Special Content

Special Article vol. 21

70 Years: India’s adventurous journey to be a global power

Shivaji Sarkar

The 70 years since Independence has been an arduous journey. Getting freedom was not easy. Still the country made many strides, solved many political problems, became a nuclear power and leader in space technology owing to the arduous task of Indian scientists, and now becoming hub of global manufacturing with the efforts of prime minister Narendra Modi

The dream of "purna swaraj" was truncated. Partition of the country brought untold miseries. India was shorn off almost one-third of its territory, large finances and other assets.

The worse was the consequent transfer of population. It resulted in the world's biggest tragedy of displacement of people who were unwilling to move out of their homes. Mayhem followed. Millions were killed in the riots. Hundreds of millions were forced to move to new political set ups in the Eastern and Western parts of the country. Many families were devastated. They came to India virtually with nothing and lost many of their family members.

The scars remain. The political fall-out still rocks the northern and eastern parts of the country. The Nehru-Liaqat Ali (NLA) pact declared refugees from eastern parts as "displaced persons", meaning they would go back to the violence ridden, riot-hit parts of East Pakistan. It never happened. The "displaced" of the East unlike the "refugees" of the West were not paid a paisa in compensation. Many aver that even some of the violent movements like naxalism was the result of not so wise NLA as it severely impoverished those coming from East Pakistan. It continued to wreck the economies of West Bengal and many north-eastern states. Insurgencies and agitations rocked these parts.

The proxy war by the neighbouring country continues to hit it many ways, including drug menace, terrorism and efforts to create hatred in various parts including Jammu and Kashmir. The accession of J&K was possible due to statesmanship of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, the then home minister and consequent military action.

Still the country is making strides. Even those regions which were hit by the calamity of partition be it Punjab, West Bengal and Assam are making efforts to improve their economies. Yes, Punjab, with its prosperous agro-economy, for decades remains dream destination of job-seeking people from states like Bihar, UP and other eastern states.

Kolkata, the erstwhile Calcutta, is emerging as new hub of activity as are many other smaller cities like Hyderabad, Bengaluru, Noida and Gurugram. Many other states like Gujarat and Tamilnadu have become activity centres adding to the GDP of the country.

This has been possible for the planning process led by the founder of Indian Statistical Institute, Prashant Mahalanabis. The first five-year plan rolled out by the planning commission under the first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru started the process of a new industry-based economy. It began the process of setting up of large and later mega electricity generation centres, large dams like Bhakhra-Nangal across the country. It was charting out a path.

The green revolution, in the wake of severe food crisis, during the five years of acute drought, made India self sufficient in food grain production. Despite flaws the planning process now being transformed through NITI Ayog is turning that into 20-year-vision enunciated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The green revolution was possible because of institutions like Indian Agriculture Institute, popularly called Pusa institute, and a chain of such research programmes initiated by other government organizations.

The independent India dreamt big. Under Homi Jahangir Bhabha, it set up a research programme for peaceful use of nuclear programme with the tiny Apsara reactor. His dream child Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) conducted yeoman's studies. It conducted the first nuclear test in 1974, with the approval of the then prime minister Indira Gandhi. It stunned the world, and the West in shock clamped sanctions against India.

It was a boon. The BARC and nuclear scientists at several nuclear facilities on their own conducted significant development of the technology on their own.

Their efforts added to the process of gains in super computer, robotics, agriculture, horticulture, medicine, non-destructive industrial and medical investigations and many other areas. It led them to do a second nuclear test in 1998. Former president APJ Abdul Kalam led that team under prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee. Ultimately, the West has realized that sanctions cannot impede this nation.

They have started dismantling it. Today, India is set to join the elite global Nuclear NPT regime. It has already been part of the Missile Technology Control Regime  (MTCR). India was kept of the two for over four decades for none of its fault.

The sanctions also hit the Indian space research. But space scientists of Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) also developed systems, in many cases in association with BARC and several other scientific organizations, developed the system through many Council for Scientific and Industrial Research centres. The ISRO mission to mars and various other satellites has changed the communication scenario. Today ISRO is competing with global space organizations of the US, France and Russia.

The political leadership across the spectrum lent their support to these efforts. But for that Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO) would not have been able to conduct many military research and development of weaponry, communications and missile systems like Pritivi, Agni, LCA, effort for main battle tank, parachute, light snow suits and other sophisticated technologies. The food preservation system it developed was transferred to the private sector, which is supporting operations in remote areas like Siachen.

The sanctions led to a unique synergy, zeal and enthusiasm among the Indian scientific community to create what now politically is being termed the "super power". If India is inching towards becoming a super power, nobody can forget the efforts of its scientists across the spectrum - the real unsung heroes.

Few would remember that an intense study of tiny National Geophysical Research Institute (NGRI), Hyderabad, discovered the hydro-carbon deposits across the country. It led to the setting up national exploration licence regime called NELP. Today these are contributing almost one-third of the country's petroleum needs.

