Fifty-seven years ago, when India proclaimed itself a Democratic Republic, few believed that the Indian experiment would succeed. Many thinkers, political scientists, strategic experts had written off India as an impossibility — a country with so many variances: different languages, ethnicities, communal problems coupled with extreme hunger and deprivation, would never pull together as a modern nation, particularly a democratic one.
During the Fifties and Sixties, as India continued to grapple with communal, caste and ethnic conflicts, inter-regional disputes, secessionist tendencies, and sub-national aspirations, the belief that India could continue as modern, democratic, prosperous and tolerant nation was widely dismissed as a utopian dream. Sixty years later, India has emerged as a republic in full measure.
India is finally on the trajectory towards claiming its rightful place in the comity of nations. But the India that is emerging today is an India with a difference. We Indians have always believed that economic growth and material progress is important, but along with growth, we must also preserve, proliferate, treasure and nurture our spiritual power — our adhyatmik shakti!
Today, while the world is in conflict, ironically in conflict with diversity, the biggest challenge is managing diversity. India, in contrast, has always grown in diversity. Ours is a country that has given birth to four religions as well as assimilated and absorbed various cultures.
Today, we present ourselves not only as a future economic superpower but also as a beacon of peace and spirituality in a world ravaged with conflicts. As the Bhagvad Gita says, “Samathavam Yog Uchyata” — in balance lies the true yoga — a balance between the spiritual and material planes.
India has always been historically presented as a land of multiple and myriad problems. However, I believe that India today is a land of multiple opportunities. We have come to believe in ourselves, in our ability to achieve. The world is sitting up and recognising our accomplishments.
Rapid economic growth in recent years has already made us the third largest economy measured in terms of purchasing power parity. We are today a trillion-dollar economy with a trillion-dollar market capitalisation. Our growth rates are second to none in the world except China. Over the last five years, India has produced a record-breaking number of multi-billion dollar MNCs. Over the last four years, we have created millions of new jobs. There are projections that if we continue at our present growth rate of above 9%, we would succeed in banishing unemployment by 2015, the target set by the Millennium Development Goals.
But then there is the India that not only can be but also should be — an egalitarian India, an equal-opportunity India, an India that empowers each one of us.
Over the last six decades, while our nation has moved up the development ladder, the goals we set for ourselves remain well beyond our reach. We have the world’s largest share of children who remain malnourished, and our record here is even worse than sub-Saharan Africa. About 35 million or a third of our children between the ages of 6 and 10 do not get to school; of the ones that do, a good number drop out well before they can acquire skills needed to pull themselves above the poverty line. The literacy rate among scheduled caste women is only 19 per cent and only 46 per cent among men. A substantial number of our people do not receive basic healthcare and do not have access to basics like drinking water, shelter and toilets. Despite all our successes, a third of all Indians are poor, malnourished, illiterate and in bad health. Our farmers are not as productive because there are gaps in farm research and extension services, the quality of inputs like water, power, seeds, fertiliser they get are inadequate. It is plain that India cannot go on like this.
Thus, we have to renew our pledge and focus on the basics such as education and healthcare. We need to concentrate not on outlays but on outcomes. For every rupee spent in terms of human development, how many of our children are receiving quality and not quantity basic education; how many of our rural population are receiving quality healthcare? We have to wage a new war during peace time — a war against poverty, the biggest challenge facing our country. We have to ensure that we bring the 200 million who are on the fringes of economic development into the mainstream of this vibrant India. What does this require?
In addition to health and education, the most important and basic need, is equality of opportunity. In a country where agriculture forms only 19% of our GDP, we still have 70% of our population dependant on this sector. Agriculture is becoming less and less remunerative. Thus, we must move the farmer up the value chain in agriculture through food processing or else provide him with employment opportunities in other areas such as manufacturing or services, thereby creating avenues for migration. As every economy moves from a developing one to developed one, it transitions from an agrarian economy to a manufacturing and services led economy. The same must be the case for India.
India has already been acknowledged as a world leader in the knowledge economy. We need to capitalise on this potential to create a powerful base for cutting-edge research and innovation across sectors ranging from space, new sources of energy, engineering excellence and medicine and, last but not the least, agriculture and crops science to name a few. Now our country can aspire to become a superpower and leader in expanding the frontier of scientific and technical innovation.
In retrospect, India has surprised many. The time has now come to surpass the expectations of even those who believe in us. As often stated, there are many good ideas, but success lies in the ability to execute. Today, India needs leaders in every field — political, business, social sector — who have the ability to execute.
(Jyotiraditya M Scindia is a Lok Sabha Member of Parliament)