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India@75: We Have Come A Long Way, Yet, Miles To Go For The Indian Renaissance
Indian Renaissance at India@75! I was born in 1975, during the time of The Emergency. Though I was too young to remember, the years after my birth presented the nation with political, economic, and social challenges. As I grew up in the 1980s, I vividly recall how the very “existence” of India as a nation was under threat from Centrifugal forces of sectarianism and religious fanaticism. Indeed, the 80s were a “trying time” for the country, so much so that the late legendary author, V S Naipaul, likened India to a “Land of Million Mutinies”. Of course, this decade was also when the Indian Economy started to “open up” and reform itself, unshackling it from the notorious inefficiencies holding the “caged Elephant” back. However, as the 90s dawned, we confronted the spectre of bankruptcy so much that the then government had to resort to “pawning the family jewellery” to the IMF (International Monetary Fund) to stave off a default.
This move hit hard in a country where such a step invokes cultural images of losing one’s honour. The rest, as they say, is history, as the subsequent LPG or Liberalization, Privatization, and Globalization have now brought us to a stage where instead of the “begging bowl”, we are now the “world’s fastest-growing economy” and a soon to become an economic powerhouse, as we keep talking about a $5 Trillion economy. So, here we are with India@75, a confident and ambitious nation on the “cusp of greatness” that has eluded it for aeons.
India@75 Is Not All “Milk and Honey” As Religious, Social, and Cultural Tensions Threaten To Undo The Indian Story
However, India@75 is not all “milk and honey”, as we seem to have lost some of the “momentum” that drove the Indian Economy onwards and upwards from the “dark days” of 1991. True, we have lifted nearly 300 Million Indians from poverty and are aiming for the moon (literally and figuratively). Moreover, massive investments in public infrastructure have transformed the Indian landscape so much that travelling is no longer troubling. Drive down on the National Highways or, for that matter, trains, or by air, which going by present trends, would be within reach of almost all Indians. One can notice the “energy” and the “drive” propelling us towards an exciting future. While these achievements are laudable and revolutionary, simmering social tensions, cultural baggage, and the biggest threat of all, religious fundamentalism, all pose existential problems, which can quickly derail the “India story” and set us back by decades. So, the central challenge is not to lose our pluralistic, secular, and inclusive democracy, which results from a hundred years of effort by our freedom fighters.
India@75 Can Claim A Place On The World Stage
On the other hand, we have made great strides on the world stage. While Nehruvian foreign policy was all about occupying the “moral high ground”, our present approach is more pragmatic, self-centred, and driven by economic interests (geoeconomics), to the extent that we find ourselves in a “sweet spot” in the global arena. Moreover, our diaspora continues to “excel” wherever they are, and we have come a long way from talking about “brain drain” to the present celebration of the successes of Indians worldwide. Given that comparisons with China are inevitable, one needs to remember that with the West “targeting” it as it sees a clear threat from the Chinese and “woos” India, we can sure convert this into some sort of advantage, delivering economic and geopolitical benefits. In addition, we have been practising “smart” globalization and a clear strategy of Atmanirbharta, or self-reliance, though it is questionable whether it is benefit-driven. So, challenges remain vis-a-vis our place in the world and with a determined push to “sit at the high table”, as the campaign for a permanent seat in the United Nations security council shows, we can reclaim some of the civilizational greatness we lost due to colonialism.
India@75: Lest We Forget, Indians Need Jobs!
A significant challenge remains: growing with jobs rather than the “jobless” growth that has been bedevilling us for the last decade. Labour participation is at its lowest, and with Crores of Indians of working age not even looking for work, it is indeed problematic. Moreover, we are not focusing on the “Informal Economy”. However, The Economist Magazine notes that some inefficiencies holding us back are being discarded, much like the begging bowl metaphor. Indeed, this decade is “ours to lose” if we can get over the K-shaped inequality and concentrate on the “dark clouds” hovering over the Indian Economy. As India@75 confronts its future, I can say with some confidence, yet trepidation, that our (in)famous “so near, yet, so far” journey can end with the Oasis rather than running around aimlessly towards a Mirage.
Jai Hind! And a Very Happy Independence Day to all of you.
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