SEEMA Reporter Swarnendu Biswas first wrote this story on for August 15, 2021 on the occasion of India’s Independence Day. But his story is still relevant as the country celebrates Republic Day January 26. Read his story on India’s Republic Day 2022.
India will celebrate its 75th year of independence on August 15. It was 74 years ago, on the same day in 1947, that India made a transition from colonial subjugation to freedom. It emerged as an independent nation state. Though India is a modern nation, it embodies an ancient and rich 5,000-year-old civilization in its essentially pluralistic socio-cultural fabric.
Over more than seven decades, sometimes the intrinsic values of India’s ancient civilization have complemented the growth of this modern nation and sometimes impeded it. On occasions, India of today presents the best of ancient and modern, at others it presents the worst of both. In socio-cultural terms India presents a dichotomy of sorts and there are different niche sections of India who live in different centuries (in terms of thinking and values) at the same time.
India’s Independence: Vibrant Democracy
If one looks dispassionately, one can say that almost the continued success of electoral democracy in India for more than seven decades (except for a brief period during the Emergency, between June 25, 1975 and March 21, 1977) is one of the major triumphs of post-independence India, through which it had proved many skeptics utterly wrong, including those who at the time of India’s attaining independence had predicted balkanization, fascism and anarchy for the country.
Those skeptics were not fools. In fact, many of them were remarkably intelligent and sensitive people, and they had enough reason to predict such gloomy and dangerous futures for India, considering the then socio-economic condition of the country.
Indians have managed to prove them wrong, for which not only its electorate but its political powers must also get due credit. Unlike many of its neighbors, India has successfully kept the armed forces out of its democratic process for over seven decades.
Unlike many of its neighbors, India never had fallen prey to a military coup or gone under military rule in these 74 years. Once, briefly, it faced the dark prospect of continued dictatorship, but the public rejected it fiercely in 1977.
Literacy and Income
The huge improvements in India in terms of literacy rate and per capita income since 1947 can be regarded among the biggest achievements of post-independence India. In 1947, literacy rate in India was only 12 percent. It rose to 74.04 percent in 2011 (when the last census was held). Though literacy rate growth has been sluggish in post-independence India. but still as compared to 1947 it has come a long, long way ahead in terms of literacy rate. But it should be kept in mind that India still has the highest population of illiterate people in the world.
According to the data from the National Statistical Office of the India’s Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, the per capita income in real terms (at 2011-12 prices) during 2020-21 is estimated to be Rs. 85,929 as compared to Rs. 94,566 in 2019-20, giving a growth of -9.1 percent during 2019-20. According to the same source, the per capita income at current prices during 2020-21 is estimated to be Rs. 127,768, a decline of 4.8 percent, as compared to Rs.134,186 during 2019-20.
The reason for the decline in per capita income during 2019-20 to 2020-21 doesn’t need much elaboration, but in 1947, the per capita income of India was a princely Rs.250 per year (yes, you are reading correctly). So there is no denying the fact that India’s per capita income has increased much more than significantly during these seven decades and the standard of living in India of an average Indian is much improved in 2021 as compared to the standard of living in India of an average Indian in 1947.
India’s Independence: Institutions and Industry
Another major achievement of post-independence India was building and developing of some world class institutions of higher education, such as IITs (Indian Institute of Technology), AIIMS (All India Institute of Medical Sciences), IIMs (Indian Institute of Management), ISI (Indian Statistical Institute; though ISI was established in 1931 but its glory reached its pinnacle in the 1950s), etc., where quality academic education has been disseminated at nominal cost. This over the years has made such world class institutions economically accessible to a huge section of Indian population. This has helped many underprivileged but brilliant people to get quality education and quickly move to the better side of the economic and social hierarchy and also derive name and fame in overseas.
It is unfortunate that in the recent times, the cost of higher education (even in public colleges and universities) in India has climbed up exponentially, which I am afraid would lead India to wasting many of its quality human resource potential.
