India at 75. Few Thoughts…

The first Independence Day celebration I remember is the 25th Anniversary of Independence celebrated in 1972. I was nine years old and the Government Primary School where I was studying, arranged an elocution competition. The topic was ‘Village or City Life – which is better.’ I still remember the teacher who wrote the essay for me. And I argued for Village life and won the first prize. The prize was a small bucket blue in colour and the size was, well, the same size of Popcorn Tub you get in movie theatres today.

My father would tease me in the later years that I was pet of the teachers and won prizes because ‘”aalai illaa oorukku iluppaip poo charkkarai” meaning in a town where there is no sugarcane, people use flowers of Mahua (Madhuca longifolia) as sugar as we were growing up in a village.

I walked the entire Agraharam, (a street where brahmins predominantly lived), holding the prized possession with pride and my grandma (The Family Autocrat) made sure I showed it to everyone which probably meant most of the houses in the village.

My School Circa 2020. Not a lot changed since; only I have grown old.

At 25 years, India was very young. As a nation we were tying desperately to come out of poverty. After all, the East India Company and the British Raj had stolen over 44.6 Trillion Dollars over a period of more than 200 years (1765 to 1938). There was no increase in per capita income from 1900 to 1946 though India registered the second highest export surplus amongst all nations in the world. **

The difference in 1972 was, we still had a significant number of people who had participated in the freedom struggle and we could listen to their stories either directly or on radio (Television had still not arrived in India) or read their stories in print media. So in 1972, there was still palpable excitement as to how we would develop as a country.

We have come a long way since then. India has developed into one of the largest economies in the world and more importantly we are the biggest democracy on the planet. The naysayers who kept lamenting that we would not survive as one country would have either eaten their words or would not have lived long enough to see that we are in fact doing very well as one nation.

Since 1972, Millions have been lifted out of poverty. We grow enough staple food and produce more than enough milk to feed the nation, a population 1.3 billion people. I am not, for one moment, trying to say we have milk and honey flowing on gold minted roads in India. If you compare what was available in the seventies to what we have now, we (more so the millennials) can understand how far we have come. If you still have doubts, read Mr. Naipaul’s ‘Area of Darkness (1964)’ and ‘India: A Wounded Civilization (1977)’ or at least read this article in New York Times published on the 25th Independence Day and you will understand what I am talking about. A small example will drive my point. My mom used to walk four kilometers – one way – to get 3 milk coupons (half a liter each). Milk was available only in government run booths at certain time in the morning and afternoon. So you take the coupon, and the milk vendor at the corner of the street would punch the card a give half a liter of milk. For any reason if you want more milk – tough luck. Sugar was available mostly in ration shops. And compare that to millions of supermarkets spread across India today which are open more than 12 hours every day and some of them 24 X7.

We have built world class education institutions. We have developed Satellites and launch them at a fraction of Cost NASA does. On the services front, we are producing more software engineers than next ten nations put together. Our infant mortality is down, people live longer with access to health care available to most of the population. How we fought COVID infection is a classic study in administrating medical care during pandemic. 1.2 billion vaccine doses given free will underline my point. I was having a drink with Mike Grundy my boss and mentor couple of weeks back and he mentioned how much India has changed since the first time he visited in 1996.

Could we have done better? Yes definitely. While we cry that trillions of dollars have been stolen from us, we can also compare ourselves with nations that have had considerably more damages than us owing to WW II. Japan and Germany recovered faster, much faster than us from ruins. So we could have done better. It took us decades to understand that free market would pay dividends faster than controlled economy in a democratic set-up. By the time we realized this forty years went by.

Most importantly we missed the bus on Industrialization. Our License and Permit Raj literally just wiped out a couple of generations of entrepreneurs. Instead of making more people to have better quality of life, we tried to make more people suffer at the same time. ‘If we can’t make everyone rich, make everyone poorer to keep social equilibrium’ seemed to have been our, at least the Government’s motto. Thus, we tried to jump from Agricultural based economy to Services economy, bypassing Industrial Age, which could have given gainful employment to millions.

Yes there are regrets. But we have realized our mistakes, at least I think so, and made few amendments from freeing up the economy to digital push. I am sure the next decade or two will be ours to show what we can do as the largest democratic nation in the world.

What would I like to see in the next decades?

Firstly, I would like to see education and medical care for all. We have quality medical care comparable to best in the world available to the affordable. It should be available to all. Same is true for education. We have primary school children from top schools who can do better in any test compared to millions who graduate from poorly run schools and colleges. This is not a definitely the mistake of the children but to the quality of education they are exposed to. This should change. Or we run the risk of having the highest Genie coefficient (the difference between the haves and have nots) in the world.

