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Despite provocations, India must continue to be a peaceful world power: Manmohan Singh

The living standards of the average Indian have improved significantly in the last seven decades since Independence

analysis Updated: Aug 14, 2017 15:00 IST
Manmohan Singh,India,Independence
Nearly half a billion Indians have been lifted out of poverty in the last seven decades since we attained independence from British rule, a feat that has few parallels in the history of humankind.(Raj K Raj/HT PHOTO)

India awoke to freedom with the stirring ‘Tryst with destiny’ speech by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru on the midnight of August 14, 1947. India’s cherished galaxy of freedom fighters, led by Mahatma Gandhi, attained independence for a nation that had borne the imprimatur of the British crown for nearly three centuries.

India that awoke to freedom on August 15, 1947, was home to one of every five people in the world. These 400 million Indians earned a meagre Rs 15 every month. 83% of them were illiterate. Thirty-eight thousand children were born every day but a quarter of them died before they could even reach the age of five. Three quarters of all Indians lived in abject poverty, struggling every day to survive death by starvation. Majority of Indians did not live beyond 32 years of age. Nearly 25,000 Indians died of malnutrition and under nourishment every day . The Indian subcontinent was one of the largest gatherings of impoverished humanity and divided sharply along religious and geographical lines. India was once a flourishing civilisation and a prized destination for trade and commerce that set Christopher Columbus on a discovery voyage. Between Columbus’s failed discovery of India in 1492 and India’s independence from the British in 1947, India had been robbed of her prosperity and left in a state of utter penury.

It was against this backdrop that the members of the Constituent Assembly of India adopted a pledge on August 14, 1947, which resolved “At this solemn moment when the people of India through suffering and sacrifice, have secured freedom and become masters of their own destiny, I, a member of the Constituent Assembly of India, do dedicate myself in all humility to the service of India and her people to the end that this ancient land attain her rightful and honoured place in the world and make her full and willing contribution to the promotion of world peace and the welfare of mankind”. This resolution was moved by Nehru and seconded by Chaudhari Khaliquzzaman of the All India Muslim League. The great philosopher Dr Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan reminded the members of the Constituent Assembly that India’s new-found freedom “will be used not merely for the well-being of India but for Vishva Kalyana, world peace and welfare of mankind” . The founding fathers of independent India undertook a resolve to dedicate themselves to return India to her rightful place in the world. Just seven decades later, India has indeed returned to her right honoured place on the globe.

With India afflicted by extreme poverty, illiteracy and social injustice, the first government under Pandit Nehru and Sardar Patel laid out a clear vision for raising living standards of Indians equitably through a significant growth in national income which can be achieved by a high rate of investment. This vision formed the cornerstone of India’s economic and social policies in the decades to follow. Equitable growth and upliftment of living standards for all has been the canvas on which India’s development since Independence has been painted. This will continue to serve as the canvas for India’s development paradigm in the future too, regardless of political parties and governments.

Several institutions were built in the early decades after independence that still stand as the edifice of our Republic. The Atomic Energy Commission, Election Commission, Planning Commission, Central Statistical Organisation were all visionary institutions established within the first decade of India’s independence. For such a poor and illiterate nation, India punched well above her weight in global affairs. Nehru as India’s first foreign minister set up embassies and missions in forty countries within the first decade and articulated a Non-Aligned Movement during the Cold War. New ‘temples of modern India’ were built at a frenetic pace — factories, dams, universities, irrigation projects and so on. Poverty alleviation and social justice through economic development was the mantra. This was complemented by the doctrine of agriculture self-sufficiency led by the Green Revolution.

India also joined a select club of nations in the world by launching her own satellites just as we were also making great advances in poverty alleviation. India’s rise to one of the world leaders in Information Technology was spurred by investments in science and technology with institutions such as Centre for Development of Telematics and Centre for Development of Advanced Computing. Such remarkable progress in agriculture, industry and technology within four decades of Independence laid the foundation for India’s bold push to liberalisation and free markets. Economic liberalisation catapulted India to her current status as one of the world’s leading global powers. The results of the vision, hard work and dedication of all of India’s founding fathers and contemporary leaders are evident today.

Today, out of every 100 infants born, less than three die before they reach the age of five. In 1947, a quarter of them did not live to age five. Since 1947, we have made rapid strides in curtailing infant mortality from 25% to 3%. Similarly, in 1947, more than three quarters of all Indians lived in poverty. Today, less than a quarter of them live in poverty . Nearly half a billion Indians have been lifted out of poverty in the last seven decades, a feat that has few parallels in the history of humankind. In 1947, more than 80% of Indians were illiterate. Today, just 25% of Indians are. The average income of an Indian has increased nearly 500 times since independence. Every Indian today has access to three times more food than in 1947 . Less than 0.5% of our villages had electricity in 1950. Today, almost 100% of villages have access to electricity . At least 90% of Indians have access to water today compared to just 5% in 1947. It is unquestionable that the living standards of the average Indian have improved significantly in the last seven decades since Independence.

On the world stage, India is now a proud member of the G20, a group of the top twenty nations in the world. India is an invitee to meetings of the G7, the group of seven largest economies. India is also a peaceful nuclear power. We are one of only four nations in history to have successfully launched a mission to Mars with our Mangalyaan satellite programme.

We can be justifiably proud of our accomplishments since Independence. Our founding fathers will be proud too of the fact that this brittle nation born in 1947 has developed into a mature and well-grown adult with her place of pride in the world. But, to paraphrase the poet Robert Frost, we still have promises to keep and miles to go before we can rest.

We must strive to ensure that no child born in India dies of starvation, is malnourished and denied good education and healthcare.

We must strive to ensure that all entrants of our labour force are assured of a productive job.

We must strive to ensure that no Indian is treated with hostility for her religion or caste.

We must strive to ensure that our freedoms for which our freedom fighters laid down their lives are not impinged upon.

We must strive to ensure that our economic development is equitable, fair and just.

We must strive to ensure that our development is environmentally sustainable, ensuring adequate protection of our land, air and water resources.

We must strive to ensure we are a responsible and peaceful global power regardless of provocations.

All these will be possible only if we strive to ensure that our institutions continue to be robust with and maintain high standards of integrity.

I will not be present at the centenary celebrations of India’s independence but I dream of an India that stakes a strong claim to being one of the most peaceful, prosperous, safest and healthiest places in the world for everyone, regardless of their identity or class.

Jai Hind.

Manmohan Siingh is former Prime Minister of India

The views expressed are personal

(A version of this article was published in the National Herald’s commemorative issue on July 1, 2017)

First Published: Aug 14, 2017 14:57 IST