The Tribune - Spectrum

Special Issue
Views of eminent experts and thinkers on the occasion of Republic Day of India.

Hari Jaisingh

A.P.J. Abdul Kalam

M.V. Kamath

D. C. Pathak

S.D. Muni

Barjinder Sodhi

A.P.S. Chawla

V. N. Sharma

Ujjal Dosanjh

Gurcharan Das

J.N. Dixit

Yash Pal

I. K. Gujral

Arun Jaitley

Jaipal Reddy

Prakash Karat


Symbols of greatness


Sunday, January 26, 2003
Tribune special

Can India be a superpower?
Yes, it can be!
Let’s turn India into a land of opportunities
Hari Jaisingh

Illustrations by Gaurav Sood"INDIA is not just a piece of earth; she is power, a Godhead." This is how Sri Aurobindo looked at this country and its rich ancient civilisation. But all that he wanted fellow Indians to have was "the firm faith that India must rise and be great".

Herein lies the tragic gap between desire and action, between promise and performance; and between conduct in private life and public life of leaders.

Contradictions in the thinking, behaviour and approach of most Indians to men, matters and issues are sharp and glaring. No country can rise to the desired dizzy heights unless the gap between leaders and the led is functionally narrow and the people are well aware of the fact that the nation's image and its real strength is nothing but the sum total of their character and conduct at home and in public.

Do we qualify in this touchstone of strength or greatness?

The answer is a straight "no".

Indians overseas, whether in Singapore, Washington, New York or any other advanced country, behave differently. They work in a disciplined way and show a tremendous work culture, which makes them highly successful. But the same set of Indians become part of the flop show in the atmosphere of dirty politics, intrigues, money and muscle power, and high-handedness of the powers that be in our country.

Why is it so? We have to find the right answers to these basic problems. What we see are loose ends even in critical areas of governance and the prevailing negative mind-set that favours status quo.

In any case, the net result of the flawed system and visionless leadership is that somewhere along the line, the people's faith has got eroded by the debased value system.

Who is to blame for the ongoing drift? One school of thought puts the blame on the foreigners’ invasion of India, which was dubbed as "evil".

Even Jawaharlal Nehru said: "Long subjection of a people brings many evils and perhaps the greatest of these lie in the spiritual sphere — demoralisation and sapping of the people."

Nehru had a point. However, I believe that we ourselves are responsible for the mess we are in today. I believe that Indians have all elements to take the country to the status of a superpower. All that is required is to rediscover our strength and to move forward harmoniously with well-focused determination and honesty.


This reminds me of Nani Palkhivala's words of wisdom: "It has been my long-standing conviction that India is like a donkey carrying a sack of gold — the donkey does not know what it is carrying but is content to go along with the load on its back. The load of gold is a fantastic treasure — in arts, literature, culture and some sciences like ayurvedic medicine — which we have inherited from the days of the splendour that was India. Adi Sankaracharya called it the accumulated treasure of spiritual truths discovered by the rishis."

These observations correctly depict the paradoxical Indian situation. I do not wish to blame the "donkey". It is his job to carry the burden of this priceless treasure. I would rather blame the ignorance of the masters of this "donkey", that is, the people. They do not know what to make of the "treasure" and how to utilise it to their advantage. This is the real tragedy of India, that is, Bharat.

How can we overcome this tragic situation? How do we go about the task of acquiring a modern superpower status for India?

I believe that we can do it. The moot point, however, is: what are the ingredients to make India a superpower? I have scribbled below a broad-based charter which can help India to become a superpower in the comity of nations:

  • Apart for its viable atomic and missile power, India needs very strong economic muscle. This will require an all-out war on poverty, deprivation, disparities and all the ills that go with feudalism, a neo-colonial mindset, ignorance and exploitation. A tall order? Certainly not.

  • Superstition, blind faith in rituals and a touch-me-not attitude have to be discarded since they do not represent the vedic purity of Indian thought and tradition.

  • The process of modernisation does not mean a blind aping of the West. It ought to have an "Indian soul" based on the values and rules of dharma. They have to be used as catalytic agents for social change.

  • The leadership has to work hard and sincerely to widen and consolidate the Indian society's rational commitment to nationalism not only among the Hindus but also among the minorities, especially the Muslims. That is, a strong sense of common nationality has to be generated among all sections, irrespective of caste, creed, community and religion.

  • Along with advances in technology and industry, utmost care must be given to the promotion of education and to the development of people's intellectual ability, personality and social instincts.

  • Alleviation of hunger and unemployment, provision of modern health services, nutritious food and potable drinking water, and observance of hygiene and cleanliness have to be the priority areas.

  • Every person has to be treated as an equal citizen under a common law.

  • All-out efforts have to be made to control the population boom.

  • Religion needs to be delinked from politics for creating a harmonious society.

  • The process of political, electoral, administrative and financial reforms must be speeded up.

  • The new target has to be: an open government openly formed. That means de-bureaucratisation of government functioning from the grassroots level upwards.

  • Evolution of a new model of governance for a corruption-free system.

  • Decentralisation for faster and transparent growth.

  • Incorporating a work culture and work discipline, which are a key to higher productivity.

  • Striving for growth with social justice. We must change the system in which 89 paise of a rupee is eaten up by middlemen and overheads costs.

  • A massive drive has to be launched to fight illiteracy.

  • The independence of the judiciary must be preserved and strengthened.

  • A new deal for justice, fair play and the development of women and children is equally crucial.

  • The people's right to information has to be upheld for transparent governance and accountability.

  • Curtailment of wasteful expenditure alone can inspire the tax-payers' confidence in the system.

  • A new political culture is needed wherein even an influential person violating a traffic rule will have to make amends.

  • The entire gamut of reservations has to be reviewed afresh in favour of merit. Also, those who graduate above the minimum standards of economic and social uplift have to make room for their less fortunate brethren.

  • The poor must get a reasonable share in the political and economic cake through new avenues of growth and development.

  • The country needs "management accountability" at all levels.

  • We have to come out of the mental barriers of communal politics and strengthen common cultural bonds.

  • While the minority communities do deserve a better deal and safeguards, they should also keep in view the sensitivity of the majority community.

  • Science should be for the people, which calls for a more purposeful science and technology plan.

  • Special stress on modern public transport, infrastructure development and housing.

  • Finally, turn India into a land of opportunities.

India has all the elements of greatness. It has a rich past and a dynamic people. People want clean politics and clean governance, free from scams and with a system of accountability.

India is indeed eternal, everlasting. It’s culture is ageless. It is as relevant to the 21st century as it was before Christ. Even eminent historian Arnold Toynbee once acknowledged India's greatness and its relevance to the entire human race in these words: "It is already becoming clear that a chapter which had a western beginning will have to have an Indian ending if it is not to end in the self-destruction of the human race. At the supremely dangerous moment in human history, the only way of salvation for mankind is the Indian way — Emperor Asoka and Mahatma Gandhi's principle of non-violence and Sri Ramakrishna's testimony to the harmony of religions."

Over to the people, particularly the youth of India.