Secondly, an improvement in our civic sense. Civic sense or the lack of it, is one thing that drives me to nuts. I see, even our so called educated people, who just return from a stint abroad, the day after they land here, drive on the wrong side of the road, park anywhere, jump signals, walk their dogs to poop everywhere on the roads, none of which they would do abroad. I just read an article from Writer Sujatha, who complained twenty years back that the guys who wait patiently behind the yellow line in an immigration queue abroad, jump and cluster around the immigration officer the moment they land in Mumbai or Chennai. I sincerely hope the current generation respect the law of the land and the regulations as they would do in any other part of the world. So at least in the last quarter of a century there is no improvement here and that should change. I sincerely hope our children don’t copy these bad habits.

The third and most importantly, the deviation of quality of journalism in our country, especially the electronic media. Combined with the poor quality of debates in the parliament, we now have a recipe for disaster of democracy in our hands. I genuinely feel that while we were growing up, we just relied on print media and the knowledge and probity in public life of our leaders, to learn, love and respect our country and democracy. They inculcated the juvenile minds with a sense of patriotism and our duties as citizens of the country. I think these are the only two areas we have not grown rather we have gone worse since 1972, when we celebrated our 25 years of independence. I think this is the reason why today’s generation show no interest in politics or current affairs.

But all these is for another day. Today we should thank the thousands of people who were instrumental in gaining us our freedom. Many have endured years of prison life and many more lost their lives to get our freedom. Let’s remember everyone from Gandhiji to Gangadhara Tilak, from K Kamaraj to Kodikaatha Kumaran, from Veerapandiya Kattabomman to Vallabhbhai Patel who fought for our freedom, thank them and celebrate the day with all the joy we can muster and raise a toast. Oh Sorry! The father of the Nation was against alcohol. So let us do it with a glass of milk or cup of Chai.

** Menaka Gurusamy article in Indian Express – Why India Needs to Stop Participating in Commonwealth Games.

From India’s perspective the taint of the Commonwealth Games is more than just symbolic. The economist Utsa Patnaik speaking to the media in November 2018, explains that over roughly 200 years (1765 to 1938), the East India Company and the British Raj siphoned out nearly $44.6 trillion from India. She calculated this by taking India’s export surplus earnings as the measure and compounding it at a 5 per cent interest rate. Patnaik argues, “Indians were never credited with their own gold and forex earnings. Instead, the local producers were ‘paid’ the rupee equivalent out of the budget.” She adds that there was “virtually no increase in per capita income between 1900 and 1946, even though India registered the second largest export surplus earnings in the world for three decades before 1929.”

2 thoughts on “India at 75. Few Thoughts…

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  1. 45 லட்சம் கோடி இங்கிருந்து எடுத்து போனவங்களை இந்தியாவிற்கு விடுதலை கொடுத்தாலும் தமிழகத்தை நீங்களே வைத்து கொள்ளுங்கள் என்று சொல்லிய அரசியல்வாதிகளை கொண்ட மாநிலம் நமது, அதனால் தான் நமது முன்னேற்றம் இவ்வளவு தாமதம்

    அவர்கள் அவ்வளவு செல்வத்தை எடுத்து போனதை விட பெரும்பாலான மக்களிடம் தாழ்வு மனப்பான்மையை வளர்த்து வைத்து விட்டும் சென்றதே பெரிய பாதிப்பாக கருதுகிறேன்

    அமெரிக்க மக்களே தேர்தலில் வாக்குசீட்டை தான் உபயோகிக்கிறார்கள் நாம் எப்படி வாக்கு இயந்திரங்களை தேர்தலுக்கு பயன்படுத்தலாம் என்கிற கருத்து கொண்டவர்கள் அதிகம் உள்ளனர் தாழ்வுமனப்பான்மையால் 😊

    பொது சொத்து என்றால் மிகவும் அலட்சியமாக இருப்பது மாற வேண்டும்,வருமான வரி சம்பளம் வாங்குபவர்கள் மட்டுமல்லாமல் சுயதொழில் செய்பவர்களும் சரியாக செலுத்த தொடங்கினாலே நம் முன்னேற்றம் விரைவாக வரும்

    மக்களுக்கு வேண்டுமென்றே தவறான செய்திகளை கொடுக்கும் ஊடகங்களின் நிலை மாற வேண்டும்

    இந்திய மக்கள் அனைவரும் சமம் என்னும் நிலை வரவேண்டும்,ஓட்டுக்காக சிறுபான்மையினரை தாஜா செய்ய அதிக சலுகளை கொடுத்த, கொடுக்கும் கட்சிகளின் செல்வாக்கு சரிய வேண்டும்

    இவைகள் எல்லாம் விரைவாக நடந்தால் நமது நூறாவது சுதந்திர தினத்தில் இப்போது இருப்பதை விட பலமடங்கு உயர்வோம்,அதுவே எனது ஆசையும் 😊

    75 சுதந்திர தினத்தில் நல்ல சிறப்பான பதிவிற்கு வாழ்த்துகள் ரமேஷ் 👏🏽👏🏽👏🏽

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    1. My thoughts as well Naga. Thank you .

      As I mentioned I have carefully considered many things but chose not to write shortcomings as I wanted this to be a celebration and applaud the positives.

      Like

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