The Hindu : Magazine : India 62: Soaring high? A few eminent Indians tell us what they think are some of the significant achievements since Independence. Makarand Paranjape, Poet and Professor of English, Jawaharlal Nehru University
First of all, is India only 62? Some portions of us are much, much older, while others are not even 15 years old. That is why celebrating national birthdays each year may actually trivialise or detract from the more serious issue of who we really are. We should thus be wary of any simplistic grand narrative of our identity as a nation. But the real question in evaluating our achievements even in these 62 years is what yardsticks to apply?
If we invoke the idea of Svaraj so resonant during our freedom struggle, then we are still far from having achieved true “self rule”. We are not yet a nation of highly evolved, self-regulating citizens for whom the state is an almost unnecessary imposition. In addition, for Mahatma Gandhi a society or a nation had to be judged not by its greatest achievements in business, industry, or technology, but by how its poorest and least privileged members fared. Antodaya, the welfare of the last citizen of India, is still not our priority.
For Sri Aurobindo, a society, culture, or civilisation had to be judged by how developed its members were not just materially, but emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. That society or nation was successful whose citizens progressed integrally and found higher and higher levels of freedom and perfection. Today, who thinks of svaraj or self-realisation?
And yet, India’s accomplishments are considerable. Of these, I consider our new-found prosperity, even if it so uneven and iniquitous, a great achievement. What is equally important is the means to this prosperity, which is primarily knowledge or mindware. India has been both a prosperous country and a knowledge society for nearly 5000 years. But the colonial interlude brought us to unprecedented levels of degradation, poverty, and ignorance.
While notions of inferiority and mental colonialism still dog us, there is a gradual re-assertion of the genius of the common people of the land. Our ability to create wealth through the application of skills and knowledge is one of our great leaps forward as both a nation and a civilization. In addition, our democratic polity, combined with our plural, diverse, and largely free society are our greatest assets.
Sarah Abubakar, Kannada novelist
Nehru, Gandhi and Ambedkar were all products of a time when foreign universities were almost solely responsible for shaping the Indian intellect. That, a growing number of bright young people find academic enlightenment in our own country today, is the single most significant achievement of independent India. [...]
To make matters worse several state governments, in the pursuit of petty regional politics, are pushing for a vernacular medium of instruction. After all, which management, medicine, law or engineering textbook is written in Kannada or Tamil? These plans are only going to intellectually exclude those who are already financially excluded from the ‘education markets’. Those who want to remain in the race for education will have to own the two most valuable commodities in the Indian marketplace: money and the English language.
Rahul Bose, actor
The fact that we have a democratic secular constitution is probably our most effective step. We may have failed often in its implementation but definitely the drafting marked the significant step.
The C-DOT network conceptualised by Sam Pitroda during Rajiv Gandhi’s tenure was significant. It’s the reason for a PCO in every village across the country.
Other significant moments were the National Rural Employment Guarantee schemes (NREGA), the Sarva Siksha Abhyan and the Mid-day meal Scheme. The right to information is probably the best legislation this country has ever had.
The right to food and the right to education are two acts that we can look forward. It is sad that we still have to define these basic rights of a human-being. Article 377 is a landmark this year. In a more general way the stepping in of the judiciary when state governments refused to react, though unprecedented, is extremely welcome. As told to Archana Subramanian