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HTLS column by Chandan Mitra: Sleeping elephant is the toast of the world

There was a time when nobody would have believed that this ramshackle country could ever raise its head, leave alone achieve distinction in the world.

htls Updated: Nov 24, 2017 08:30 IST
Hindustan Times Leadership Summit 2017,HTLS 2017,Chandan Mitra
ISRO's heaviest rocket GSLV Mk-III, carrying communication satellite GSAT-19, takes off from Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota in May 2017.(PTI File Photo)

As a child in a Bengali-medium muffosil school in the early 1960s, we would sing an inspirational number at the morning assembly, which went thus:

Bolo bolo bolo shobey/ Shata bina benu robey/

Bharat abarJagat-sabhar/ Sreshtha aasan lobey

(Chant one, chant all, to the tune of this melody,

India shall again ascend the topmost seat in the comity of nations)

We chanted this number penned by nationalist poet Atul Prasad Sen in the 1930s with abundant faith but without robust conviction. Those were days in the immediate aftermath of our military drubbing at the hands of our northern neighbour. The euphoria of the first flush of Independence, Five-year Plans and belief in India’s destiny was wobbling. Even Jawaharlal Nehru’s charisma was ebbing. His death in 1963 was followed by political uncertainty, the Bihar drought, mass agitations led by Communists and another war, this time with Pakistan. The nation’s self-confidence was at a low. India was smarting under the humiliation of leading a ship-to-mouth existence as ration shops would be empty till wheat-laden American ships docked in Bombay to disgorge grain under the PL-480 scheme.

But 1971 and India’s success in liberating Bangladesh had an electrifying, albeit temporary effect on national morale, as did the first (1974) Pokhran “implosion”. Still India was abysmally poor, its Soviet-inspired development model had gone awry and the country was wracked by one internal strife after another, culminating in the rise of virulent terrorism in Punjab beginning 1980. Nobody would have believed that this ramshackle country could ever raise its head, leave alone achieve distinction in the world. The comparison with China, which started its modernising journey only in 1949, was particularly galling.

Nevertheless, some were convinced India was a sleeping elephant; once it shrugged off its slumber and stood up, it would trample underfoot myths of its perpetual somnolence. And that is what India has finally done.

Disproving doomsayers, the Indian economy has notched up the rank of fastest growing in the world. As a military power, its armed forces are among the biggest and finest in the world equipped with nuclear weapons, long-range missiles and state-of-the-art weaponry. But even more importantly, it is now a knowledge economy whose prowess in Information Technology is the envy of the world. The capabilities of its highly intelligent corps of computer engineers, proficient doctors and pharmaceutical manufacturers are today the toast of the globe. The managerial skills of its talented business professionals have earned the respect of entrepreneurs and corporates everywhere.

Arguably, India’s fairy-tale rise from the lowest to the top ranks of global powers is not without warts and blemishes. To feature in the 100th position in the World Hunger Index is a matter of shame, while its unflattering record of corruption in high places makes us cut a sorry figure. Civil strife and secessionist violence continue to plague India, and blaming a “failed state” like Pakistan for its ills does no credit to an emerging power. Also, its infrastructure falls far short of what its international status would demand.

But it is important to acknowledge that India has achieved success in various fields not despite democracy but because of it. Among post-colonial countries it is probably the only major nation which is a functioning democracy with a vibrant media, an independent judiciary and abundant cultural plurality. These qualities have fostered India’s rise as a soft power with its thriving cultural heritage bolstered by a highly innovative industry that effortlessly belts out products of popular culture, whose influence stretches from the corners of South-East Asia to the whole of Africa and beyond.

At the core of India’s strength and thus the driving force of its irresistible rise through the ranks of countries is its millennia-old family system, and the heritage and values it bequeaths upon us.

With the energy generated by the vision of a dynamic Prime Minister like Narendra Modi, who has a staunch belief in India’s destiny and is working to make India an equitable society – in which hunger, poverty and corruption will become forgotten words – we can be certain that the country’s rise is unstoppable. It is indeed poised to take its seat in the topmost ranks of the comity of nations, just as we used to pray in our school more than 50 years ago.

(The author is editor of The Pioneer and has been two-time Rajya Sabha MP from the BJP)

First Published: Nov 24, 2017 08:16 IST