August 13, 2006 11:39:57 pm
If one surveys the six decades of independence, the picture that emerges is very enigmatic. One isn’t sure whether one should entertain hopes or fears about the country’s future.
In many respects, we are better placed today than we were at the dawn of independence. Life expectancy has risen, India has been largely free from famines. We have witnessed a ‘green’ as well as a ‘white’ revolution. Sardar Patel’s integration of 561 princely states far outshines the much-applauded feat of Bismarck in consolidating Germany. Likewise, the remarkable contributions of stalwarts like Jawaharlal, Govind Ballabh Pant, Dr Rajendra Prasad in planning, in the advancement of science and in the construction of the new temples of development remain the positives in the course of our 59-year journey as an independent nation. Recent achievements in the fields of nuclear technology, space, telecommunications and information technologies, tell their own stories. Of late, the average rate of growth of economy — of about 7 per cent — has been impressive. The market capitalisation of about 100 companies has crossed the billion-dollar mark. The outsourcing business of software establishments has increased from a few hundred dollars annually to about $ 20 billion. The country now has the third largest pool of scientists and technologists in the world. A large section of its youth is showing an initiative and dynamism never seen before. India appears to be on a threshold of a great leap forward.
The picture, viewed from a different angle, turns gloomy though. India continues to have the largest number of the poor, the illiterate and the malnourished in the world. Over 250 million men, women and children go to bed hungry; one out of three women is underweight; 40 per cent of total low birth weight babies under the age of five in the world are Indians. Out of the 150 million children in the world who do not attend school, 130 million are Indians. About 640 million Indians have no access to sanitation, about 170 million don’t have safe water and about 293 million, access to health services. With about 40 million cases, India is home to the largest number of active TB patients in the world and the danger of an AIDS epidemic looms. On account of rural economic distress, about 1 lakh farmers were driven to commit suicide during the period 1998-2003. In the cities, the slums and squatters’ settlements have been proliferating, growing 250 per cent faster than the overall population. As for infrastructure, it remains a major challenge — 40 per cent of the country’s food and vegetables are wasted during its journey from the field to the consumer. Terrorism, subversion and Naxal violence have brutalised the atmosphere and the problems facing its internal security are increasing by the day.
A comparison with China may be useful. China’s per capita income of about $990, India’s is $440. India’s annual food grain production is about 206 million tonnes while China’s is almost double this even though India’s cultivable area is double that of China. India formulated its population policy in 1952 and started executing it immediately. China did so in 1970. Yet India’s birth rate is 300 per cent more than China’s. India has more than 300 million people below the poverty line, compared to China’s 30 million.
What is more disconcerting is the growing loss of whatever little is left of India’s ancient wisdom, its basic nobility, its sense of balance and harmony and its understanding of the essential oneness of the elements of the universe. I have little doubt that if the present trend persists and India’s cultural values continue to deteriorate, a situation would soon arise when, to borrow Swami Vivekananda’s expression, “spirituality will be extinct, all moral perfection will be extinct, all identity will be extinct, all ideality will be extinct”.
There are three courses open to India as it stands today. It could put itself into a deeper trap of divisive forces and expose itself to the risk of disintegration. It could continue to survive with its contradictions intact. Or it could open itself to regeneration by fighting the rot within. If it succeeds in achieving the third course, it could usher in one of most humane, enlightened and elevating systems of governance in the world, one that reflects the power of the mind, the purity of the soul and the potency of new institutions.
writer is a former a former Union minister
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