Seventy-four years on, we have come a long way. An amusing and arduous journey indeed. Today is a moment to pause and to reflect on the journey so far, its triumphs and travails. Through the seven decades, at times, we inched ahead with tepidity, and at other times we marched with caution, and yet there were times we galloped with bravado. We had our share of strife, struggles and success, as we trudged along, to reach where we are today. The path had its share of twists and turns, due to domestic and international political climate, due to natural factors as well as due to the mood of its citizens of that period. As any human life should be, it was imperfectly perfect. And now we are here – safe, alive, and kicking – what next?
Looking back and to learn from history is particularly important to move ahead. Today is an excellent opportunity to introspect beyond the glorious sacrifices of our freedom fighters and start looking at our journey as Free India – from birth to present. The toddler years, adolescence, angry young adult, mid-life crisis, purple-patch 50s, to where we now – wiser 74y old, with experience, wisdom, with creaking bones and the crankiness. This is the complete all-in-one package. That is the 74-year-old India today.
Public memory is short, and distractions are many. It is time we remember and acknowledges our own post-independence era as much as what freedom fighters who brought us freedom. Since 1947, the freedom fighters are long gone, handing us a baby and the baby we nurtured to date.
Each era was significant and built its own foundation for the next level. We elected our representatives who helped shape and sculpt her for the future. It was a relay race – at times we ran faster than we expected, at times we caught up, and other times we were slower than we wished. But run ahead we did, decade to decade, generation to generation, passing the baton to the next, propelling forward, forging ahead with each passing decade.
Soon after birth in the late 40s, as a new-born, we built a democratic country starting with writing the Constitution that was finally adopted in 1951’s. This is despite the massive civil wars, the world’s largest repatriation in history, the enormous influx of refugees, combining and united the hundreds of fragmented kingdoms. To unite all of them under one flag and a Union of India, was a task we accomplished well. We managed all these with fair success even if we were a new-born.
And very soon, we faced a massive crisis in food, and we managed food self- sufficiency via a Green Revolution through the late 1950s all the way up to 60s. On foreign policy, we started taking leadership with Non-Alignment in a post-war-world. The 50s and 60s saw us focus on education and scientific thinking. We built institutes of higher-learning – IIT/ IISc / ISRO /REC – and concentrated on space research. In 1961 these institutions being declared institutes of national importance.
Ironically, we seemed to have missed the need for free primary and secondary education, although somewhere all the way even to date. These robust foundations in higher education by our ancestors laid the groundwork for much of the pride we have today, 50 years later. A legacy of sorts, these eminent institutions have created a diaspora of illustrious Indians leading trillion-dollar enterprises like Alphabet, Microsoft and Pepsi, heads of nations and lawmakers across the world. The foundation of 60s that laid the foundation for India’s technology dominance in the 1990s and 2000s to the present.
In the 70s, we saw nationalisation of banks and abolition of the privy purse that helped put the money directly in the hands of government and people. Another spectacular success was the Operation Flood for milk self-sufficiency. The ‘white revolution’ empowered village communities like no other, directly providing livelihoods to millions of citizens dependent on Agriculture. Soon, this was scaled across the nation and helped the entire village communities come together as cooperatives and helping the distribution of milk across the country.
We freed Bangladesh and gave her hope. We also had our tryst for a couple of years of going astray with an emergency but quickly recoupled and claimed our democracy
The 80s saw mature adulthood with its own fun and challenges – the manufacturing revolution made us understand our own cars and automobiles. The telecom revolution brought telephones into every street corner and a few homes in each street. We have the money to host international sports events like Asiad and colour televisions invaded houses. Those were the days when the next generation was connected to the roots and community viewing with Ramayana and Mahabharat’s on tv that united the country as never before. On national security, we had great difficulty thwarted the demand for Khalistan. Still, we ended up doing a not not-so-good-a-job on with Kashmiri Pandits having to leave their own homes. The unrest was not just on heaven on earth. We had a Khalistan operation in Punjab, Kashmir militancy in Jammu and Kashmir, Bodo in the East and LTTE problem in our neighbouring Srilanka. This possibly was the most defining decade in Indian history. We seem to have done some right, and some not so well and lost two prime ministers assassinated with bullets and bombs. Ironically, this was the decade when India was neck-neck with the China economy, and we briefly surged were ahead of China’s GDP in 1987-88.
The 1990s started tumultuously with misfiring on all three cylinders economic, social, and religious fronts. Fresh out of Mandal agitations that burnt and divided the country into caste lines much as it tried to do the exact opposite – unite the country as give constitutional guarantees for oppressed and lower caste. Soon we were gutted on the economic front and the early 1990s we shifted gears on the economy and never looked back on that front. The citizens were empowered economically in the 1990s, and we also knew we found vigour and brute power within. The early 90s also triggered religious majoritarianism and fanaticism that provoked a few unfortunate events that pretty much wedged the divide on religious lines. The 1990s changed the direction of India socially, economically, and on religious lines permanently. We ended the decade molarity with a strong demonstration of nuclear capability.
