that at last in Indian sport there is a systematic programme to produce world class sportsmen and women, given the continuing progress in international events over the last decade and more. But India still has a long way to go before becoming a powerhouse in the world of sports.

Right from the time of Independence, sports was never a priority for the government, and what little that was achieved was through individual brilliance. We had Wilson Jones winning the world billiards title, Ramanathan Krishnan excelling in international tennis, KD Jadhav winning a bronze medal in wrestling at the Helsinki Olympics in 1952, and Milkha Singh making an impact on the big stage.

Hockey was one sport which the Indians excelled in. The team won the gold medal in three successive Olympics in 1948, 1952 and 1956. A legacy that actually started with the first triumph at Amsterdam in 1928.

But there was precious little to cheer about other sports, team or individual. Cricket remained the most popular sport but the team were generally the whipping boys in international cricket through the 40s, 50s and 60s.

In football there was one glorious moment at the Melbourne Olympics in 1956 when India finished fourth, coming very close to winning a bronze medal. Thereafter the least said about Indian football the better though the team remained at least an Asian powerhouse in the 60s. The current FIFA ranking of 104 sums up the status of Indian football.

As the 70s dawned things started looking up for Indian sport. Even as the hockey team's fortunes dwindled – though this was also the time they won their only World Cup title – there was improvement in other sports. Indian cricket turned the corner during the India Rubber Year of 1971. India entered the Davis Cup final in 1974 – they had earlier made the Challenge Round in 1966. Prakash Padukone emerged as one of the leading players in world badminton culminating in his triumph at the All England championships in 1980.

Michael Ferreira won the world billiards title more than once, triggering off a revolution in cue sports. Geet Sethi and Pankaj Advani dominated the world circuit in later years. In the late 80s started the chess revolution scripted by Viswanathan Anand. From one Grand Master (GM) in 1988 there are now 75 GMs in the country. Probably no sport has made more progress in India than chess.

India continued to make steady progress in both the Asian Games and Commonwealth Games with principally the athletes, boxers, shooters and weightlifters bringing in the medals. What was most disturbing was the non-performance at the Olympics. For four Olympics – 1976, 1984, 1988 and 1992 – the contingent returned empty handed.

So even as progress was being made in other sports, the cricket team was now among best in the world and has stars such as Sunil Gavaskar, Kapil Dev and Sachin Tendulkar; PT Usha broke new ground for women in athletics; and India entered the Davis Cup final again in 1987 – the continued abysmal showing in the Olympics remained a black chapter in Indian sport.

Finally in 1996 Leander Paes won a bronze at Atlanta. This was India's first individual medal for 44 years, which proved to be a turning point. Four years later at Sydney, Karnam Malleswari won a bronze in weightlifting, in 2004 Rajavardhan Singh Rathore won a silver in shooting at Athens. And finally came the moment all Indian sports fans had been waiting for. An individual gold at Beijing in 2008 won by shooter Abhinav Bindra, was the cause of much cheer.

The Beijing games turned out to be India's best ever. In addition to Bindra's gold there were also two other bronze medals, one each won by boxer Vijender Singh and wrestler Sushil Kumar. Four years later in London there were an unprecedented six medals – two silver and four bronze coming from shooting, wrestling, boxing and badminton.

There was a significant factor in the badminton bronze because it was won by Saina Nehwal. Four years later at Rio de Janeiro India's only medals came through their women participants, a silver for PV Sindhu and a bronze for Sakshi Malik.

And as has been well documented at Tokyo in the postponed Olympics held last year, there were an unprecedented seven medals, headed by the gold won by Neeraj Chopra in javelin. Two silver and four bronze stretched the tally. It was most heartening to see the Indian men's hockey team finish with a bronze, their first since their gold medal in a rather emaciated field at Moscow in 1980.

Overall then there is something to rejoice these days about Indian sport even if football continues to stick out like a sore thumb, and the fall in tennis is a matter of concern. But India has started to make a mark in several sports, and that is an encouraging sign. From the bleak scenario in the early days following Independence, Indian sport has come a long way and if there is still some way to go before they come anywhere near the powerhouses in sport one would like to think a start has been made.