Seven Decades of Independence

Today is our 72nd Independence Day. We have come far from the eve of our independence in 1947 to where we are now. When India gained independence, there were constant speculations all around the world on whether it will sustain and not disintegrate into multiple fragments. After all, to the British, India was merely a “geographical expression”. The presence of 565 erstwhile princely states and the partition of British India laid serious doubts about the further survival of India as a nation after 1947. The European experience of nation-building was as different as the Indian one as can be. Unlike France, Italy, or Germany, India did not have a common language or even a common culture. The nationhood we feel for India has been forged over many decades and standing today, the natural questions that come to mind are as to “who we are?”, “what have we achieved so far?”, and “how far we have come as a nation?”. Indeed, we have achieved a lot. We have managed to become a nation from being a so-called geographical expression. Moreover, we are sovereign and independent – a position for which countless people have dedicated and laid their lives in the past. Independence, however, is not an event – it is a process. Freedom is not an isolated state but a perpetual phenomenon that keeps evolving. Having entered into a state where we call ourselves sovereign and free, the next question arises: “where do we want to go from here?”. It is important to ponder on how we evolve our independence and freedom, and what state of being shall we achieve as an outcome of this evolution? Indeed, this is a broad question and to answer this we need to understand our innermost aspirations as people – because a nation, after all, is a collective of people and their mindsets.

Human beings, overall, are said to have three categories of needs (Alderfer,1940) –

(i)      Existence – food, shelter, sanitation, safety, security, livelihood etc.

(ii)    Relatedness – belongingness, esteem, dignity

(iii)   Growth – achieving one’s full potential

Just as human beings have these needs, nations who are collectives of human beings have these aspirations as well. Considering we are a nation that has been under foreign rule for almost two centuries and have been exploited by them incessantly, we have shown phenomenal resilience. Yet we are far away from the point which comes close to our aspirations and our true potential. There are indeed existence needs that we have to address – especially for the vulnerable sections of our nation’s population. Even today, one in five Indians is poor,[1] approximately one in three Indian women are illiterate,[2] while 28% of the population belongs to the scheduled castes (SC) / scheduled tribe (ST) category – a larger share of 43% of the poor are SC/STs.[3] There are about 18 lakh homeless people in India,[4] and, 23 lakh people every year are displaced and rendered homeless owing to natural disasters.[5] These are all fundamental existence related issues that we need to address to the earliest, as a nation. If a chain is as strong as its weakest link, we need to ensure that the disadvantaged sections of the society are given the greatest power. They need to get a fair share in the nation’s growth in order for the growth to be sustainable.

In terms of relatedness, for a nation to thrive, it is imperative to have healthy international and intra-national relations. At the level of polity, the spirit of federal democracy that fosters healthy centre and state relations, which in turn allows various regions to cooperate together for the collective growth of the nation, is something which should be uncompromisingly pursued as an active policy.  Various scholars including Mancur Olson (in his work ‘The Rise and Fall of Nations’) have rightly pointed out that inter-group cooperation is indeed one of the most important determinants of a nation’s survival and growth. At the level of culture and ethnicities, we are one of the most diverse places on planet earth. With 22 languages and around two thousand ethnic groups residing in the country, India’s integration into a nation is a phenomenon unparalleled anywhere in human history. In the pursuit of maintaining cooperation and coordination as a united entity, rather than considering our diversity as a hindrance to democracy, we have leveraged it to create a vibrant nation accommodative, respectful, and proud of its varied populace. 

In terms of growth, while as a nation we have done well economically with an averaging 6.5% year-on-year GDP growth rate from 1951 to 2018,[6] yet we rank 131 on the Human Development Index (HDI). In order to become a world leader as we aspire to become, we need to grow leaps and bounds on our HDI parameters. To do this, we need to facilitate an environment that promotes free-thinking and innovation, especially for the youth who are the growth engines of our nation. Today, we stand as the 57th most innovative country in the world, behind China (rank 17), Japan (13), USA (6), and Switzerland (1) as per the Global Innovation Index (GII).[7] It should be our national mission to foster greater innovation in the nation and put systems in place to promote greater entrepreneurship and innovation in the country. The three important parameters identified by GII for facilitating innovation are – institutions, investment in infrastructure, and investment in human capital. More than 65% of our country is below the age of 35 and this vigorous force of the youth must be harnessed to promote greater innovation and growth in the nation. This naturally means that a greater investment in higher education and human capital research. To gain maximum returns, these investments towards education and human capital should be in form of institutional structures that deal with the same. This is in line with what the Nobel laureate Douglas North has argued. According to him, institutions are one of the most effective vehicles of growth in a society. Therefore, institutional building for innovation and human capital research is indeed the need of the hour for our nation.

Finally, as a nation in the 73rd year of its Independence, India must aspire to be a land of prosperity, justice, and egalitarianism that vivaciously looks on to the future with hopeful eyes. I look onto the future with a commitment to work towards strengthening India’s institutions, its infrastructure, and its human capital and I believe that as Indians we together share the unwavering commitment and dream to live in an India that meets its true potential.

 

[1] “India’s Poverty Profile,” Text/HTML, World Bank, accessed August 15, 2018, http://www.worldbank.org/en/news/infographic/2016/05/27/india-s-poverty-profile.

[2] “Literacy Rate – 7+years (%) | NITI Aayog, (National Institution for Transforming India), Government of India,” accessed August 15, 2018, http://niti.gov.in/content/literacy-rate-7years#.

[3] “India’s Poverty Profile,” Text/HTML, World Bank, accessed August 15, 2018, http://www.worldbank.org/en/news/infographic/2016/05/27/india-s-poverty-profile.

[4] Sanjukta Sattar, “Homelessness In India,” SHELTER volume 15 (April 1, 2014): 9–15.

[5] “Calamities Displace 23 Lakh Every Year in India – Times of India,” The Times of India, accessed August 15, 2018, https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/calamities-displace-23-lakh-every-year/articleshow/61060372.cms.

[6] “India GDP Annual Growth Rate | 1951-2018 | Data | Chart | Calendar,” accessed August 15, 2018, https://tradingeconomics.com/india/gdp-growth-annual.

[7] “Global Innovation Index 2018,” accessed August 15, 2018, https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/gii-2018-report#.


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