If India is opening up today to receive foreign direct investment (FDI), it is due to the sweat and blood of these scientists. The global economy and industry now realizes that India cannot be subdued either through a political division like partition of the country, sanctions or other coercive measures. It has the indomitable strength to stand on its own.

It showed that a number of times. India's 25-year friendship treaty with Soviet Union (USSR) came to an abrupt end in 1989, when the communist system collapsed as Russia re-emerged. Many in the West thought that India would also collapse because of its close association with USSR, rupee trade, arms treaties and many other associations.

Nothing happened. Indian economy showed its resilience with a short break when the four-month Chandrashekhar government pawned its gold to Bank of England to run its exchange inventories. The shock gave rise to a new liberal-global economy.

But India has been opening up. In 1980s, it started the process with receiving Special Democracy Rights from International Monetary Fund (IMF). Two years later it was announced that India was not accessing all the SDR and was repaying whatever it received. There was subdued effort to receive FDI at this stage also.

One need not forget that it was during this time that with Japanese investment, the  Maruti car was rolled out. It changed the automobile scenario of the country. It also marked the beginning of the end of the licence-permit raj that had stymied India's growth as the two so-called desi carwallahs prevented competition for decades.

If today India is becoming global car makers' choice production centre, the syndrome of Maruti would always be remembered. It brought not only new car but also a new work culture, labour welfare and the change to trade union policies. It opened up a climate of investment in many other sectors like Gujarat's gold, jewellery and diamond polishing, soft drinks, apparel, machineries, agriculture, seeds, railway locos, metro train coaches and what not.

It led to the rise of investment in information technology sector and Indian names like Infosys, Wipro and others. The global business processing organizations (BPO) sector thronged the country. It should not be forgotten that it had been slowly happening under Sam Pitroda led C-DAC. The Pitroda initiative had changed the telecom scenario. Trunk calls were replaced by STD dialing connecting what now the state-run BSNL calls "One India". Today's, 2G, 3G and 4G have their roots in mid-1980 efforts. It opened up new dimensions for Private Indian and multi-national players in this field.

The IT and telecom together are the largest employers today along with IT-based online markets.

India has been looking for reforms since inception. The foreign life insurers in 1950s had created havoc as they closed shops overnight and poor investors lost billions of rupees those nascent days. It led to nationalization of the insurance and forming the first largest public sector finance organization, Life Insurance Corporation, which later invested immensely to the vision of India's growth. In late 1960s, the general insurance was also nationalized and GIC was formed. These were done to save the investors and streamline the insurance business.

In 1969, Indira Gandhi's government ushered in a major reform to protect people's money by nationalizing the banks. Today, the public sector banks despite large Non Perfoming Assets fuel the dream of growth. Prime Minister Modi also introduced "Jan Dhan" programme for the unbanked millions for inclusive economic growth by. It has brought Rs 17,000 crore to the banking sector from the not so rich people.

Jobs have always been the focus. In late 1970s, the Appreticeship Act was introduced for inducting fresh talent into the industry. Now make in India, skill India, start up, stand up, MUDRA and several other schemes of Prime Minister Narendra Modi strives to achieve that.

There is difference. With times the vision has changed. Now the stress is also on entrepreneurship. Young talents are turning into entrepreneurs and giving jobs, instead of seeking through programmes like MUDRA.

The country had short spells of problems as well. The Chinese invasion 1962, Pakistani aggression in 1948, 1965 and 1971 only added to the resolve of this country. It not only tried to strengthen its military power but also make its own systems. The 1971 war against Pakistan ensured the birth of a new nation, Bangladesh. The new country is today helping India integrate and develop North-Eastern regime by allowing road, rail and shipping connectivity. In the process, India is also helping Bangladesh develop and revitalize its economy.

The ultimate was a virtual single party dominance in 2014 under Narendra Modi, who led the BJP to a stunning victory and ushered in new inclusive economics and politics.

The new diplomacy is changing the Indian sub-continent. Closer ties with Afghanistan, Iran, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Myanmar are not only helping these countries but is also opening up new roads to development with South-Eastern Asia and central Asia. 

India's operations in Yemen and West Asia has set record or rescuing nationals of 26 countries. Now its effort to rescue 10,000 Indian workers from Saudi Arabia shows that the country is not only empathetic to its people but is also capable of lending hand where the international community needs it.

No wonder it is becoming an ally of powers like the US, Japan, UK, EU and other communities in Africa and Latin America.

 The 70 years may have seen many ups and downs but the way the country is moving and bringing the sub-continent closer, it is expected to take new strides in the international arena as it inches to become a stronger economy with stronger manufacturing and agricultural base.


(The author is journalist and academician. Email shivajisarkar@yahoo.com)