Seventy years ago, on August 15 ,1947, India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, made his epoch making “Tryst with Destiny” speech as his country awakened to freedom from British rule.
“The future beckons to us. Whither do we go and what shall be our endeavour?,” he asked and answering the questions himself, Nehru said: “To bring freedom and opportunity to the common man, to the peasants and workers of India; to fight and end poverty and ignorance and disease; to build up a prosperous, democratic and progressive nation, and to create social, economic and political institutions which will ensure justice and fullness of life to every man and woman.”
Seven decades after Nehru’ speech, India has indeed come a long way from being a poor and illiterate country- lacking in self-confidence with little to contribute- to be the world except its unskilled labour. While its pace of economic and social growth is debatable, what is noteworthy is the self-confidence that its people, especially the burgeoning middle classes, have attained.
The India of today is aspiring to become an economic and military power with dominance over the South Asian region and the Indian Ocean. Its GDP had grown to US$ 2.26 trillion by 2016-17, to be the seventh largest economy in the world. For a long time its growth rate was just around 3%, but it is now an amazing 7.2%.
Food shortages and famines- which were common in the early years of independence- don’t occur any more due the Green Revolution of the 1960s and an effective government distributing machinery. Today, India is self sufficient in food, being able to feed a population of 1.2 billion with its own production. Rice production has gone up from 22.5 million tons in 1950 to 103 million tons.
Improvement in communication has been a major driver of its development. In 1947, there were only 400,000 km of road, of which only 150,000 kilometers were surfaced. But by 2015, India had a road network of 5,472,144 km, the second largest in the world, though only 61 % of it was paved. The railways, which developed very fast during British rule, grew after independence by about 10,000 kms in 69 years.
The number of registered vehicles was only 306,000 in 1951, but now it is 210 million. By 2010, the number of major airlines was six, but they were using 400 aircraft and carrying 143 million passengers, 38 million of whom were from abroad. India had also built 128 airports; 15 of them being international.
The growth of telecom has been explosive since 1947. According to Forbes, one billion of the 1.2 billon Indians carry a mobile phone now. “The little device in Indians’ pocket or purse has become their window to a world of information, education, livelihood, employment and even shopping and commerce,” Forbges quotes P.Balaji, a top Vodafone executive as saying.
Among the highlights of post independence achievements are India’s space program and its achievements in the field of information technology. In June and September 2016, India had launched multiple satellites; some belonging to advanced countries like the UAS and Canada.
By September 2016, India had launched 79 foreign satellites earning US$ 120 million. India’s ability to launch multiple satellites in a single mission has also put it on a firm footing in the global market. Currently 27 satellites including 11 that facilitate the communication network in the country are operational.
India is among the world’s top ten nations in the number of scientific publications. The country is ranked ninth globally in the number of scientific publications and 12th in the number of patents filed.
At the grassroots level, the number of poor in India has also dropped– from 321 million in 1973-74 to 269 million in 2011-12. India has certainly not eradicated poverty, but the substantial decrease in the number of the poor can’t be dismissed lightly, commentators say.
Though democratic institutions have existed since 1950, economic freedom still eludes Indians. The organized economic sector continues to be stifled by regulations. Peasants continue to suffer because agriculture is still a risky business depending on the monsoon and the fluctuating market. Indebted farmers commit suicide in many parts of the country. There is a crying need for economic reform, especially to attract FDI, but the political and business classes oppose reform.
The literacy rate has gone up from 18.3 per cent in 1950 to 69.3 per cent. But a Middle Income Country should be doing much better. India calls itself a medical tourism destination which also exports medical services. But its health indicators are poor.
According to Swarajya Magazine, for every 1,000 live births, 41 children die at birth and 50 die before the age of five. For every 100,000 live births, 174 mothers die during delivery. 58% of kids, 53% of women and 22% of Indian men are anemic. Communicable diseases account for 37% of deaths.
Lacking mass education and health facilities, India will have to work much harder and with a greater focus on basics like health and education, if it is to realize its dream of being a Super Power.