Aboard Destiny

By Dasu Krishnamoorty
Dasu Krishnamoorty
The Indian diversity is baffling – 22 languages, 720 dialects, 9 recognized religions, 3,000 castes and 25,000 sub-castes, scores of classical and folk music and dance forms, ruled by a medley of political parties. And presenting it as a gestalt can be a feat. I have chosen to present the seven decades, a major development defining each decade.
When India won freedom I was 21 years old, living in Hyderabad, politically an independent kingdom but geographically an enclave surrounded by Indian Territory. On the night of August 15, we were part of the millions of people who skipped sleep to hear Jawaharlal Nehru deliver his ‘Tryst with Destiny’ speech, a piece of elegant prose. That day a continent-size country liberated itself using the magic wand of nonviolence.  The first words Nehru spoke sparked a frenzy of celebration, soon chilled by a million people killing each other, citizens of the same country just a day before.
Then poured hordes of Pakistani armed tribesmen into Kashmir valley, unleashing an orgy of looting, murder and rape. Soon India recognized the need to invite into its fold the 562 Indian princely states. Every state endorsed Vallabhbhai Patel’s integration plan except the Nizam of Hyderabad. The roar of Indian Army tanks scared the Nizam into surrender. There still remained the French and the Portuguese colonies on Indian soil. While diplomacy secured the French evacuation, the Portuguese needed a short war to leave the country.
After Mahatma
Hardly had the nation learnt to walk when a misguided youth killed Gandhi, the saint who preached peace, spurned power and with the magic slogan of Vande Mataram faced British guns. Nehru said the light had gone out of our lives. Had he lived he would have seen how a free generation coped without him.
Even before Independence the country’s visionaries had drafted plans to build a self-reliant India. One of them, Minoo R Masani wrote his blueprint known as Our India in 1938. In October 1946, the Interim Government headed by Jawaharlal Nehru set up a planning advisory board.  In March 1950 the Planning Commission took birth in pursuance of declared objectives of the Government to promote a rapid lift in the standard of living of the people by efficient exploitation of the resources of the country.
First Steps
Passionate about realizing his vision Nehru worked 18 hours a day creating institutions that made India what it is today: the three academies, the departments of atomic energy and space (fore-runners of Bhabha Atomic Research Centre and the Indian Space Research Organization), preparing blueprints for IITs and IIMs, launching Sainik and Kendriya Schools, the National Defence Academy near Pune; he kept up this pace until his last breath. The first IIT came up at Kharagpur in August 1951. Two years later the first IIM opened in Calcutta.
Food Crisis
Two consecutive years of drought followed the general elections held in 1951. We needed to import food but had no foreign exchange to buy wheat in the international market. Jawaharlal Nehru approached the US administration for a loan of two million tons of wheat on rupee payment. Though Truman agreed, sanctioning the deal took so long that Nehru said the US was being ungracious and stingy. The US Congress opposed the deal because of serious differences over India’s foreign policy. India felt the US was trying to use food aid as a policy lever. India had to swallow some pride before Truman signed the food aid bill into law.
Wars with Neighbors
Then came the wars with our neighbors slowing down the process of development. Three wars and counting is how one can sum up Indo-Pak relations. The wars with Pakistan included a 1971 war that ended its rule in East Pakistan and created Bangladesh. In 1999, Pakistan launched a short war at Kargil. In 1962 China sprang an unequal war on India. Communist China declared it would occupy Tibet. India protested and proposed talks. Chinese response was to deploy troops on the Aksai Chin border. The month-long war ended when China declared ceasefire.
Foreign Policy
In April 1947 Nehru’s Interim Government convened the Asian Relations Conference in New Delhi where he presented the central idea defining his foreign policy. His internationalism began with an invitation to the UN to hold a plebiscite in Kashmir, followed by an active role in UN peace-keeping operations in Vietnam and Korea. President Sukarno convened at Bandung a conference of Asian and African countries where the concept of nonalignment matured into a movement formally launched at the Belgrade summit.
Green Revolution
Memories of the Bengal famine and the food crisis of the fifties persuaded the planners to usher in the Green Revolution of the sixties changing the food security scene in the country. An importer of around 10 million tons of food grains for 10 years earlier, India began exporting 4 to 6 million tons every year. In 2013-14 the country exported 10.7 million tons. Wheat production increased from 10.3 million tons in 1960 to 97 million tons in 2013-14. Rice production increased from 34.6 million tons in 1960 to 154 million tons in 2013-14.
