Editorial Articles

volume-43, 26 January - 1 February, 2019

The Indian Republic

70 Years and Counting

Manindra N Thakur

This year the Indian Republic turns seventy. Contrary to the doubts that the world had, at the time of our independence, India has emerged as one of the most vibrant democratic Republics. Seventy years back as a newly independent country, we were facing several challenges. Our economy was badly affected by colonial exploitation, our society was fractured due to divide and rule policy of the colonial power, our common heritage was broken into two nations unleashing unprecedented violence and a wounded history, and above all, India as a society was suffering from huge inferiority complex. Now, after seventy years of our independence, we stand as a strong nation with a global economy, ready to challenge the so-called first world; a vibrant democracy with the universal adult franchise; a country supplying a huge number of software professionals to the world and so on and so forth. We are one of the youngest countries of the world indicating that the future is ours, confident to emerge as a new superpower. It is not a small journey. India has written a success story with great difficulties and by innovatively meeting a number of challenges. This is a time to celebrate our achievements, however, this also is the time to be concerned about the trials that we are facing today in order to protect our democracy. 

The first and the foremost challenge before India was to write a constitution. India as a political entity was very different in the pre-modern period and it was witnessing a transition from colonialism to an independent nation. Simultaneously, it was also facing a transition pre-modern to a modern society. In these processes, our founding fathers played their role very well.  It seems they had a kind of divine consciousness as they were able to visualize a new India free from the vices of colonialism and feudalism. The Constituent Assembly debates are good evidence of their extraordinary commitment to the idea of universal human liberation, instead of narrow parochial viewpoint.  Consequently, the constitution they produced is not only a document of rules and regulations governing our nation-state but also one of the most radical documents capable of transforming India into a just and egalitarian society. This is a precious document that India has gifted to its own people and to the people of the world. There is no doubt that for the last seventy years our constitution has stood firm on the test of time, however, we have not been able to take it to the mass consciousness as yet. The challenge ahead is to make it a household text, everyone treating it as a sacred text to be read and followed with some respect. India has a great tradition of communicating complicated philosophies and values through simple stories and parables.  Can we do a similar experiment with our constitution, which is a complex legal document? In other words, we need to make constitutional morality a common sense of the Indian people through our great tradition of storytelling.  

The second major challenge we faced was that of the economy as colonialism destroyed all the advantages we had in the pre-colonial period when we used to have a bigger share in the world trade. The Indian economy was made subservient to the economy of the colonial power resulting in the drain of wealth from our country. The regimes after regimes in India worked towards rebuilding the economy by introducing modern science and technology. The developmental vision of the generations of farsighted political leaders committed bureaucracy, competent technocrats contributed immensely towards building the economy. We developed industries, transports, communication systems, space technology, institutions of higher learning, institutes of technology, Institutes of medical sciences and research institutes in numerous fields of knowledge. All this together transformed India from a weak economy to global power. We have now become one of the fastest growing economy and thanks to our financial institutions that despite major depression in the world we continued growing.

The third question before the newly independent nation was how to handle its neighbours, particularly China and Pakistan. China had the ambition to grow as a superpower and it was looking forward to dominating the region. After the partition, Pakistan started treating India as an enemy and despite all efforts to have cordial brotherly relations, we failed drastically. India as a nation emerging out of anti-colonial struggle was still following idealist philosophy even in the international relations, whereas its difficult neighbours were hardcore realists. India was still adhering to the much-celebrated policy of Panchsheel with five elements: mutual respect for each other's territorial integrity and sovereignty, mutual non-aggression, mutual non-interference in each other's internal affairs, equality and cooperation for mutual benefit and peaceful co-existence. India was so engulfed in the euphoria of the humanitarian ideals of the freedom struggle that it did not realize the wrong intentions of the neighbours, consequently, it had to suffer several wars. Fortunately, despite our commitment to peace, were not unprepared for war and we managed to convince our neighbours that we are strong enough to protect our boundaries. Now, with our growing strength, the neighbouring countries are becoming insecure.  To handle them India needs to develop a well worked out diplomacy to manage the regional politics. We have growing trade relations with China, yet, we faced a serious challenge at Doklam due to China's aggressive border policy. We had to suffer in Kargil as Pakistan started an undeclared war. Nepal keeps threatening to get closer to China if India fails to provide sufficient help. Despite all this, India has to maintain peace in the region so that it could avoid any major involvement in war again. Avoiding war is absolutely necessary for maintaining the pace of economic development India has achieved in the last several decades. And India has played its game well. Over the decades it has convinced its neighbours that it has no expansionist motives and by maintaining peace in the region they would be benefitted from India's growth.

