Feb 26, 2024
Feb 26, 2024
As the nation is passing through the spell of Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav, my mind reminisces about that historic midnight — the midnight of August 15, 1947, when Pandit Nehru, the first Prime Minister of independent India, delivered his poetic address that was surcharged with national fervour to the constituent assembly of India.
In that speech, Pandit Nehru posed an apt question: “Whither do we go, and what shall be our endeavour?” And, he himself answered it, as though he is unfurling a master plan for its future, thus: “To bring freedom and opportunity to the common man, to the peasants and workers of India. To fight and end poverty and ignorance and disease. To build up a prosperous, democratic and progressive nation, and to create social, economic, and political institutions that will ensure justice and fullness of life to every man and woman”.
Looking back over the last 75 years of our independence, it is heartening to realize that we stabilized ourselves as the most stable democracy amongst the countries that emerged out of colonial rule during the forties. Thanks to Pandit Nehru and the institutions that he built in the initial years of our evolving as an independent nation that we could navigate through the hiccups emerged in between that threatened the very core of our democratic setup and quickly return to our chosen path of democratic liberalism. On this historic occasion of completing 75 years of independence, we certainly deserve to be proud of our well-established democratic traditions.
That said, we must also be cognizant of the fact that democracy doesn’t mean merely elections and participatory governance. As Nehru envisaged in his address to the constituent assembly, it also means fighting poverty and empowering the common man with the freedom to pursue the kind of life that he/she values so that they could enjoy “the fulness of life”.
Economic policies and pursuits have thus become equally important. When we think of economic policies, two major events stand out since 1947. The first one is: periodic bouts of food shortage that we suffered till the 1960s due to no rains or excessive rains that played havoc with our agricultural production. Indeed, those were the years of “ship-to-mouth” existence, for it was the vessels carrying wheat from the US under its PL-480 programme that kept us away from hunger. It was the “Green Revolution” that was launched by miracle wheat seeds brought from Mexico and adapted by Indian agricultural scientists to suit our agro-climatic conditions that finally made enough food available for us since the 1970s. It also made India a major exporter of food products, while maintaining enough buffer stocks to tide over any eventuality domestically.
The other major economic breakthrough came in the early 1990s. When the nation was passing through the worst foreign exchange crisis, it was PV Narasimha Rao – a retired politician whom destiny put on the throne of Prime Ministership of India –who mustered the courage to gently push India away from Nehruvian economics to a path of liberalization. The far-reaching neoliberal economic reforms that PV launched not only freed India from the shackles of socialist ideology but also reconfigured its much-mocked “Hindu rate of growth”: to the surprise of everyone, India’s growth rate quickly picked up momentum and reached the 5.1 percent mark in 1992-93.
Thereafter there was no looking back: India’s current GDP stood at Rs 236.65 lakh crore as against Rs 2.7 lakh crore on the date of our country becoming independent. We could today boost ourselves as the fifth largest economy in the world. Despite the population growth from 340 million to 1.3 billion during the said period, there is a considerable rise in per capita income too: as against a per capita income of Rs 249.6 in 1947, the current per capita income at constant prices stood at Rs 93000.
It’s indeed a laudable accomplishment, but a deeper look at it reveals that this gain is not evenly spread across the different segments of society. Economic reforms launched in 1991 led to asymmetrical growth: 57% of national income is said to be pocketed by the top 10% of the population while a good half of all Indians languishing at the bottom of the pyramid hardly earn 13% of national income. This has widened the gap between the rich and the poor. The rural and urban divide has also become more conspicuous.
A section of economists opined that whatever egalitarian achievements that the country could secure under the Nehruvian socialist ideology are lost under the ongoing economic liberalization and globalization. Indeed, there is a strong growing resentment about liberalization and globalization of our economy, for growth in GDP is not accompanied by a matching growth in employment.
This growing inequality in income and wealth coupled with the slide in the public sector to provide adequate and quality services in health, education is causing resentment among the weaker sections of society. The inequality that has almost become all-pervasive is indeed alienating the less-endowed from the mainstream. This is in turn nurturing divisive forces in the nation, challenging our very democratic institutions.
On this historic occasion of our celebrating 75 years of independence, the big question that stares at us is: what are the challenges posed by this economic scenario? Ironically, despite these accomplishments, there are challenges galore for the Indian economy and our leadership. First is the rising inequality. Next is the exploding population, widespread poverty, and growing unemployment. Unless these issues are tackled meaningfully, domestic demand cannot grow. And, without it, there cannot be sustainable and inclusive growth.
People often talk about India’s advantage of a high share of the younger population. But it also poses a great challenge: they need to be healthier and be capable of handling modern technology. It means, there is a need to train youngsters on a massive scale. This in turn calls for higher spending on the social sector, which is again constrained by fiscal concerns. Over them, the all-threatening challenge is ruptures and cleavages based on region, religion, language, and gender threatening the very social fabric of the nation.
All these challenges are simply craving for a governance that is responsive, transparent, and corruption-free.
More by : Gollamudi Radha Krishna Murty