India’s glorious past is an inspiration for the present, and augurs hope for a better and brighter future.
In the course of India’s history that dates back thousands of years and a civilization that is among the oldest in the world, the passage of a mere 75 years may seem quite insignificant. But the past 75 years have been singular in that it marks a period in its collective history when it carved an identity for itself as an independent, cohesive, democratic nation that proudly celebrates its unity in diversity.
This new found standing, achieved and maintained over the 75 years since the country’s independence in 1947 is certainly worthy of celebration. Indians can rightfully hold up the tricolor flag and wave it proudly in the name of a nation that remains united, democratic and Indian.
India celebrating its 75th Independence Day in 2021 has come a long way from the India of 1947, when the tricolor was first unfurled to herald the birth of an independent nation. The country that emerged following independence was a nation impoverished by nearly nine decades of subjugation under the British Raj. Over 60 percent of the population of 362 million people then lived below the poverty line, life expectancy was just 32 years, literacy was a dismal 17 percent, and unhealthy living conditions and malnutrition were rampant across the land.
Today, though poverty continues to be a challenge, latest available figures for 2019 show that less than 7 percent of the population of 1.3 billion people live below the national poverty limit, and life expectancy stands at around 70 years. Data from the last census in 2011 also reveals that literacy rate in the country was over 74 percent, with around 82 percent of males and 66 percent of females able to read and write. Over the span of the past 75 years of independence, India has achieved stupendous all-round socio-economic progress.
Independent India also has many other extraordinary aspects to its credit. To begin with it has the world’s second largest population, with its over 1.3 billion people accounting for nearly 17 percent of the global population. It is also the most multi-religious, multicultural, multi-racial, and multilingual community among the comity of nations.
The kaleidoscopic variety and rich cultural heritage of India that evolved over thousands of years of ancient history remained intact despite being ripped apart by 200 years of imperialistic presence, and nearly a 100 years of colonial rule under the British Raj. An impoverished, divided and widely illiterate country emerged from the trauma of the independence struggle to proclaim on 15 August 1947 its new status as an independent nation committed to pursuing a democratic path in its way to the future.
In an op-ed that appeared in The Washington Post in 2019, historian Ramachandra Guha wrote: ‘Had the country been a start-up in 1947, not even the most venturesome of venture capitalists would have invested in it.’ He was pointing to the consensus among political experts in 1947 that India would not survive as a unified democratic country post its independence from Britain. To underline this he quoted the last British commander-in-chief of the Indian Army, Gen. Claude Auchinleck, who wrote: “… The Punjabi is as different from a Madrassi as a Scot is from an Italian. The British tried to consolidate it [India] but achieved nothing permanent. No one can make a nation out of a continent of many nations.”
Such despairing forecasts were widespread in the early years of independence, both in India among the so-called elite intelligentsia, as well as by Western ‘India- experts’ abroad. The consensus was that India could not survive as a single nation, and it could never become a democracy either. But it did.
Defying its detractors and against all odds, the country not only initiated a democratic form of governance, but also attained unity among its fractured states and princely kingdoms, and brought together people from all walks of life and both genders, who professed different religions, languages, and cultures, under one tricolor flag.
Over the past 75 years the country has stayed true to its early democratic credentials and remained united in the face of numerous challenges. Nation-wide general elections held periodically are the greatest manifestation and exercise of free-will in the world. Even more importantly, the 29 States of the Union, some of them with populations larger than many countries in the world, regularly hold provincial elections, highlighting how grass-roots democracy has taken hold in the country.
Memories of the shared suffering during the British raj, and the camaraderie forged in the crucible of the Independence movement, as well as engagement in the world’s first non-violent revolution, resulted in a national consensus that crystallized in the form of the country’s constitution, which forms the bedrock upon which democracy is cemented in India.
- The Indian Constitution offers all citizens, individually and collectively, basic freedoms that are guaranteed in the form of six broad categories of Fundamental Rights, which are justiciable. They include:
- Right to equality, including equality before law, prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth, and equality of opportunity in matters of employment.
- Right to freedom of speech and expression, assembly, association or union, movement, residence, and right to practice any profession or occupation (some of these rights are subject to security of the State, friendly relations with foreign countries, public order, decency or morality).
- Right against exploitation, prohibiting all forms of forced labour, child labour and traffic in human beings.
- Right to freedom of conscience and free profession, practice, and propagation of religion
- Right of any section of citizens to conserve their culture, language or script, and right of minorities to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice; and
- Right to constitutional remedies for enforcement of Fundamental Rights.
