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India in the new Milinium
Aijaz Tak | 09 Apr 2008

Dvelopment in Inida from last 50 Years.

Three years ago, from January 26, 2000 to January 26, 2001, one billion Indians and millions of India’s well-wishers the world over – including in the Netherlands – celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Republic of India. What exactly were they all celebrating ? Not a half century of India’s existence. India itself is of course much, much older, with over 5000 years of continuous history that make it one of the very few millennial civilizations in the world. Nor is it 50 years of democracy in India. The democratic tradition in India goes back much longer. More than 2000 years ago, the small kingdoms in north India, that long predated both the advent of Alexander the Great in the 4th century BC and the mighty Mauryan Empire of Chandragupta and Ashoka the Great that followed, already embodied the fundamental principle of democracy – that a government should depend on the consent of the governed. It was recognised, even in those ancient Indian states, that the king ruled only with the approval of his subjects. What happened 54 years ago, on January 26, 1950, was the full emergence of India, after nearly 100 years of direct British rule and nearly 200 years of British colonialism, as a modern, independent nation state. India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, had said, in his famous midnight “Tryst with Destiny” speech to mark the independence of India, “At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom”. Two and a half years after India became independent, at midnight between August 14 and 15, 1947, the country shook off the last vestiges of the colonial connection and became a full fledged Republic, with its own Head of State. On January 26, 1950, India was fully awake and raring to go. The people of India were indeed blessed in the galaxy of great men who led the country’s struggle for independence – Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Patel, C. Rajagopalachari, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and many others. Foremost among these was Mahatma Gandhi, the Father of our nation. Albert Einstein said of him “Generations to come will scarce believe that such a man as this ever in flesh and blood walked this earth”. Using against the British rulers in India the techniques of non-violent civil disobedience that he had forged, from 1893 to 1914, in his anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa, Mahatma Gandhi waged a unique battle with unique weapons. It ended with a victory – independence for India – that was free of the hatred, the bitterness, the smouldering resentment that so often marks the end of such struggles elsewhere in the world. Fifty years may seem to be a very short period in a country whose history reaches back over 5000 years. But it is a reasonable juncture for introspection, for looking both inwards and outwards, to learn from the past and to plan for the future.y India gained independence on August 15, 1947, at the end of what one historian has called the end the age of Vasco da Gama. Today, over 53 years later, the Republic of India can, despite ups and downs, be reasonably and justifiably proud of its success story. There is much that has been achieved since 1947, though much more could have been done and even more remains to be done. A Strong Multi-ethnic, Multi-religious and Multi-lingual nation First and foremost, India has, overcoming the trauma of a bloody partition, managed to build a strong and resilient multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-lingual nation. It is a determinedly secular society, where citizens of all religions have equal rights, responsibilities and opportunities. India has the second largest Muslim population in the world, over 120 million, and over 20 million Christians of every possible denomination, not to speak of Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Zoroastrians, Jews etc., besides the majority Hindu population, It is truly a religious mosaic. More important, it is a society where acceptance of every kind of diversity, rather than mere tolerance, is the ruling principle. It is a country where, though 85% of the people are Hindus, a Muslim Head of State or Chief Justice, or a Christian Chief of Army Staff provokes neither resentment nor surprise, but is simply taken for granted. Such is India, and this is surely a tradition of which any nation can be proud. -2- Effective Watchdog Institutions India has also created a nation of laws, not of men alone, with strong, independent watchdog institutions. The Indian media are among the freest and liveliest in the world, and more often than not trenchant critics of the ruling establishment. The Indian judiciary, from the Supreme Court downwards, is today more highly regarded than ever for its fierce independence and activism on behalf of the underprivileged. Then there are the NGOs, more numerous, more committed and more effective than ever, working on grassroots issues across the spectrum, which are a key element in keeping