This is an essay I had written in an English paper of my school examination in which the topic was: India @ 65 – Have we lived up to the dreams of our nation builders?
India is like the man who gets into a cab, but is unable to tell the cabbie where he wants to go. It may sound confusing and slightly demeaning as well, but the reality is that India is a rudderless ship . I say this, not because our founding fathers failed to give us a direction. I say this, because we forgot that direction a long time ago. Right up to tenth grade, Indian students are taught how our ‘nation builders’ led a glorious fight for freedom. Who tells them what happened right after that? The country became independent and Pandit Nehru became Prime Minister. What next? Have we ever been told about the dreams Nehru, Gandhi or Patel had for us? No, we do not know what goals they had in mind. By ‘we’, I mean the majority of our population, which survives today in conditions our founding fathers definitely did not dream of!
I happened to read a few books on post-Independence India and I do have a faint idea of how they meant things to be. India was built by thousands of men, but the architects of the entire process were a handful of visionaries, of which Mahatma Gandhi, Pandit Nehru and Sardar Patel were the most popular. It is fitting that all three of them had titles, conferred on them by the people of this country – ‘Mahatma’, ‘Pandit’ and ‘Sardar.’ So, have we lived up to their dreams? To answer this question, it is fundamental to understand their dreams.
Mr. Gandhi used to say, “India lives in her villages.” This line is the embodiment of Gandhi’s dream for India. He envisioned an India, with self-sufficient villages, functioning as independent units. He wanted India to be an agriculture-centric economy, supplemented by small cottage industries which would employ the entire population in some way or the other. Unfortunately, India never considered this path. I doubt anyone but Gandhi and a few of his followers ever gave this a thought. An economy without industry, in our times sounds too idealistic, although, self-reliant villages was an achievable dream. Have we achieved it? Far from it. The village scene in most rural areas is pitiable. After over sixty-five years of Independence, electricity and water supply is still rarely regular. Centralisation of power has prevented villages from becoming self-sustaining units and a majority of villages rely on Government packages. One of the few examples of what we might call ‘Gandhi’s villages’ is Anna Hazare’s Ralegan Siddhi. With enough water to drink, sufficient fuel and electricity and a prosperous population, Ralegan Siddhi is an impressive experiment.
Pandit Nehru dreamt of a Socialist Republic. He wanted an Indian state along the lines of the erstwhile USSR. The Soviet form of Government had impressed him greatly – Massive factories employing the unskilled labour force, public sector companies having a monopoly in manufacturing everything and subsidies for all, were big attractions for the Pandit. He was most convinced about having a secular state, with religion playing no role in the administration and policy. Nehru did not know it at the time, but Socialism proved to be a failed experiment, with the disintegration of USSR standing testament to it. In 1991, at the time of economic liberalization, we turned upside down, most of Nehru’s ideas by opening up the economy. Notwithstanding Nehru’s extreme socialism, his principles of secularism and democracy were remarkable in an India divided along the lines of religion and caste and we must not waver from that direction he has given us. Our democracy has survived and is maturing. Secularism is being redefined with the peaceful coexistence of religions. We still have a long way to go in becoming a truly democratic and secular nation, but we must not lose hope as achieving this goal takes decades, if not centuries!
Sardar Patel was rooting for capitalism. Hailing from the business-centric state of Gujarat, Patel wanted to free up the economy, allow free trade and encourage the private sector. An untimely death prevented him from pushing India towards these goals. Since the 1991 liberalization though, we have been moving closer and closer to Patel’s capitalism. Some believe capitalism is not the right way because of the massive corruption in the private sector, and concentration of wealth. However, Sardar Patel was known for his strictness and firmness. He would have expected an India that punishes the corrupt and promotes probity and transparency. In this respect, we have not lived up to his dreams. Cynicism about politicians and business houses’ corruption is at its highest and we need to set up a corrective mechanism at the earliest if we want Patel’s dreams to see the light of day.
We need to keep in mind, that although we, the economically stronger classes of society, live in comparative luxury, we are a very small percentage of India’s population. So, even if we have access to good education, food, water, clothing, cars, television sets and air conditioners, we are only a microscopic part of the entire society that still lives in poverty and suffers from malnutrition and unemployment. Therefore, when we think of whether or not we have lived up to the dreams of our nation builders, regardless of our personal position in society, we need to consider the millions of others suffering in our sixty-five year-old independent India.