But along with these rights, the scripters of the constitution also adopted fundamental responsibilities that citizens need to adhere to. These enjoin upon a citizen among other things, to abide by the Constitution, to cherish and follow noble ideals, which inspired India’s struggle for freedom, to defend the country and render national service when called upon to do so, and to promote harmony and spirit of common brotherhood transcending religious, linguistic and regional or sectional diversities.
It is noteworthy that the Preamble of the Indian Constitution seeks to ensure not just political justice but also social and economic justice. The constitution also underlines that equality is not just about equal political rights but also of status and opportunity. Despite the lofty aspirations of the Constitution, we the people have on several occasions been found wanting in the execution of our responsibilities.
Democracy needs to be lived by and proactively pursued by every citizen so as to generate an ethical, sustainable and economically- and socially-viable environment for it to thrive. We need to create a climate of social and political equality in which citizens resolve issues through discussions and dialogue, and make choices through the use of procedures that ensure that the final decision, while accurately reflecting the predominant desires and intentions of citizens, is also fair and equitable to all citizens.
Democracy also enshrines that the government in power must operate in a manner where leaders serve the public trust and public interest, work within the framework of constitutionally-endowed rights and responsibilities, and uphold a commitment to parliamentary democracy, excellence and efficiency in service delivery, as well as to serve all Indians with honesty and openness.
Democracy is not an easy ride, and no one promised it would be one, especially in a country as diverse as India where inequality based on gender, caste and community have prevailed for centuries. Viewed against this background of stark inequality, the success of Indian democracy over the past 75 years is indeed a remarkable feat.
The fact that India has enjoyed 75 years of democracy, with a few hiccups here and there, but without experiencing any of the coups, civil wars, dictatorships or national disintegration that have marred the post independence history of many of our neighbors, is certainly something to be proud of. Today, India remains in a handful of outliers in the global community of nearly 200 nations that has managed to enjoy a stable democracy throughout its years of independence.
Is this triumph of democracy over 75 years something to shout from the rafters? It certainly is; so let us proudly wave the tricolor on this Independence Day and chant, vive le democracy, long-live a united. democratic India.
A timeline of India since independence in 1947
15 August, 1947: India becomes an independent democratic nation
1947: India fights first war with Pakistan after tribesmen supported by the Pakistani army invade Jammu and Kashmir.
1951: India introduces its first five-year plan, which defines the Nehruvian model of centralized economic planning and development, based largely on the Soviet-style five-year plan, creating a typically Indian model of mixed economy and big government.
1951: India holds its first national census as an independent country
1952: India organizes its first general elections.
1962: China’s People’s Liberation Army invades India in Ladakh, and across the McMahon Line in the then North-East Frontier Agency (now Arunachal Pradesh), usurping significant territory and inflicting heavy damage on Indian forces.
1965: India engages in a second war with Pakistan over Kashmir .
1967: India’s Green-Revolution produces the first crop of high-yielding wheat, marking the first-step towards attaining self-sufficiency in foods.
1969: Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) established heralding India’s entry into space.
1969: Government nationalized 14 major Indian scheduled commercial banks with the aim of serving the needs of the country’s growth and development.
1971: India fights third war with Pakistan; East Pakistan breaks away from Pakistan and Bangladesh is born as an independent nation.
1974: India conducts a peaceful nuclear test at Pokhran, resulting in international outcry and imposition of sanctions.
1975: The Congress government at the center imposes Emergency.
1977: Emergency ends, first non-Congress government elected at the centre.
1991: Economic liberalization opens the economy to foreign and private investment, scrapping decades of state domination and moving towards a mixed market economy of capitalism and socialism.
1999: Indian army evicts Pakistani army regulars and militants from the heights of Kargil inside the Line of Control in Kashmir.
2001: Indian Parliament stormed by five terrorists of Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed.
2008: Mumbai witnesses coordinated shooting and bombing attacks across various locations in the city, by ten members of Lashkar-e-Taiba
2011: World’s longest running democratic rule by a Leftist government comes to an end in Bengal, with the All India Trinamool Congress led by Mamata Banerjee defeating communists
2016: Government announces demonetisation of Rs500 and Rs1000 notes.
2017: The goods and services tax is introduced from 1 July.
2018: Government warns that 21 cities could run out of groundwater by 2020
2019: Government revokes Article 370 and Article 35A from Constitution of India that gave special status to Jammu and Kashmir. Government also bifurcates Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh into separate Union Territories.
2020: January 30: First case of COVID-19 infection reported in the country, in a 20-year-old medical student in Kerala who just returned from Wuhan in China. March 12: India reports first fatality due to COVID-19, after a 76-year-old man from Karnataka, succumbs to the infection.
2021: January 16: India launches one of the world’s biggest coronavirus vaccination programs.
Aug 7: Neeraj Chopra ends India’s drought of individual Olympic Gold medal winning the Javelin Throw event at the Tokyo Olympic