INDIAS JOURNEY THROUGH PAST FIVE DECADES
Dinkar ShuklaThe Golden Jubilee Year of the founding of the Indian Republic comes to a close on the forthcoming Republic Day. It was on this day 51 years ago that the people of India solemnly resolved to constitute India into a sovereign, democratic republic. This Republic Day will also be the first of the new century and the new millennium. As such, it offers a fitting occasion to take stock of our achievements, shortcomings and lapses. It must, however, be conceded that half a century is not long enough a period in the march of a nation, particularly, when it became a self-governing entity after two centuries of colonial rule. Any assessment, therefore, must take note of many factors, particularly what had India inherited from the British at the time of Independence. It has to be understood that what the British had left behind was a country steeped in poverty, famine, illiteracy, epidemics, caste and communal divide and a fractured land divided between India and the newly created Pakistan. The mighty task of reconstruction was further complicated by inadequate infrastructure and a small industrial base.
Yet, the 51 years journey since the founding of the Republic is an appropriate occasion to pose some questions. The first and foremost question is as to how has the Republic fared in the past half a century? Has it been able to live up to the Constitutional stipulation of securing to all citizens justice, liberty and equality of opportunity? Has it also lived up to the dream of Mahatma Gandhi to wipe out tears and hunger of the humblest of Indians?
Judged in the background of Indias inheritance and the socio-economic conditions prevailing at the start of the journey, its performance key areas would certainly be termed as creditable. Its achievements on the developmental front are enormous. Today, it can boast of an impressive infrastructure, a formidable industrial base and a self-reliant economy.
Judging our progress, however, in the context of constitutional stipulations and the Gandhian dream, it must be acknowledged that India has still a long way to go. The contrast is best summed up by the Prime Minister, Shri Atal Behari Vajpayee, in his recent "Musings from Kumarakom" when he observes: I am filled with pride and disappointment in equal measures when I look back at free Indias journey through the past five decades". He makes no secret of his distress that millions of people still do not have enough to eat and proper roofs to sleep under. Many have to suffer for the lack of basic needs, such as drinking water, medical care and educational opportunities.
At the same time, he underlines that he has reason to be proud of Indias considerable achievements which need not be belittled. He has taken particular pride in the fact that we have been successful in preserving the two ideals that are most precious to us the unity of India and our democratic system. Indeed, few countries in the world facing the kind of challenges of development and governance that India does have so steadfastly continued on the democratic path. Similarly, few multi-religious, multi-lingual and multi-ethnic societies in the world have presented such an exemplary demonstration of unity in diversity as India has done. This is not to overlook some periodic troubles, lapses and instances of intolerance. But the point to make is that the Indian people have learnt to overcome the shocks and live together with renewed faith. It is a tribute to the founders of the Constitution that India, unlike most Third World countries, is still a functioning democracy where rules are accountable to the legislature, where the Press is free ad unfettered and the judiciary fiercely independent. Elections are by and large free, fair and impartial.
Returning to the development theme, our achievements are enviable. Ours is a self-reliant economy and we are self-sufficient in food-grains production. If anything, the food stocks are bulging. Yes, thanks to the green revolution, the untiring labour of our farmers and vision of our planners that has made it possible. We have built up a scientific base of considerable proportion. Our pool of scientific and tehnological manpower is among the largest and the best in the world.
India has made remarkable advances in developing its own industrial-military complex and in pursuing its defence development with self-reliance. Today, India is capable of launching its own rockets and missiles. To peak it all, it has successfully conducted a series of highly complex nuclear tests. Not long ago, the former US Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, had observed that India could not be ignored as a power in the international system of tomorrow. France has acknowledged that a multi-polar world is emerging with China, India, Russia and Europe challenging the present world order in which the United States is the sole superpower.
Indias economy is growing at a faster rate today than ever before. It was no mean achievement that the country took recurring oil crises in its strides. And now, liberalisation is unshackling its economy and thereby, letting loose the creative energies of its people. Some sections of influential western media have already forecast that India is the emerging "Asian Tiger". It is said that at present rate of economic growth, India will be one of the leading economies of the world in two decades. Observers outside India assess that it will be one of the six power centres along with the United States, the European Union, China, Japan and Russia. As for reservations in certain sections about reforms and liberalisation, the Prime Minister has himself assured the country that the Government will take necessary measures to protect the national interests against unfair trade and investment practices from outside.
Side by side with our significant achievements, it is also to be noted hat there have been lots of shortcomings and weaknesses. The 51 years story is one of the continuous co-existence of democracy and poverty. It is also a story of declining integrity in public life. A story of high level of illiteracy, unemployment, ill health and social evils. Though the literacy percentage has jumped to 62 per cent, the fact remains that 38 per cent of our people fall in the category of illiterates. As many as 3.8 crore children are not able to go to school. A survey reveals that this is in spite of the fact that an overwhelming number of parents in rural areas want their children to be educated.
Similarly, justice is slow. Land reforms have not been carried to their logical end. Food production is stagnating after reaching a plateau. No breakthrough has yet been made in bringing down the birth rate. None other than President K R Narayanan had noted in his last Republic Day eve address that benefits of our economic growth are yet to reach millions of our countrymen. He also noted that the greatest drawback is the status of our women and our greatest national shame the condition of down-trodden.
During the past five decades India faced many critical situations, numerous challenges, conspiracies and four external aggressions. What is posing the most serious challenge to the body politic today is the rise of terrorism and insurgency. Cross-border terrorism has assumed the form of a proxy war. India is left with no choice but to stay alert and be ever prepared to face any eventuality.
As for the future, India has set its goal of joining the ranks of developed countries in the next two decades. It means that by 2020 AD we must rid ourselves of poverty, hunger and malnutrition and accelerate social and economic development. A "Vision document-2020" released at the recent session of the Indian Science Congress affirms that this is possible by promoting growth through efficient and sustainable use of our human, natural and other resources.
Five thrust areas have been identified to achieve the goal of becoming a developed country. These are agriculture and food processing, reliable and quality electric power, education and health care, information technology and other strategic sectors. What is needed is that we build upon our strong points. These are talented manpower, natural resources, large infrastructure, design and software. According to Dr A P J Abdul Kalam, Principal Scientific Adviser to the Government the cherished dream can and will be realised when the challenges underlying the thrust areas are tackled in a mission mode. The Republic Day is a fitting occasion to start addressing ourselves to these challenges.