Indira Years
In less than two years after Nehru’s death his daughter Indira Gandhi became the Prime Minister. Lal Bahadur Shastri and Gulzari Lal Nanda became Prime Ministers for short periods till Indira Gandhi took over first in 1966 and a second time in 1980. Her years were full of tumult, two wars with Pakistan, Congress split, the emergency and bank nationalization. Her Sikh bodyguards assassinated her in October 1984 six months after she had sent her troops to flush out Khalistan chieftain Bhindranwale and his armed followers hiding in the Sikhs’ holiest Golden Temple in Amritsar. Her death sparked the worst Sikh massacre in the streets of Delhi.
Regional Parties
The advent of the DMK government in Tamil Nadu in 1967 heralded the ascent of regional parties in many states, giving them leverage against the Centre. In 1953 the Telugu speaking regions of Madras presidency were separated to form the first Andhra State. Three years later the States Reorganization Commission created new states redrawing their borders on linguistic basis. The Telugu-speaking areas of the Nizam state were merged with the Andhra State to become Andhra Pradesh. The same year EMS Namboodiripad formed the first elected Communist Government in Kerala. In 1982 NT Rama Rao formed the Telugu Desam Party and in less than a year dethroned the Congress government in Andhra Pradesh. The State was later bifurcated. Today TDP rules the Andhra state and a new party Telangana Rashtra Samiti rules the Telangana State.
Rajiv’s Woes
In 1984 Rajiv Gandhi inherited not only power from his mother but also a massive balance of payments problem. By the end of 1990, it turned into a serious economic crisis. The government was close to default. Foreign exchange reserves dwindled to such a point that India could barely finance three weeks’ worth of imports. Government had to airlift national gold reserves as a pledge to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in exchange for a loan to cover the balance of payment debts. Rajiv had hardly settled in office before a gas leak in Bhopal killed 2000 persons. He was also dogged by Bofors deal, the coup in Maldives, peace-keeping in Sri Lanka etc.
PV Narasimha Rao
Remembered first for u-tuning the economy and liberating it from the tangle of myriad rules and regulations that blocked all development and secondly for his failure in preventing the demolition of the historic Babri masjid at Ayodhya – PV, in the very first week in office, smelt the stink of the economic detritus he had inherited from the previous regime. The solution to the balance of payments crisis struck him like an epiphany—the dismantling of crippling economic structures, later came to be known as liberalization.  The first message of PV as Prime Minister to the nation sought to inform the people of the condition of the country’s economy.
Vajpayee Era
Atal Bihari Vajpayee has been the only Prime Minister to hold office at three different times. A great orator, parliamentarian and poet, his years in office were full of exciting events: IT initiatives, disinvestment from public sector units, improving relations with Pakistan, IA plane hijack, terrorist attack on Parliament House, bus trip to Pakistan, nuclear tests and Gujarat riots. Despite opposition from western powers he commissioned several nuclear tests in 1998. He was blamed for tardiness in controlling the post-Godhra riots. He made a historic trip to Pakistan in 1998 aboard a bus making its first journey connecting Delhi with Lahore. In 2014 he was awarded the country’s highest civilian award, Bharat Ratna.
Manmohan Singh
Essentially an economist and bureaucrat, Manmohan Singh was the PM for ten years, and somebody described his rule as India’s lost decade. When he took over, the growth rate was 7 per cent and when he exited it dropped to below 5 percent. Job creation record too was poor, a mere 14 million compared to the 55 million jobs added under the previous NDA regime. Yet more than 100 million Indian citizens were lifted out of poverty during Singh’s two terms. He presided over a period of improved US-India relations marked by the civilian nuclear deal as part of the US-India strategic partnership. The deal helped our nuclear program with uranium imports.
The English Language
“English is being mangled!” Harold Evans, former editor of The Sunday Times, exclaimed in an article in The New Yorker. He had the English in Indian newspapers in his mind. The Economist said (Feb 20, 2015), “The English language, as we all know, is in decline. The average schoolchild can hardly write, one author has recently warned.” In India this slide is due to both poor standard of teaching and the quality of English in the print media. Yet at least 13 Indians have won the Booker prize.
The Culture Arabesque
The multiplicity of India’s culture and subcultures is so mind-blowing that it frustrates any attempt to capture it as a gestalt. There are as many cultures as there are languages. Controversies notwithstanding, the common man is comfortable with the legacy in vogue in his region. If one part of India considers Ravana as a womanizer another part worships him as a Vedic scholar and Brahma Rishi.  Neither Moghul rule nor British rule could sap their tenacity to survive and thrive. The common people have grafted them into their daily lives through the oral tradition.
