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volume-19, 10-16 August, 2019

Seven Decades of Independence

 

S B Singh

On the midnight of 14th August, 1947, the august Constituent Assembly of India aroused the vision of a new, vibrant independent India in which true swaraj would be realized not only by the nation but also by each individual. Independent India set out on a new path of  framing a democratic, modern constitution that would usher in political, social and economic democracy in India. A new era of political freedom , individual rights had just begun to guarantee a life of dignity for every  citizen of this great nation irrespective of his primordial linkages with caste, religion, language or ethnicity.  The preamble of the constitution reflected the core constitutional values i.e. liberty, justice, equality and various freedoms. It also set the high ideals of a secular, democratic republic to be realized through the instrument of the constitution. Thus, the constitution was not just to be a legal document laying down the framework of governance, but an agent of social and economic revolution. The  historical injustices were to be rectified by the positive interventions of the state. Thus, the noble goals  of an egalitarian, just society became the prime pursuits of independent India. 

At the same time, the gigantic tasks of nation building and state building offered great challenges given the reality of immense diversities  which posed problems in welding together disparate interests and multiple identities. Fortunately, the leadership of independent India rose up to the task and set out  the process of nation building by giving due recognition to different languages by linguistic reorganisation of the states.  Though Hindi was declared as the official language of the country, each state was free to choose its own official language. Thus, contrary to what the American author, Selig Harrison predicted about Balkanisation of India due to linguistic formation of states in 1956, India emerged a more  consolidated nation.  The task of nation building took into account both the individual identities of the  Indians as well as their national identities. In other words,  nation building helped in creating unity in diversity which has been a historical fact of our cultural and political existence since ancient times.

Another task that was taken up by the builders of modern India was the gigantic task of state building. This involved creating modern institutions of governance and more. A number of scientific institutions were founded to make progress in the frontier areas of science and technology. Today, we  are proud of those institutions, viz; ISRO,DRDO, Nuclear establishments etc. Thanks to the great vision of our political leaders and scientific community, we have emerged as a self reliant nation in science and technology and are leaders in space, IT sectors. Similarly, a robust foundation  was laid for the security of the nation by creating a strong military capability. Utmost care was taken  to ensure that our military remains under civilian control  and never comes out of the barracks on its own. The foundation of a civilian regime was indeed  a great achievement of independent India, because, in most Asian-African nations which became independent from colonial rule witnessed military coups and dictatorship. More importantly, institutions of governance were created to provide effective, good governance. An independent election commission, CAG, Judiciary, a  neutral civil service were the main institutions of governance created. Sardar Patel, the father of All India Services, rightly felt that only the All India Services could secure the unity and integrity of India.

On the economic front, planned development was put on the top agenda towards  the goal of inclusive growth. Abolition of zamindari system, land reforms , raising agricultural productivity by employing modern agricultural practices changed the face of rural India and made  our country self sufficient in food. Nehru built the modern temples.. the heavy industries… for rapid industrialisation of India.

On the external  front, India espoused a value based  foreign policy  which drew itself from our cultural values of peace and  coexistence and was reflected during the national movement. Article 51 of the directive principles enshrines these  values. India became  a sane voice of peace during the cold war which threatened humanity. However, the needs of our security were also addressed while articulating our value based foreign policy and the nuclear option and exercise of India's strategic autonomy expressed through Nehru's policy of non alignment added a realistic approach to conduct of India's interaction with the external world.

On the social justice front,  constitutional and statutory safeguards were provided for the vulnerable  and the deprived. The supreme court has championed the cause of those who can not seek justice on their own through a liberal view on PIL. The failures of the executive and legislative branches in delivering  services, protecting the poor and the needy, has resulted in judicial activism or judicial outreach. With all allegations of acting beyond its defined boundaries, the supreme court has truly played the role of a catalyst and agent of social change by initiating social action to mitigate the suffering of the poor.

However, the last seventy years have also  thrown up many challenges. These are of political, economic and social nature. The electoral system has evolved in a way that encourages identity politics.  Narrow regional identities are clouding the larger national identity. Ethnic conflicts are on the rise, naxalism is spreading its tentacles, conflict in society is on the rise. All this points to the failure of the state to resolve disputes  due to inadequacies in  our conflict resolution mechanisms. The constitutional values are being undermined by rising intolerance. There is also a negation of constitutional morality in that the spirit of the constitution is not being respected by the political class. Major electoral reforms are being delayed and this  makes a mockery of our representative democracy. Parliament is not able to perform its deliberative functions due to  frequent disruptions and walk outs. The opposition and the ruling parties are arraigned against each other inside parliament and there is no proper scrutiny of important bills, no thorough  discussions on important public issues. Lack of ethical conduct by the law makers sets a bad example of parliamentary behaviour and undermines parliamentary democracy.

On the economic front, inequalities and unemployment are increasing .The democratic dividend  is not fully exploited because of lack of imparting employable skills among the working age population. The climate change is posing grave dangers to  our health, resources. Water stress, heat stress, air pollution, river pollution are going to be formidable challenges for India in the coming  years.  The frequency and intensity of natural disasters is ever on  the rise and managing floods , droughts, cyclones are testing our will and capacity to fight.

Social tensions are threatening the fabric of unity and the country is getting  divided in separate compartments under so many personal laws which are a colonial legacy. The will to implement a uniform civil code  is found lacking across all political parties. Intolerance, mob violence, lynching negate the notion of India being a progressive, inclusive society.

We have developed an appetite for mindless consumerism. Materialistic values have replaced our human values  as we are getting more individualistic and self-centred. We are a part of the so called 'throw away culture'  marked by our apathy and indifference towards conserving  forests, wildlife and economic resources. Materialism has got the better of humanism and we are forgetting our rich heritage of  compassion, kindness , simplicity and love.

Where do we go from here? The path to the future is not one but many. It depends on the choices we make.  One path is to rebuild India, strengthen its democratic institutions and imbibe and cultivate the constitutional values of inclusiveness, justice and equality. The other path is to put our narrow self interests above national interest  and jeopardise the very existence of our republic.

(S B Singh is a noted acade-mician and commentator. He can be reached on his email: sb_singh2003@yahoo. com)

Views expressed are personal.

(Image Courtesy : Google)