Lest we forget: The journey of 76 years

This was India in 1947:

  • Life expectancy 32 years (most South East Asian countries were almost 20 yrs ahead)

  • Literacy 18%

  • GDP growth sub 0.5% per annum for over 50 years (Yup. The 'Hindu' rate of growth was an 8-fold increase over the growth in the first half of the 20th century)
  • Negligible capital as the Raj was about building capital in Britian, not India
  • Dire poverty

We have come a very long way since and must always remember all those who fought for our freedom, giving up years of their life…or even their life itself.

And those who put a framework in place: who had the vision, strategy and execution to take a road no other post colonial nation took.

I do not think we appreciate enough that the path with took was not the only one possible.

It was not inevitable, or even easy!

In 1947, almost no one would have bet on our surviving as an united nation for 75 years, with a functioning democracy.

Why a Constitution that has lasted 75 + years is itself an outlier in the 900 odd constitutions the world has seen.

It took a lot of thinking, passion and execution.

Even a simple thing like Universal Franchise was not the norm.

Let alone developing countries of Africa and South America; Switzerland gave voting rights to women only in 1971.

Canada, Australia and United States gave voting rights to their ethnic minorities only in the 1960s.

There is no other parallel even till date of a post colonial nation at anywhere close to those poverty levels, making a smooth transition to a liberal democracy.

Most fell into various forms of civil strife, military takeovers and where there were charismatic leaders, they became dictators (eg Indonesia and later, Philippines).

AND none of those Nations had the added challenges of India in terms of diversity of languages, cultures, religions etc.

I repeat none of this was accidental. To give only one example:

Both India and Pakistan had armies which had the same origin so why is it that Pakistan had military coups and military dictators, and we did not? It was part of a step by step process to ensure that the military remains under civil rule.

Those who founded the country did their bit, now it is on us.

Let us not take what we have for granted.

Two areas to my mind for focus: Job creation and Technology/Science/ Innovation.

The latter is an area where we went above and beyond in our early decades. No other country at that stage of development even dreamt of areas like atomic energy & space research!

The rest of Asia had barely any Management institute even till the 1990s - 30 years after the IITs and IIMs.

Even in the '80s it appeared strange to many, including myself, that how could a Prime Minister talk of computers & telecommunication being a priority in a poor nation - but that's what vision is about.

That is what drove the economy & job creation for decades on end.

But we've taken our eyes off the ball in the last few decades and are getting left behind in the innovation game. China is extremely focused on every new area of technology from neuroscience & biotechnology to renewables & semi conductors.

Our demographic dividend will also dissipate if we can't find jobs for young people and specially for women.

We need to do our bit to be worthy successors to those who gave us a free nation

Jai Hind!

Happy Independence Day   india  india

From the desk of 

Devina Mehra

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