Communalism
The Babri demolition, the Mumbai blasts, the Gujarat riots, the bombing of the Samjhauta Express and the ongoing conflict in Kashmir are the extreme manifestation of communalism. It is naïveté to forget the thousand years of history, partition on the basis of faith, creation of large communal enclaves by constitutionally recognizing certain communities based on caste and religion as eligible for state doles, concessions and privileges, and to blame any single party for communal riots.
Indian Science
Just the single feat of placing in different orbits 104 satellites, some of them on behalf of the US and other countries, in one go illustrates the advance of Indian science. If we tested our own nuclear weapons or built rocket launchers, the credit goes to Indian science establishment at ISRO and BARC with the Indian Institute of Science watching behind the scenes.  We put a man in space in 1984. Our scientists have won five Nobel prizes.
Reservations
The Constitution created the monster of reservations leading to a second partition of the country based on caste and religion, the very travesty of secularism. Both the Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act and the Prevention of Communal and Targeted Violence (Access to Justice and Reparations) were directed against the majority community, creating a communal divide. In 1959 the Constitution was amended to extend the period of reservations for ten years, later to become a decadal event.
Media
Thanks to the reach of literacy, a billion people are over-informed. People have a choice of 82,300 newspapers in more than 20 languages selling a 100 million copies daily. Sixteen hundred private and state-owned satellite channels (400 of them telecasting only news) and radio networks have a reach of 85 per cent of the population. All the noises made about freedom of the press are disguised demands for license arising from a sense of narcissism.
NRIs
The Indian is an old emigrant, taking a slice of India wherever he goes, even to Iceland, and sending back to India a slice of the country he chooses for migration and that slice is worth $60 billion every year. This does not include what they spend freely in India when they come home for a vacation or a visit. There are countries where their ancestors had journeyed as indentured labor to parts of South Africa, Seychelles, Mauritius, West Indies and Fiji. They are in great numbers (5million) in Gulf   countries. The latest magnets are Australia and New Zealand. They earn a lot for the parent country by importing music, films, garments and food products. Realizing the role the NRIs play as well-educated, high earning and high-performing immigrant community, the government created a new Ministry for Overseas Indian Affairs. There are Indian caucuses, which regulate business and political relations between India and the host country. India today is an important ingredient in the foreign policies of the most advanced countries.
The Modi Years
Narendra Modi reordered both the economic and foreign policies of the country. His foreign policy is a shift from Nehru’s nonalignment. His policy of assertion of India’s interests based on reciprocity has made the world notice his readiness to do business rather than deliver sermons. Negotiating with ideologically disparate countries, he wants to pull down the walls of distrust between them. A new approach of realism in ties with the United States helps a two-way flow of benefits. Delhi has opened up to Israel without hurting Arab sensitivities, mindful of the interests of five million Indians working in the Gulf region.
About the economy The Economist says: A rush to expand the electricity supply has been so successful experts now warn of a looming excess of generating capacity.  Even the road and rail transport scene is changing. The budget for road and bridge building has doubled since 2012, spending 30 billion dollars every year. The world’s tallest rail bridge linking Kashmir with the rest of India is nearing completion.  The government is paving and widening the roads at the rate of 117 kilometers a day. Seven cities have now metros, a rapid transport system. Train speeds have increased.
Modi made budgeting a simple exercise and facilitated a greater ease of doing business by passing the Goods and Services Tax Act. His demonetization drive enlarged the spread of formal economy. He brought down inflation rate from 8.5 per cent when he took over to 2.9 per cent. GDP growth rate that was 4.7 percent when Manmohan Singh stepped down, shot up beyond 8 per cent in the first year of Modi rule.
Among the Prime Ministers who held office for brief terms, Lal Bahadur Shastri is remembered for signing the Tashkent agreement, Gulzari Lal Nanda for labor reforms, Charan Singh for promoting the cause of the farmer, VP Singh for Mandal unrest, IK Gujral for foreign policy reform, Chandrasekhar for opportunist politics, and Deve Gowda for riding two horses, national and state. The tallest among them, Morarji Desai, was a freedom fighter who spent seven years in jail. Both as the Chief Minister of Bombay state and the country’s Prime Minister, he displayed administrative skills. He was inflexible in his puritanical convictions and not a favorite of the press.
Through the seven decades India has survived wars, famines, drought, secessionist threats, communal riots, terrorist strikes, and illegal immigration.  It has conquered space, harnessed the atom, and eradicated small pox. Every government, irrespective of its party label, worked for the common goal of building a self- reliant India.  

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