61 years on, India triumphs odds to celebrate Independence Day

August 14th, 2008 - 7:01 am ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Manmohan Singh
By Amulya Ganguli
India’s 61st Independence Day Aug 15 this year will prove to be, perhaps in retrospect, more memorable than any in the recent past. The claim may seem exaggerated in the context of the bomb blasts in the cities of Bangalore and Ahmedabad last month and the fear of homegrown Islamist terrorists. But terrorism, by common consent, does not pose a major long-term threat to India’s integrity, however menacing it may seem at present because of the suicide bombers and the indiscriminate killing of innocent people.

Similarly, Left-extremist insurgency may seem a serious threat because of the presence of these ultra-revolutionaries in the tribal belt and their occasional attacks on police personnel. But few expect the Indian state to crumble before them, just as it didn’t while confronting the Sikh militancy in the 1980s.

However, it is the path-breaking initiatives on the India-US civil nuclear deal and the continuing economic reforms that have implications well beyond the present times. Although the terrorists and the Maoist insurgents do present major security challenges, what will ultimately matter is the fallout from India’s entry into the league of big powers, as the invitation to India to attend the G-8 summits show.

What is even more noteworthy than India’s presence at the high table of international diplomacy is how New Delhi is rapidly moving ahead of some of the less friendly powers in the neighbourhood.

Pakistan, for instance, has realised that its earlier dream of parity with India is now unattainable. It isn’t only that India is now on the road to becoming an economic giant; its multicultural democracy acts as a role model even for advanced European countries where white racism - a colonial legacy - still undermines pluralism.

It is India’s success in moulding a multi-religious, multicultural, multilingual country of over one billion people into a vibrant and responsible democracy that has persuaded the US to ignore its non-proliferation concerns and accord legitimacy to India’s nuclear status.

There is little doubt that Indian democracy today represents a unique experiment. There has been nothing so successful on this scale anywhere in the world. India’s distinctiveness lies in the fact that while all the other established democracies see merit in trying to retain their original homogeneous racial and religious characteristics, India proudly flaunts its characteristic of being a mosaic of 4,635 communities speaking in 325 languages and dialects, which is written in 24 scripts. No other country can boast of its currency notes carrying all the 17 “official” languages, with the probability of more being added in the future.

But what is remarkable is that it is this very heterogeneity that holds India together where other countries focus on the need to impose an artificial uniformity on them for the sake of maintaining unity. Yet, the Indian experiment shows that it is the opposite that is true. Any step to force the various communities into a perceived “national” straitjacket only encourages fissiparous tendencies. And the value of this example is something that India can tell the world on this day.

Historians will say that this “unity in diversity” has always been in India’s DNA. From the Mauryan Emperor Asoka (273 to 232 BC) to the Mughal Emperor Akbar (1556 to 1605) the emphasis of all perceptive rulers has been on assimilation. As India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru said in his “Discovery of India”, if the same policies were pursued by a Buddhist and a Muslim emperor separated by 1,700 years, the reason was that the voice of India was speaking through them. It is the same today.

While India can accept the applause of the rest of the world for its numerous achievements on its 61st Independence Day, it is also raising expectations that the tortoise will finally emerge victorious in the race with the hares of fast-transforming Asia.

One reason for such a dramatic denouement is that economic reforms, stalled till now because of objections from the Communists, may follow a faster trajectory. The break in relations between the Manmohan Singh government and the Communists is a blessing because the ideological objectors to market-oriented policies are no longer around in the corridors of power.

It is becoming clear that the much-maligned neo-liberal policies have contributed more to the alleviation of distress than the tax-and-spend socialistic policies of the past. The latest figures show that there has been a fall in the number of people below the poverty line to 24 percent compared to 36 percent in 1993 and 51 percent in 1977-78.

If India does become a major economic power over the next two decades, as is predicted, historians will look to the present period to assess the individuals who were responsible for the magical transformation from the “land of tigers and snake-charmers” to one of information technology and nine percent growth.

And among those who will be remembered are several of India’s prime ministers — the late Rajiv Gandhi, who inaugurated the age of computers in the mid-1980s, (now Prime Minister) Manmohan Singh, who launched the economic reforms under the tutelage of the then prime minister P.V. Narasimha Rao in 1991. Also, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, a prime minister who for the first time headed a non-Congress party government for a full five-year term and carried on the reform process initiated by previous Congress governments, and Manmohan Singh himself when he became prime minister of the country in 2004.

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