India attained freedom 75 years ago. Despite numerous constraints, the best minds in the country worked long hours for over two years to finalise the Constitution of India. We, “the people of India”, resolved to establish a Sovereign Socialist Secular Democratic Republic, which would secure Justice, Liberty, Equality to all its citizens, promote Fraternity and safeguard the Unity and Integrity of India. It would be useful to cast a rapid look back to see whether we have remained on the envisioned track.
Our polity can’t afford to forget that the potential might of India is deeply rooted in the harmonious co-existence of our very large and highly diverse population.
In 1947, the ghastly communal holocaust left more than a million killed and several millions uprooted and homeless. Countless daunting challenges faced the nascent government: widespread lawlessness; millions of refugees to be settled; extreme scarcity of foodgrains; a grave financial crisis and a horde of other problems.
The splintered administrative apparatus boldly took on all the challenges: dozens of refugee and relief camps and thousands of ration shops were established; law and order was restored and many other tasks carried out.
The British had left behind poverty, illiteracy, large-scale unemployment and an empty treasury. Sardar Patel, our first Home Minister, firmly believed that India’s unity and integrity could be best preserved by a federal administrative system run by all-India services which would maintain objectivity and deliver efficient and incorruptible services to people living in all parts of the country. Thus, the IAS and the IPS were born.
In the first about two decades, successive Union Governments pursued visionary policies to lay the foundations for nation-building and placing democracy on a firm footing. This period witnessed the rapid expansion of health, education, agriculture and industry sectors; land reforms and consolidation of holdings; construction of large dams and irrigation systems; establishment of institutions for the advancement of medicine, science and technology, space, atomic energy, management; construction of railways, roads, highways, bridges, tunnels; expansion of shipping and civil aviation; creation of large-scale capacities to meet the growing needs of power, coal, cement, steel, fertilisers, pharmaceuticals and other requirements.
The far-sighted policies followed in the earlier years were largely carried forward by the succeeding governments, along with their own new approaches. However, the achievements of the different regimes varied vastly, corresponding to their stability, commitment and competence to carry the country forward.
In the saga of nation-building, two outstanding achievements must be recalled: first, the phenomenal success of the Green Revolution which enabled India to overcome the recurring cycle of famines and become a food-exporting country; second, the Balance of Payment crisis in the early 1990s: this catastrophe led to liberalisation of the economy, paving the way for a remarkable jump in the annual rates of growth in the succeeding years.
In the past 75 years, despite the varied factors which have been pulling us back, India has achieved huge successes on many fronts: life expectancy has increased from 31 years (1947) to 70 years (2020); literacy rate has risen from 12% (1947) to 77.7% (2018); the infant mortality rate has declined from 181 (1950) to 27 (2020); the total fertility rate has decreased from 5.9 (1950) to 2 (2020); per capita income has moved from Rs 265 (1950) to Rs 1,50,326 (2021-22); GDP has grown from $0.04 trillion (1960) to $3.8 trillion (2021) and India is among the fastest growing major world economies, with comfortable foreign exchange reserves; a net importer of foodgrains till 1981, India is now exporting cereals; there has been a remarkable expansion in the provision of education, health, housing, potable water supply, sanitation and rural electrification, and tremendous improvement in road connectivity. We have 1.16 billion phone users and the second largest pool of scientific and technical manpower in the world; India is a global leader in space, nuclear and information technologies and has the third largest armed forces in the world.
India has a very large and highly diverse population: all the religions in the world; hundreds of languages and thousands of dialects; vastly varying socio-cultural traditions; disparate eating and dressing habits and, in certain regions, even strikingly different physiognomies. As past experience has shown, any inequity in the policies followed by the Union and state governments or lack of sensitivity in dealing with issues relating to tribal, minority and other far-flung communities is bound to create serious problems and the ensuing disturbances would have the costly consequence of adversely affecting the pace of growth and development.
