Pragmatic | On 65th Independence Day

The onus is now upon the Indian State to ensure that India keeps its tryst with destiny

There is enough of bad news around in India these days and most people are not going to let you forget that even today, on our 65th Independence Day. The governance is bad, next generation of reforms haven’t taken off, credibility of the political class is at a low ebb with scandals and corruption dominating the news-stories, human development indices are at par with African countries and most dishearteningly, the mood in the country is rather downbeat.

But calendar year 2011 is just 1/64th of independent India’s journey. It would be nice to get some perspective on how far we have travelled in these 64 years.

When the British left India in 1947, Indian economy was in a stagnant and impoverished state. To start with, India’s GDP growth rate from 1900-01 to 1946-47 was a pathetic 0.8%. In contrast India’s GDP has grown at an impressive rate of 8.5% from 2003 to 2010. In 1951, India’s foreign exchange reserves were 1,914 million USD, which now stand at 316.8 billion USD as of July 2011.

India was producing 50.8 million tones of foodgrains in 1950-51. By 2011, it was producing 232.07 million tonnes. In 1951, India was generating only 5.1 bn KwH of electricity while the same figure stands at 165,000 MW now.

The rate of literacy in India in 1951 was 18.33% (Male: 27.16%; Female: 8.86%). In 2011, India’s overall literacy rate is 74.04% (Male: 82.14%; Female: 65.46%). This is when the population of India has risen from 359 million in 1951 to 1.19 billion in 2011.

The life expectancy at birth in 1951 was 32.45 years for males and 31.66 years for females. in 2011, it is 65.77 years for males and 67.95 years for females. The Infant Mortality Rate has declined from 161 per thousand live births in 1941 to 28 per thousand live births in 2011.

The percentage of people below the poverty line in India in 1951-52 was 45.3%. By 2011, it has come down to 32.2%. As per Angus Deaton and Jean Dreze (“Food and Nutrition in India: Facts and Interpretations,” Economic and Political Weekly (India), February 14, 2009), the proportion of people claiming to be hungry in some or all months has fallen from 17.3% in 1983 to 2.5% in 2004–05.

Finally, and almost astonishingly, India’s per capita income is up from $300 in 1991 to an estimated $1,700 today.

As a democracy, often messy and rambunctious, we have travelled far in these 64 years and can look at this journey with a degree of satisfaction and pride. There have been mistakes, there have been failures and there have been monumental errors made on this journey.

Yes, we could have done better. But we could have done worse too. In either case, a lot more needs to be done. The most important thing today is to look towards the future.

India’s growth has generated self-confidence and spurred greater ambition in its population. The dynamism of Indians, with little help from the Indian State, has brought India to this stage. They can’t push it further on their own steam. The rest of the journey cannot be completed without a dramatically transformed Indian State; it warrants a drastic change in the nature, approach, attitude and responsiveness of the moribund Indian State. It means making democratic decision-making effective, reintegrating constitutional liberalism into the practice of democracy, rebuilding broken political institutions and augmenting social capital.

One thing is certain. India’s rise will not end with a sudden ambush. It will be a slow extinction from apathy, indifference and undernourishment by the Indian State.

Can the Indian State rise to the occasion so that India can keep its tryst with destiny? That is the real challenge as we move into 65th year of our independence. Happy Independence Day, everyone!

P.S. – Among the many wishes received on this Independence Day, the best one said: “Hope this year is good for our country and we serve her to the best of our capabilities.” Amen to that!

DISCLAIMER: This is an archived post from the Indian National Interest blogroll. Views expressed are those of the blogger's and do not represent The Takshashila Institution’s view.