India at 75: Looking back to look ahead - Hindustan Times
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India at 75: Looking back to look ahead

Aug 13, 2022 06:12 PM IST

India at 75 is a time to assess our successes and failures, but also to ask what sort of country have we become. These are not issues that can yield definitive answers. Each person is likely to have his own and for him, it’s the correct one.

On August 15, India will celebrate 75 years of Independence. It’s an occasion to assess our successes and failures as a nation, but also to ask what sort of country have we become. These are not issues that can yield definitive answers. Each person is likely to have his own and for him, it’s the correct one. In that spirit, let me share my thoughts. If nothing else, they might provoke your own.

No doubt it’s our achievements we will remember. That’s understandable. But even if we don’t speak about it, let’s not forget where we went wrong. (Raj K Raj/ Hindustan Times) PREMIUM
No doubt it’s our achievements we will remember. That’s understandable. But even if we don’t speak about it, let’s not forget where we went wrong. (Raj K Raj/ Hindustan Times)

We have a lot to be proud of. Despite divisions of caste, creed, ethnicity, language, cuisine, and culture, which even in the mid-60s prompted western critics to prophecy the end of India, we remain a united country. We have also survived and, despite the Emergency, even flourished as a democracy. Our elections are fair, governments change, and public protests can check powerful administrations. Unlike Pakistan and Bangladesh, military rule is unknown to India.

In terms of literacy and life expectancy, India in 2022 bears no comparison to 1947. Literacy has increased over four times. Life expectancy has more than doubled. Though there’s a lot more we still need to do, what we’ve achieved is praiseworthy.

Arguably a greater achievement is that a food deficit country, which often lived ship-to-mouth, is today one of the world’s biggest producers of food. We top the world in milk, and are second in the production of rice and wheat. We’re also the world’s largest exporter of rice.

Our space programme, our Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) — which taught 13 of the world’s top CEOs — as well as our renowned cricket tournaments and film industry, make us unique among Third World countries. None can boast of anything similar.

Unfortunately, our errors, lapses, and wilful mistakes are equally great. Successive governments failed to give education and health the importance they deserve. Though we built dams and steel mills, the stress on socialism kept us mired in the Hindu rate of growth and failed to excite the entrepreneurial spirit of our people. Although we claim to be non-violent, 1984 and 2002 show how hollow that boast has often been.

In 1947, countries like China, South Korea and Thailand had economic conditions and national incomes comparable to ours. Seventy-five years later, we’ve been left behind. If the reforms of the 1990s had happened three decades earlier, the story could have been very different.

Conclusions can be invidious, but if you’re looking for one, let me hesitantly offer a suggestion. If we are justified in claiming India has achieved a lot, we would be unwise to forget how often we’ve stumbled or simply walked the wrong path. Frankly, it’s a bit of both.

This brings me to the question: What sort of country are we today? Many of the old problems continue. Dalits and Adivasis were, and remain, among the most deprived. We have failed to wipe away their tears. Though banned by law, untouchability has not been eradicated. Starvation and famine may be history, but nearly 25% remain below a ludicrously minimalist poverty line. In fact, the truth is for the last decade, we haven’t bothered to find out.

We have also added to our problems. In the last eight years, we’ve become intolerant of dissent, majoritarian in our attitude, and distinctly prejudiced in our treatment of our Muslim fellow citizens. Today, we hear public threats of genocide, whilst the government deliberately chooses to be silent. That would have been unimaginable in the 1940s and ’50s. Of this, we can only be embarrassed, but few choose to even acknowledge it.

So, what will we emphasise tomorrow? No doubt it’s our achievements we will remember. That’s understandable. But even if we don’t speak about it, let’s not forget where we went wrong. These were occasions when we failed to live up to our commitments or continued with economic ideologies that should have been discarded or, worst of all, turned our back on the ideals of our Constitution. In short, these were instances when we let ourselves down. Tomorrow, we must promise not to repeat such mistakes.

Karan Thapar is the author of Devil’s Advocate: The Untold Story

The views expressed are personal

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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    Karan Thapar is a super-looking genius who’s young, friendly, chatty and great fun to be with. He’s also very enjoyable to read.

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