While official statements may claim that India is ‘not bothered’ by ‘prejudiced’ and ‘irresponsible criticisms’, it can’t be ignored that, consequent to reports about communal disturbances, India’s standing has gone down on the Global Democracy Index. And, for different reasons, its ranking has also gone down in the World Inequality Report and the Global Corruption Perception Index.
Another issue of grave concern relates to the millions of our people who subsist below the poverty line (BPL). In the 2011 Census, the BPL number stood at 26.9 crore. With the increase in population in the past decade and the adverse effect of Covid-19, the current BPL number is likely to be much larger. Uplifting this huge mass of our neglected population is the foremost challenge. Besides poverty, an equally disturbing problem is inequality. As recently reported, the top 1% in our country hold 22% of the national income and the share of the bottom 50% is only 13%!
For significantly reducing poverty, achieving equitable growth and building a strong and prosperous India, it is imperative that each organ of the constitutional framework functions with speed, efficiency and honesty and, besides, public order and harmony prevail across the land. The functioning of the Executive, both the elected political elements and the appointed bureaucracy, has been on the decline for the past many years, largely because the Cabinet Ministers, most of whom are inexperienced and of vastly varying backgrounds, are indifferent to learning their roles and discharging their responsibilities with due diligence. Worse still, they appoint favoured functionaries to gather funds by interfering in the functioning of the departments under their charge. This has promoted inefficiency and unaccountability among the employees and corruption in the system.
The failures in the working of the Union and State Legislatures are a cause for even greater concern. Over the years, the cost of contesting elections has gone up phenomenally. Huge funds, gathered from unlawful, corrupt and criminal sources, are used to get unworthy candidates elected. This has led to an exponential increase in the number of persons with suspect backgrounds becoming law-makers and further enlarging the criminal nexus. Laws on issues of seminal public interest are getting approved without any debate whatsoever; the Legislature has also failed in discharging its vital role of holding the functioning of the Executive to account. With both the Executive and the Legislature failing to satisfactorily discharge their respective constitutional duties, it was expected that the superior judiciary would promptly intercede and crack the whip. Sadly, the judicial will and vigour of the higher courts also stands badly eroded.
Unfortunately, the fourth estate has receded to the far corner. Many elements of the media have been pressured or have been bought out. The inability of reputed columnists to fearlessly comment on issues of vital public concern has been a great loss.
The timely conduct of free and fair elections sustains democracy. Our election laws have many serious flaws. Manipulated ‘defections’ are organised by paying huge bribes to those who ‘cross over’. The law must effectively eradicate this deleterious phenomenon and also prevent persons with criminal antecedents from getting into the Legislatures. Side by side, the Election Commission of India, which has lost its teeth, must be urgently enabled to function fearlessly, as per its constitutional mandate.
Despite the claims of successive political regimes that corruption has been eradicated, it continues at all levels. It is most regrettable that the credibility of various institutions for curbing corruption has become suspect. The Lokpal, set up after several decades of fruitless debates, has still to make its presence felt. Unless effectively controlled, corruption will destroy the rule of law and the very foundations of our Republic.
The number of start-ups which have become unicorns in recent years amply demonstrates the very high potential of our innovative youth. Despite various adverse factors, our economy has been doing well and, hopefully, India is on the path of emerging as a major economic and military power. However, if such an aspiration is to be achieved, sustained normalcy must prevail. Sadly, for the past many years now, in several parts of India, the societal environment has been marred by communal discord, divisiveness and growing polarisation. Such an atmosphere provides a golden opportunity for enemy agencies to go into action to destabilise our country. Concerted efforts require to be urgently made to restore harmony and ensure against hatred and violence taking root among our widespread communities. It is of crucial importance that an atmosphere of trust, tolerance and accommodation prevails all over the country.
In our forward march to emerge as a strong and prosperous nation, our polity can’t afford to forget, even temporarily, that the potential might of India is deeply rooted in the harmonious co-existence of our very large and highly diverse population. Any deviation shall have disastrous consequences.
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