Another of the great achievements of independent India is the huge investments in developing basic heavy industries during the mid 50s, which helped to develop the infrastructural backbone of India in the form of huge steel plants and dams, etc. Massive investment in developing heavy industries was the central theme of the Second Five Year Plan of India (1956-61). The plan was based on the Mahalanobis model, which was developed by the eminent Indian statistician Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis.
Green Revolution and Bank Nationalization
The Green Revolution (1966), which gave a huge impetus to India’s agricultural production and made it self-sufficient in terms of food grains through the usage of high yield variety (HYV) seeds, and extensive use of tractors, pesticides and fertilizers; The nationalization of banks (1969), which liberated the banking system of India from the control of corporate families and thus drastically reduced monopoly of capital and helped the economy grow by extending more credit to common people without the right connections, are other landmark achievements of post-independence India.
In fact, one can say nationalization of banks contributed to equitable growth in Indian economy to some extent.
Heralding India’s IT Power
The advent of massive computerization in the mid eighties, amidst stiff, unjustified opposition during the Rajiv Gandhi government, is another of the important positive developments for post-independence India, which eventually catapulted India into a huge IT power to reckon with. By the late nineties. Rajiv Gandhi, the late prime minister of India, can be easily regarded as the harbinger of information technology and telecom revolution in India.
In the recent years, digitization in India has gained further momentum, which has led to spurt in online education in India, which in turn has come as a boon in these COVID-inflicted times.
Right to Information and Livelihood
Right to Information Act, which came into force in 2005, is another of the landmark positive development in independent India. It is easily amongst one of the important legislations of India. This act empowers common citizens of India to make the high and mighty powers of the state accountable to them.
RTI is probably one of the strongest information laws in the world and it has been successful in enhancing transparency and probity in public offices in India, thereby checking post-modern India’s perpetual malaise of corruption in public offices to a large extent.
MGNREGA or Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act is another legislation of India that had a deep-rooted impact on welfare. It endeavors to enhance livelihood security in rural areas by providing at least 100 days of wage employment in a financial year to every Indian household whose adult members voluntarily consent to do unskilled manual work. However, implementing this immensely humane legislation has suffered from several pitfalls.
India’s Independence: Empowerment of Indian Women
Another noteworthy achievement of post-independence India is the vast improvement in the economic and social status of its women. Though women in India still face discrimination and abuse, there is no denying the fact that women of post-independence India have made their mark in almost every profession, ranging from boxing to the armed forces, from scientific research to entrepreneurship. Today Indian women are seen as fighter pilots and also as heading multimillion-dollar business empires.
Before 1947, the identity of Indian women was mostly confined to the four walls of the household. They were very much subjugated by patriarchy. They still are, but are thankfully emerging out of its clutches and carving a brave new world for themselves.
Pitfalls and Failures
Of course, India had its share of failures and lost opportunities too in these 74 years. One of its greatest failures is its pitiable public health infrastructure. Even today the Indian state has not been able to make quality healthcare accessible to most Indians free of cost. Without a solid public health infrastructure, the fancy terminologies of medical tourism and telemedicine make little sense for millions of Indians.
Similarly, free basic education of good quality for all children till Class XII is an elusive dream in India. Successive governments have failed miserably in achieving this essential goal.
Even basic amenities and infrastructure are often beyond the reach of a huge section of Indians, which is another shameful failure of successive governments.
Another big failure of India is its inability to remove criminalization from politics. In fact, it seems that criminalization in politics is on the rise in the country. It is alarming that more than 40 percent of members of parliament in the 2019 Lok Sabha were tainted with criminal records, an increase of 26 percent as compared to the 2014 Lok Sabha. Increasing criminalization of politics is continually lowering the essence of its electoral democracy as envisioned by the founding fathers of its constitution.
The failure to remove the spread of archaic and inhuman forces of casteism and communalism from society and politics is another big collective failure.
Despite these and many other failures and pitfalls, what is remarkable is that this modern nation, like its ancient civilization, is continually progressing without any sign of stopping. Perhaps therein lies the strength of India. It will continue to shine through laughter and tears…
Also check out last year’s piece on celebrating independence virtually