the Indian political system on track. Further, despite years of exposure to the most violent forms of terrorism, inspired and aided from outside our borders, India has retained its traditional commitment to human rights for all its citizens. More, it has reinforced this through institutions like the National Human Rights Commission, whose drive and effectiveness have been repeatedly praised even in the US State Department’s Annual Reports on the Global Human Rights Situation. The World’s Largest Democracy India is universally recognised as a rock-steady and flourishing democracy. In fact, never before and nowhere else has nearly one sixth of the human race lived together in freedom as a single political entity. Direct elections based on universal adult franchise are held in India with exemplary regularity, the only difference being that the electorate gets bigger and bigger. For example, in the thirteenth general elections of September/October 1999, there were well over 600 million eligible voters, and over 65% turned up to vote, the women being more than the men. This percentage is much higher than those in elections in the advanced countries, proof not only of the political maturity of the Indian electorate but also of its faith in the power of the ballot. And never has there been an instance when the losers in an election did not yield with grace to the victors. The Indian Armed Forces, noted for their professionalism, are equally scrupulous in staying aloof from politics and obeying the elected civilian government, a fundamental requisite for true democracy. Equality for Women In 1992, in a decision that has been hailed worldwide as one of the most dramatic initiatives for the political and social empowerment of women, nearly a million Indian women, mostly from the rural areas, entered village and municipal councils across the country, occupying the 30% of the seats reserved for them from then on. These dramatic gains made by Indian women in one of the areas where their participation has lagged, politics, especially local politics, have, over the past nine years, helped ensure that they have a much greater voice than ever before, and often the decisive voice in how India is governed at the grassroots. In fact, it is not often recognised that the women of India gained complete legal equality very soon after independence. That this happened in what was then a traditional and basically patriarchal society was due in no small measure to the influence of Mahatma Gandhi, and the stress he laid on the women of India playing a major role both in the independence movement and in the new, free India of his dreams. Mahatma Gandhi was in truth one of our first feminists. He was convinced that women had a natural aptitude for the doctrines of ahimsa (non-violence) and satyagraha (truth force) that he espoused, and therefore that they should be in the forefront of the Independence movement, shoulder to shoulder with the men. And so they did. It was by marching in the streets, getting beaten up by the police and going to jail during those years of struggle that the women of India gained their right to equality. When one remembers the degree of resentment and contempt that the suffragette movements in the West provoked in the establishments of those countries in the early years of this century, the contrast with India could not be more marked. Today, backed up by NGOs, especially women’s NGOs, sympathetic lawyers and an increasingly sensitive establishment, the women of India, even the poorest of them, are moving forward to assert their equality and gain the rights it guarantees them. They have also benefited from the rapid expansion of educational institutions in India, and are today 50% if not more of the average college class, whether in -3- the sciences or in the liberal arts, and well over 50% of the honour rolls. In the professions, they have reached out beyond the traditional areas like medicine, the law, the civil services etc. and are to be found in increasing numbers in every sector of the economy. They range from Air Force fighter pilots to computer technicians, from glamorous models and movie stars to machine tool operators. In recent years, Indian women achievers included business tycoons like the new President of Pepsico International, Indira Nooyi, 45, famous writers and activists like the Booker Prize winner Arundhati Roy, a series of six international beauty queens, Olympic medallist and weightlifter Karnam Malleswari, Cheryl Dutta, the first Indian Air Force helicopter pilot, who, incidentally, is the elder sister of the Miss Universe 2000, Lara Dutta, the first Indian Inspector General of Police, Kiran Bedi, the first police officer from any country to win the prestigious Magsaysay award, and astronaut Kalpana Chawla, the brave and determined aeronautical engineer from the North Indian State of Haryana who died so tragically in the Columbia disaster. The Fourth Largest Economy in the World Above all, India has managed to build a strong and diversified economy. The IMF and the World Bank rate the Indian economy as the 4th largest in the world, with a GDP of over US$ 