The 2000s saw us firmly entrenched on the world stage in technology with the Y2K leadership. Bangalore became a noun recognized globally before becoming a verb. Indian start-ups and service industry boomed while Indian origin Venture Capitalists started taking charge of investments in the Silicon Valley. 20-40% of US technology forces were Indians, and that began establishing our soft power across the world. India was a force to reckon with in the world. Domestically we brought tens of millions out of poverty, empowered hundreds of millions of citizens with the Right to education, Right to information and Right to work. These fundamental changes that we fought for and gave us the potential to alter the entire next decade and the next generation of citizens if implemented well. The later part of the decade saw global pandemics like SARS and H1N1, and we, fortunately, avoided any long-term impact.
From the 2010s till today, we see a resurging confident India, a formidable force globally. A counterbalance to China, the decade started with citizen movement across the country that fought for liberty and equality of women. We also saw that renascent Indians coming together to fight against corruption that has been plaguing our society over the decades. These were early days of social media, and 24×7 media helped amplify the message to build momentum at a large scale. The policy frameworks and visionary plans in direct cash transfer, clean India, housing for all, rural electrification and MNREGA and land reforms took shape in the early part of the decade. Aided by Internet, low-cost telephony and high bandwidth communication, those plans would become a reality in the latter half by extending the banking system for the poor on a large scale. We have been able to stitch all the past work together with new messaging that invigorated the languid of citizens. The Internet helped with the new packaging of messages through new channels and distribution networks. Many ‘family name’ based schemes were rebranded with generic nationalistic names for a modern appeal—this stuck chord with citizens being involved in governance in the nation yet again.
When COVID created havoc across the world, the Indians showed extraordinary resilience to COVID19. Much as the disease spread, the fatality rates were low – not because of the government but despite them. The 74-year-old nation has learnt and demonstrated the strength as a nation. Their immunity, food habits of good hygiene and practices of the thousand years had possibly stood in good stead.
Things were not that bad before 1947, and yet, we fought the British for our freedom as people. British India had had roads, trains, buses, and infrastructure, yet we wanted to be free as a nation, one people. We wanted to be free as citizens and open as a democracy.
The way forward
As we celebrate independence in 2020, the needle has moved, a new generation is hungry for bigger action. The recent generation may have seldom heard or may have forgotten the journey of travails of their 74-year-old but the challenges in front of them today are uniquely similar. This is a new-independence movement of sorts.
We may be connected to the world 1 GBps data connections, 48 mega-pixel flashy camera phones. Our fellow Indians could be CEOs of the world’s largest companies. But we must not forget our beginnings and our journey.
- Our grandparents and parents walked miles and to attend school. 74 years later, millions do not have even have access to school or affordable, high-quality education.
- The mortality rate in pre-independent India was extremely high due to the lack of adequate heath. 74 years later, thousands die each day unable to get the timely or affordable hath care. The society is divided on the case and social and religious lines.
- The later part colonial rule started showing fractures with corruption across. Today corruption has plagued the society so much that not just citizens, but our elected representatives are traded for a few hundred crores each, making a mockery of the entire election process and thus the foundations of the democracy.
- The British did not hold any elections and imposed their views without citizen participation. Today, seven decades of elections are manipulated and rigged through non-transparent electoral funding and the crores required to get a ticket.
- Barring few, there was no free media during the British Raj. 74 years the compromise on our media is 100% complete and possibly at a point of no return.
- A fair judiciary for the c’mon people did not exist in the colonial days. Today 70 years later, our judiciary is corrupt to the bone and has become a mouthpiece of the rich and powerful; The poor must wait a lifetime to get justice.
- The future is left to us again. We are witnessing a generational shift. The institutions of repute are being compromised. We seem to be blinded by nationalism and disdain of the past.
A change is essential to recognize ourselves as freedom fighters of 2020. We must absorb the good of what our ancestors stood for – their determination and grit. We must not allow the same mistakes to happen again. A British rule must not be replaced by an equally overbearing elected government under the garb of democracy. And we cannot keep glossing over the past without a vision of the future, we will be responsible for what happens in the future—we and no one else to blame, not us.
Freedom was not born at midnight on August 15, 1947. It was preceded with of profound struggle to be free as a nation. It was untiring effort of freedom fighters. Today 74 years later, despite all the success we are at a stage in history, where we are not watchful of the reasons for freedom. We are frittering away our hard-fought freedom.
Is this the India that we fought for? Is this the India that your ancestors wanted to see? Are our people and people’s representatives doing justice to what our ancestors fought for? Is there a freedom struggle you can take part in right now? This is the question that should haunt you as we move to the 75th year of Indian independence.
This is what keeps me awake at night. What about you? Happy Independence Day.