Seventy Years of Independence
completes 70 years of existence as an independent nation this month. Independence
was won after a struggle that lasted nearly 90 years, starting from the Great
Revolt of 1857 until 1947 when India’s freedom fighters forced the British out.
The movement had caught the imagination of the whole world for the doctrines it
was founded on. Eschewing violence and bloodshed and strongly rooted in the
twin principles of truth and non-violence, this movement succeeded in
overthrowing the imperialist rule perpetuated by the most powerful nation on
earth at that point of time.
Mahatma Gandhi, the leader who harnessed the energies of India’s masses successfully during this movement, was hailed as a beacon of hope for humanity at large that was by then ravaged by two World Wars.
Freedom from British rule was accompanied by the partition of the Indian subcontinent into two independent nations of India and Pakistan. This resulted in one of the greatest forced migrations ever of human beings in history, displacing more than 15 million people between the two countries in the wake of riots, killings, and arson. More than a million lost their lives even as many hundreds of thousands never made to the other side.
There was also a brief war fought over the erstwhile princely state of Jammu and Kashmir, which was brought under control only through mediation by the United Nations. Thus, it was only towards early 1949 that the new nation was relieved of the pangs that had accompanied its birth and could look forward to a betterfuture.
The 1950s was in many ways the decade of hope and optimism. India adopted a new Constitution, declaring herself to be a sovereign, democratic,and secular republic, with a parliamentary form of democracy based on universal adult suffrage. A massive programme of development was launched through the concept of five-year plans. This produced visible results and suddenly there arose a feeling that poverty would soon be eradicated from the country. India also reached out to the other newly independent nations of the world and strove hard to take up the causes of freedom movements in states still languishing under imperialist rule.
Meanwhile, the pursuit of an assiduously independent foreign policy based on the principle of non-alignment with either power centres — the Soviet bloc on one hand and the US-led NATO bloc on the other— saw India commanding great international stature.
However, matters took a turn for the worse during the 1960s. Two successive wars (against China in 1962 and Pakistan in 1965) and two successive years of severe drought placed a huge strain on the economy. The humiliation in the border war with China meant that more funds and resources had to be made available for improving defence preparedness by recruiting and training more troops as well as by acquiring arms and ammunitions from abroad. The slow pace of economic growth and a widespread lack of opportunities in the job market led to urban unrest and agitations during this period.
The 1970's saw the executive (state machinery) usurping more authority and power from the judiciary and the legislature. After a historic victory against Pakistan in the 1971 war, which led to the birth of Bangladesh, the executive started asserting itself through a set of actions starting with the super-session of judges at the Supreme Court, amendments to the Constitution and, finally, the imposition of an internal emergency with press censorship in June 1975. This resulted in the Indian National Congress, the party that led the struggle for freedom, being defeated in the General Elections of 1977 and the rise to power of the Janata Party, which came into being following the merger of five disparate political parties. The ‘Janata Experiment’ended in 1979 and the Congress was back in power by the time the next decade began.
The 1980's was the decade when various secessionist tendencies that had lain dormant came out into the open. If violence in Punjab and Assam dominated the news during the first half of this decade, states in the North East and the state of Jammu Kashmir too joined the fray in the next half. The Army was called out to assist the civil administration in many parts of the country on numerous occasions during this decade, which also saw the assassination of Indira Gandhi, then Prime Minster of the country,by her own bodyguards at her official residence. It was also on account of actions taken during this decade that Rajiv Gandhi, who succeeded Indira as Prime Minister (1984 till 1989), was assassinated while campaigning ahead of the General Elections in 1991.
Though the 1990s started out on a bad note with a deep economic crisis enveloping the country and organisations voicing extremist and secessionist views continuing to be active, matters took a turn for the better soon thereafter. The economic reforms initiated under pressure from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank started yielding results. Economic growth, triggered and sustained by private enterprise, which was until then kept under a tight leash, and the opening up of the huge Indian market to foreign sellers and suppliers led to inflow of large foreign investments into the country.
The Indian state could also successfully tackle militancy in various parts of the country and establish the rule of law. However, this decade also saw deepening political instability at the Centre with regional parties wielding more influence over decision making in New Delhi as coalition governments became the order of the day.
The first decade since the start of the new century saw India consolidate the gains made on account of opening up its economy to the global market. However, it was not all smooth sailing as there was enormous resistance to pulling down the apparatus of the welfare state, both from those who sought to make malafide gains from such structures as well as from those who genuinely needed them for their livelihood and survival. This resulted in governments putting the skids on the pace of reforms, consequently slowing down growth towards the end of thedecade. This periodalso saw the rise of the civil societyagainst corruption as a series of major scams shocked the collective conscience of the nation.
After starting on a pessimistic note, India’s growth story has since regained momentum after the 2014 general elections, which saw a single party win absolute majority on its own for the first time since 1984.
Thus, India passed through various stages of evolution since attaining independence seven decades ago. Nation building is never an easy task even at the best of times and it poses even greater challenges in a plural, multilingual, and culturally diverse society. There have been many skeptics who have doubted the ability of the nation to stay together given the diversity of her races, peoples, languages, cultures, and habits.
Many more have felt deeply disappointed at the slow pace of growth and failure to eradicate poverty and the near-endemic corruption. But the idea of India, with its inclusive nature, liberal ethos, and democratic spirit has survived and triumphed over the various challenges that have cropped up time and again challenging its integrity.
India is the living example of how people of different faiths, who speak different languages, trace their origins to disparate races, and follow diverse cultures can come together and build a nation based on the principles of liberty, equality, secularism, and the rule of law. And this would be India’s lasting legacy for humanity.