1 trillion in PPP (purchasing power parity) terms, behind only the US, Japan and China. The Goldman Sachs Report of 1 October, 2003 “Dreaming with BRICs: The path to 2050” predicts that India’s GDP will reach $ 1 trillion by 2011, and $ 27 trillion by 2050, making it the third largest economy in the world after USA and China. Thanks to the Green Revolution of the 1960s and ‘70s, acute food shortages are a distant nightmare. In contrast with the Great Bengal Famine of 1943, which killed more than 3 million, India today is not only self-sufficient in foodgrains – though the population has gone up three times since 1947 to one billion – but is also a foodgrain exporter in a small way. Already by 1996, India had overtaken the US as the world’s leading milk producer – with 70 million tonnes of milk p.a., up from barely 21 million tonnes at independence. This was largely thanks to an innovative and extremely successful dairying cooperative movement, especially that in the west Indian State of Gujarat involving 8.1 million farm families, which is being duplicated elsewhere in the country. It is no wonder that in the same year, 1996, Time magazine carried an article about Indian agriculture entitled “Problems of Plenty”, referring to the 26 million tonnes of foodgrain reserves, insurance against bad years, that were creating storage problems. India today is a food exporter in a modest way, and the foodgrain stocks, despite a serious drought in 2002, stood at over 35 million tonnes at the end of 2003. It is not often realised, because of the image of India as a largely agricultural country, that it has an extensive industrial sector. Industry today contributes over 25% of the GDP and services another 40%; the share of agriculture has dropped sharply from over 90% in 1947 to only 31.6% today. From barely 1300 MW of power in 1947, India today has over 80,000 MW of installed capacity, and the ability to manufacture the full range of power generation and transmission equipment. India produces everything from equipment for the second largest rail network in the world (107, 839 track kms.), road vehicles of all kinds, ships, including frigates, and third generation machine tools to the full range of drugs and pharmaceuticals, turnkey plants for textiles, cement, chemicals, fertilizers etc. and all kinds of consumer goods, electronics and sophisticated computer hardware and software. Most important, all this has an indigenous content of 70% or more. The pool of scientific and technological manpower in India is, thanks to excellent institutions of higher education, especially in the technical sector, perhaps the second largest in the world today. Over 190 Indian universities and technical institutes produce more than 220,000 graduates and higher degree holders every year. India’s software engineers alone number 1.4 million, and over 14,000 are added every year. The Indian software industry is one of the country’s star sectors, growing at over 60% a year for the past several years. Today, 15% of global software solutions are written in India, and over 60% of India’s software exports of over US $ 10 billion a year go to the most demanding market in the world, that of the United States, and a further 23% to the European Union. Major Dutch customers for Indian software include business giants like KLM, ING, ABN AMRO, Rabobank, Philips and Royal Dutch Shell, with KLM having 30 Indian IT experts working for it full time. Microsoft’s second software -4- development centre, the first outside Seattle in the US, is in Hyderabad in south India. IBM has a global software research centre in Bangalore, India’s software capital in the southwest, meant to design the next generation of “killer applications” for the 21st century. Practically all the other US software giants have joint ventures in India, and Indian firms provide offshore and on-site software for over 130 of the Fortune 500 companies in the US. The current downturn in the IT industry in the US and elsewhere is in fact expected to expand opportunities for Indian IT firms, as the US and European majors relocate part of their work in order to cut costs in an increasingly and harshly competitive environment. BPO or business process outsourcing, and IT-enabled services (ITES) are growing at annual rates of 65% and more. Such services from India help the Dutch economy by enabling it to remain competitive even in the midst of the global economic downturn. Till a few years back, Indian industry, though highly advanced in many sectors, was sheltered by protective tariff and non-tariff barriers. This was necessary for a good part of the time since 1947; without it, India could have ended up as a largely CKD (completely knocked down) assembly economy, with little indigenous manufacturing capacity. Over the past decade, a striking and wide ranging economic reform programme in India has eliminated most of the earlier constraints and opened up the economy to foreign investment and technical cooperation. The aim was to make the Indian economy not merely more efficient but also globally competitive, to fit in with current international economic trends in the