Republic Day Special Series

SHARAD JOSHI'S BOOK: Ch. I, Part 2

 

WHAT WENT WRONG WITH INDEPENDENCE?

Chapter I: Tryst with Destiny (Part 2)

Forebodings come true?

Fifty years have passed since the end of British rule. The tryst with destiny has never truly occurred. The dreams of becoming the pinnacle of the world community have been shattered.

The dilemma of poverty persists, the numbers of illiterate have risen, inflation and unemployment continue to cause havoc; bureaucrats, black marketeers, thieves and criminals have come to dominate; the goondas have manipulated the political leaders and then displaced them. Thanks to the progress of science and technology abroad, the country has, at least, been able to produce enough grain to feed itself. Due to the near eradication of infectious diseases such as smallpox, plague, cholera and malaria, life expectancy has risen. Undoubtedly, industries have grown in large cities, but it cannot be said that if the British had stayed such industries would not have grown. Compared to the rest of the world India has not progressed after independence; on the contrary, it has deteriorated. Countries like Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand, which were more backward than India fifty years ago, have gone many times farther ahead. 

It is unnecessary to marshal comprehensive statistics to establish the relative decline of India after independence. When independence came, the per capita income was less than Rs 250; now it stands at around Rs 12,000. The present rupee is barely worth 3 paise of the 1947 one. The per capita income in terms of prices prevailing 50 years back increased from Rs 250 to Rs 400. In terms of Purchasing Power Parity (PPP), which United Nations’ economists use to compare incomes of different countries in terms of their actual purchasing power, the income of an Indian citizen was US $1348 in 1995. Bangladesh with $1331 is a little behind. Pakistan at $2154 is significantly ahead - by almost 60%. China ($2604), Sri Lanka ($2377), Thailand ($7104), Malaysia ($8865), Korea ($10,656) and Singapore ($20,987) were all behind India 50 years ago, but have made rapid strides forward. The countries that were defeated and devastated in the war have reconstructed and made dazzling progress. Japan now has a per capita income of $21,581, Germany $19,675 and Italy $19,365.

Silver lining in the dark clouds

It is not that there has been no progress. Life expectancy has practically doubled. At independence, the country was in the jaws of famine; it has since become self-sufficient in foodgrains. With the exception of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and some thousands square kilometers of area on the northeast frontier, the Indian republic has continued to hold sovereignty over all areas transferred to it by the British. Elections are held regularly; the army has not even attempted a coup to establish a military dictatorship. Except for a brief period when Indira Gandhi clamped down her Emergency, parliamentary democracy continues to function. Quite a few other instances of advancement since independence can be cited. Schools, however ill-equipped and ill-staffed, have been opened in most villages; the proportion of illiterates has diminished and the facilities and opportunities for higher education in urban areas have multiplied. But it is also true that the absolute number of illiterates has risen. Roads have been built to connect villages, State-run buses ply them and postal services connect most settlements. At the same time, poverty in rural areas is not significantly diminished. Hundreds of thousands of rural refugees continue to migrate to cities like Mumbai and Delhi in search of livelihood, and the cities have swollen beyond all proportion; even district towns are expanding at a galloping rate. At independence, the rural poor who moved to the cities lived in tin hutments and cement tenements. Now they settle down in slums and on footpaths. Briefly, the history of the last fifty years is far from being a proud chronicle of success.

India, as a newly independent country, followed the path of socialism under the leadership of Pandit Nehru. Socialism and its institutions have since met a world-historic defeat. There has been some talk of liberalisation; but it was short lived. No one on the scene appears to be tall enough to guide the nation. In its 50th anniversary of independence, the nation is standing on the edge of a precipice and its people are more confused than at any time in their long history.

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