India Today - - NEWS - (Aroon Purie)

Many Bri­tish politi­cians and com­men­ta­tors be­lieved, or per­haps fondly hoped, that In­dia with its “prim­i­tive peo­ple” would de­scend into chaos once they left and its squab­bling politi­cians would be un­able to rec­on­cile their dif­fer­ences. How wrong they were. Our tallest lead­ers at that time de­bated for 11 ses­sions over 165 days to give us a Con­sti­tu­tion we can be proud of. We are the only coun­try of the erst­while Bri­tish empire that has sur­vived as a united democ­racy in spite of our im­mense di­ver­sity, mul­ti­ple cen­trifu­gal forces and the great chal­lenges we faced af­ter 200 years of colo­nial rule. I re­gard it as one of the great­est mir­a­cles of con­tem­po­rary his­tory.

In 1947, In­dia, with a pop­u­la­tion of 345 mil­lion, had a per capita in­come of Rs 249.6, a literacy rate of 12 per cent and a life ex­pectancy of 31 years. Seventy years on, de­spite fears of the chaos we would de­scend into, there have been achieve­ments—a pop­u­la­tion of 1.2 bil­lion has a per capita in­come of Rs 74,920, literacy is up to 74 per cent and life ex­pectancy is a ro­bust 70. A lot more could have been done, but much has been achieved.

In­dia re­cov­ered from the blood­let­ting of Par­ti­tion, the dis­place­ment of 12 mil­lion peo­ple and the deaths of one mil­lion. It got to work with Jawa­har­lal Nehru’s ex­hor­ta­tion to labour and to work hard, to give re­al­ity to our dreams. It wasn’t easy. In­dia had two ra­dio sta­tions, a mere 82,000 phones and a hand­ful of in­dus­trial houses. Nehru, who was prime min­is­ter for the first 17 years, had the enor­mous task of build­ing

In­dia afresh and he did so by con­struct­ing dams (Bhakra-Nan­gal, Hi­rakud, Cham­bal); erect­ing steel plants (Bhi­lai, Rourkela and Dur­ga­pur); cre­at­ing five IITs and four IIMs, the Pun­jab Agri­cul­tural Univer­sity and the G.B. Pant Agri­cul­ture Univer­sity, among sev­eral other in­sti­tu­tions we claim proudly as be­ing of global stan­dard.

In a speech in 1954 while at the still-un­der-con­struc­tion Bhakra-Nan­gal dam, Nehru had called it the “big­gest tem­ple and mosque and gur­d­wara”. These tem­ples of mod­ern In­dia in­clude in­sti­tu­tions im­part­ing qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion and health­care; that have built in­fra­struc­ture; sparked rev­o­lu­tions; ex­panded mar­kets; con­nected peo­ple and cre­ated brands that have stood the test of time. These range from Amul that pi­o­neered the White Revo­lu­tion to ONGC which an­chors the coun­try’s do­mes­tic oil pro­duc­tion; from the largest com­mer­cial bank in the coun­try, the State Bank of In­dia to the Na­tional School of Drama that has pro­duced gen­er­a­tions of fine ac­tors. Seventy of these in­sti­tu­tions find a place in this cel­e­bra­tory issue, ac­knowl­edg­ing their im­mense con­tri­bu­tion to the coun­try’s econ­omy and so­ci­ety.

They have some things in com­mon. The vi­sion­ar­ies who built them en­sured they out­lasted them, by cre­at­ing a sec­ond line of lead­er­ship. Vikram Sarab­hai is a perfect ex­am­ple. A se­rial in­sti­tu­tion builder, he cre­ated both the In­dian In­sti­tute of Man­age­ment, Ahmedabad, as well as Space Re­search Centre, a fore­run­ner of the In­dian Space Re­search Or­gan­i­sa­tion, and left them in able hands. The pri­vate sec­tor fol­lowed the lead given by the pub­lic sec­tor and cre­ated iconic or­gan­i­sa­tions like Tata Steel, ITC or Hin­dalco, which served the com­mu­nity, mostly in far-f lung ar­eas, by build­ing schools, hos­pi­tals and other in­fra­struc­ture. These com­pa­nies have found op­por­tu­ni­ties and cre­ated mar­kets where none ex­isted. HDFC, for in­stance, un­der its founder H.T. Parekh, in­tro­duced the novel con­cept of hous­ing fi­nance in In­dia in 1977. Apollo Hos­pi­tals’ Dr Prathap C. Reddy cre­ated the first pri­vate health­care sys­tem which was listed on the stock ex­change in 1983. More re­cently, IndiGo made nofrills f ly­ing a vi­able op­tion for many mid­dle-class In­di­ans. Taj Ho­tels and the Oberoi Group in­tro­duced the gold stan­dard of hospi­tal­ity in In­dia. There are many more such shin­ing ex­am­ples of pi­o­neers.

In these 70 years, In­dia has trav­elled a long and hard road. It is a good mo­ment not only to re­flect on the past but to also clear the way for a new fu­ture. In just five years, In­dia will be 75 years old. Many of the pub­lic in­sti­tu­tions have be­come os­si­fied or ir­rel­e­vant or, sim­ply, the pri­vate sec­tor does a bet­ter job. They need to be jet­ti­soned. The sad­dest part is that even af­ter 70 years of In­de­pen­dence, our men­tal­ity and our reg­u­la­tions suf­fer from a colo­nial hang­over. It still seems the gov­ern­ment ex­ists to be served rather than serve and laws ex­ist to con­trol rather than en­able. It is time for In­dia to move into a new par­a­digm of gov­er­nance. It is time to shed old shib­bo­leths, re­move the dead hand of the state, dis­card an­cient prej­u­dices of caste and re­li­gion, har­ness the enor­mous en­ergy of our youth and em­brace true na­tion­al­ism like our free­dom fight­ers did. Only then will we re­alise the full po­ten­tial of this great na­tion.

We could learn from the in­sti­tu­tion builders, many of whom are fea­tured here, who bat­tled and won against great odds. When the then chief com­mis­sioner of In­dian Rail­ways, Sir Frederick Up­cott, heard about Sir Dorabji Tata’s plans to make steel in In­dia in 1907, he said, “I will un­der­take to eat ev­ery pound of steel rail they suc­ceed in mak­ing.” That must have been a lot of steel to eat. On that note of thumb­ing your nose at those who mock us, Happy In­de­pen­dence Day. May In­dia al­ways prove its de­trac­tors wrong.

Our In­de­pen­dence Day cov­ers in 1997 and 2007

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