As we know the pre-modern society in India was based on several forms of hierarchy and for the founding fathers who were committed to egalitarianism, it was a big challenge. The Constituent Assembly debates are evidence of high ethical grounds of the vantage point from where they were thinking for a future India. For the caste-based discrimination, they innovated an institutional arrangement that ensured social justice and in the last seventy years, we have achieved it to a great extent. The Indian polity has been responsive to the political demands from below and time and again it has improved upon the system of reservation. This policy has helped in secularizing the great middle class that Indian economy has produced in the last few decades. By now Indian middle class constitutes of not only upper caste Hindus but also a fairly good number of people from different lower castes and minority communities. Formation of such a multi-caste and multicultural middle class has strengthened the nation by making the boundaries of these communities more porous.

There is no doubt that India has emerged as a strong economy, vibrant democracy, regional power and relatively more egalitarian society in the last seventy years. However, there are numerous challenges ahead that we have to face to maintain what we have achieved. We have a population advantage as the number of younger people is much more than many other countries. To take advantage of this young population we need to invest a lot in their education and health. The nation has to generate many more jobs to provide them with a livelihood. There has to be a massive investment in education so that they become better citizens and more productive human resources. Unless we provide them livelihood and proper education this advantage might turn into a big liability for the nation. In the past seventy years, state-funded public education has played a crucial role in developing a quality human resource ready to work anywhere in the world. The remarkable growth of the service sector in India is a consequence of this. The growth of private sector and its capacity to deliver quality education may be a welcome development, but in no way, it can substitute the public funding for education as it remains inaccessible for a large number of people. Similarly, with the growing population, India has to invest a lot in health care too. There has to be a sound public health care system to cater to the needy people. Again, there has been a tremendous growth of quality healthcare provisions in the private sector, but it is hardly accessible to the majority of the Indian population. No doubt, making the provision of government-aided health insurance is a step towards health security, however, it could not be a substitute for a properly functioning public health care system.

Despite the fact that we have survived the major global economic crisis and maintained the growth rate to some extent, we cannot say with confidence that our economy is immune from falling into the trap. The institutions that were built to look after the health of the economy just after independence, need major reforms.

Constitution of India

India, also known as Bharat, is a Union of States. It is a Sovereign Socialist Secular Democratic Republic with a parliamentary system of government. The Republic is governed in terms of the Constitution of India which was adopted by the Constituent Assembly on 26th November, 1949 and came into force on 26th January, 1950. The Constitution provides for a Parliamentary form of government which is federal in structure with certain unitary features. The constitutional head of the Executive of the Union is the President. As per Article 79 of the Constitution of India, the council of the Parliament of the Union consists of the President and two Houses known as the Council of States (Rajya Sabha) and the House of the People (Lok Sabha). Article 74(1) of the Constitution provides that there shall be a Council of Ministers with the Prime Minister as its head to aid and advise the President, who shall exercise his/her functions in accordance to the advice. The real executive power is thus vested in the Council of Ministers with the Prime Minister as its head. 


 However, the reforms should not be against the basic ideas of the founding fathers documented in the preamble of the constitution. A more well thought out strategy needs to be developed to meet the challenges we are facing in contemporary times. One of the major issues India is confronting is that of the worsening conditions of the farmers. Our agriculture sector is bleeding as the problem of increasing number of farmers' suicide has defied any solution. No doubt, regimes are adopting the policy of loan waiver for the farmers, one would agree, it is hardly a long term solution. On the one hand, the growing input cost in agriculture has made it a capital intensive activity and on the other hand,  market instability and low cost of the product have produced a deep crisis for them. There has to be a policy intervention for farm management to increase their income. One of the major challenges our democracy is facing at seventy is the dilemma between the individual and the community rights. The founding fathers probably visualized that in decades to come the grip of the community on the individual would be replaced by the imagination of the broader idea of citizenship. At least the irrational community rules would be rejected by the people themselves once they are enlightened and start thinking more rationally. However, this process has not gone too far as every other day there is a news about atrocious community rules being implemented. In fact, over the years there seems to be a resurgence of identity-based politics and under its influence people instead of evaluating these community laws rationally tend to be emotional about them. As we know, Indian national movement was deeply concerned about these irrational community rules, they are mostly based on primordial commitments. The leaders of the Indian freedom struggle introduced several socio-religious reform movements to overcome this. However, after independence, most of them got relegated to the background as we thought the modern welfare state would take over the responsibility of reforming our social practices. We know that it could not happen. Probably, in decades to come, these communities have to take this social responsibility of reforming themselves from within.

In sum, India at seventy is full of energy and new promises. Our people are ready to take the nation ahead in the new world where the axis of power is shifting towards Asia. India as a nation is growing stronger every day to play a pivotal role in this process. Despite all the limitations, Indian democracy has emerged as one of the most vibrant democracies in the world and for this Indian people must be congratulated. The new generation of Indians is ready to carry forward the dreams of the founding fathers who spend their lives struggling for a free egalitarian society. There are reasons to hope that in times to come India would emerge as an exemplar for the democracies across the world.--

(The author teaches Political Science at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, E-mail- manindrat@gmail.com)

Views expressed are personal