post Cold War period. These reforms, based on a political consensus that is, in turn, rooted in a public consensus that has transcended changes of government, are continuing apace. They have been strikingly successful – the IMF and the World Bank have commended India for having “turned the crisis of 1991 into an opportunity and supported the reform process. The GDP growth rate, at an all time low of 1.2% in 1991 in the aftermath of the Gulf War and the collapse of the Soviet Union, stood at over 7% from 1994-1999. India managed to escape the economic meltdown that afflicted most of East and South East Asia. It is today the second fastest growing economy in Asia, after China, , according to Morgan Stanley, with a projected GDP growth rate of 7% in 2003-2004. Growth touched 8.4% for in the second quarter of 2003. Industrial growth, though affected by the present global economic slowdown, has been reasonably satisfactory at 5.3% in 2002, and export growth was unexpectedly strong at 20.4% Equally significant, the foreign exchange reserves, barely US$ 1 billion, or two weeks coverage, in 1990, have now crossed US$ 103 billion, making India the sixth largest foreign exchange holder in the world. The comfortable forex reserves situation has facilitated further relaxation of foreign exchange restrictions and a gradual move towards greater capital account convertibility, and also made possible the premature repayment of US$ 3 billion of 'high-cost' loans to World Bank and Asian Development Bank. The Government of India are considering further premature payment of other loans. All this has been achieved while avoiding dangerous social disruptions triggered by mass layoffs. Sharply stepped up expenditure on rural development and on special programmes for the poor and for women and children have further cushioned the most vulnerable segments of the population from the impact of free market reforms. The US Exim Bank rates India the second most promising country, after China, for long term foreign investment. The list of global majors, from the US, Japan, the UK, the European Union, South Korea, Australia, South East Asia etc., that are in India or entering India in sectors ranging from power and communications to information technology and agro-processing, grows daily. In agro-processing, the celebrated consultancy firm McKinsey has, as early as July, 1997, predicted that the Indian processed food industry would reach US $ 140 billion by 2005 AD, making India the top producer in this sector. The Netherlands is the tenth largest foreign investor in India, concentrating on financial services, fuel, including refineries, telecommunications, software, agro-processing and other such projects. The big three of Dutch banking are all flourishing there. ABN-AMRO, retrenching elsewhere, is expanding its retail banking and other operations in India. ING has purchased a substantial share in Vysya Bank and entered the Indian life insurance market. Rabobank is expanding into agro-finance. Shell alone plans to invest an additional Euros 1.5 billion in its Indian -5- operations. Philips and Unilever’s Indian subsidiary, Hindustan Lever, household names in India for decades, are also doing extremely well. Indian high technology firms are also entering the export market, though the bulk of India’s exports are still in traditional fields such as garments and textiles, gems and jewellery, leather products, seafood etc. India provides data from its satellites for map-making by US firms. The Indian Space Research Organisation is one the few in the world capable of both building and launching its own satellites, which it now does, on a commercial basis for countries like Germany and Korea. India’s domestic satcom system is one of the largest in the world, and is extensively used for TV and other media transmission, for telecommunications, including for transmitting the offshore software work that is booming, and for meteorology. Indian satellite transponders are leased long term to Intelsat. Indian IRS earth resource survey satellites, built in house, match the best available resolution worldwide; their data are regularly sold to US and European firms for mapmaking. It was thus not surprising when the Bible of the aerospace industry, the US magazine Aviation Week and Space Technology, described the Indian space programme glowingly as “India’s Crown Jewel : Success on a Shoestring”. All this is not to say, or even imply, that India has solved all its problems. India is still a developing country, that faces all the numerous obstacles to balanced growth that are the hallmarks of this stage – poverty, over-population, the problems created by rapid urbanization, under-employment and unemployment, and escalating pressures on an already fragile ecological system. The good news is that India has made a serious dent in all these problems, and is well set to improve on its undoubted achievements over the past half-century. It has both the natural and, more important, the human resources necessary for this enterprise, and has thus entered the new millennium with reasonable ruled only with the approval of his subjects.