India at sixty
The nation is on the move. The challenge before us is to make the growth process more socially inclusive and regionally balanced
One of humankind’s great and exciting adventures of the past century has been the transformation of India from a colonial, agrarian economy into a modern, industrialising, knowledge-based economy within the framework of a liberal and secular democracy. The commitment of the leaders of our national movement to the idea of an independent India as a multi-ethnic, multi-religious, multi-linguistic, and multi-cultural democracy was one of the great acts of human faith in
the 20th century that continues to give hope to humankind. At a time when the world was battling ideologies of exclusion and divisiveness, the leaders of our freedom movement invested their hope in the ideology of inclusiveness. The idea of India, of unity in diversity, of openness and inclusiveness, has withstood the test of time and history and is our great contribution to humankind these past 60 years.
The success of the Indian experiment in pursuing economic development, social and political empowerment within the framework of a secular and democratic Constitution, with respect for the rule of law and for fundamental human rights, has earned for our country a special place in the comity of nations.
In the past 60 years we have built a firm foundation on which we can in fact redeem the pledge of the architects of modern India in full measure. The young people of today should remember that at Independence we inherited an economy weakened by years of colonial exploitation. For half a century before Independence the Indian economy registered virtually no growth at all. In the first three decades after Independence we grew at 3.5 per cent per annum. In the second three decades our annual growth rate went up to nearly 6.0 per cent. In the past few years the growth rate has been closer to 9.0 per cent per annum. This has been made possible by a rising rate of investment, now around 35 per cent of national income, and rising productivity of labour and capital. If we can sustain these rates, and step up the productivity of land and labour, we should be able to attain double-digit rates of growth in the near future. India is on the move.
This steady acceleration of growth, however, averages the impressive performance of some regions and the inadequate performance of others. It has also been socially uneven. Hence, the challenge before us is to make the growth process more socially inclusive and regionally balanced. In the past decade, we have seen a further acceleration of growth, based on the impressive performance of certain sectors of our economy. But we have a long road to travel to realise the full potential of our people and fulfil the promises of the Father of our Nation and the Architect of Modern India.
India at sixty is a nation of young people. To realise our true potential we must invest in the health and education of every child. We must create new employment opportunities for all, especially for the less privileged sections of society, and for those living in rural areas. We must eliminate the rural-urban divide in development indicators. We must also ensure that the process of industrialisation generates enough jobs for our youth, in urban, semi-urban, and rural areas. In the past 60 years people moved to where work was available; in the next 60 years work must move to where people live.
The Government has an important role to play in not only sustaining higher rates of growth, but also in making the growth process more inclusive, socially and regionally. Governments must also play an active, creative, and constructive role in providing and facilitating access to modern education and good health care.
I sincerely believe that the time has come for us to pay special attention to education and skill development. India cannot keep pace with the world unless every Indian is empowered by skills and capabilities that make every person a productive and creative citizen, capable of living a decent life.
As we mark the 60th anniversary of our Independence, we cannot afford to be complacent, either about our achievements or our ability to meet the extant challenges. We cannot afford a ‘business-as-usual’ approach to any aspect of life. The world is changing rapidly and we must learn to keep pace. We have to do more to increase the productivity of every Indian, the productivity of our land and of capital.
Each one of us must set our sights higher and aim to be the best in what we do. Our schools and colleges must aim to be the best in the world. So too our businesses and laboratories. So too our services and utilities. I despair of the ‘chalta hai’ attitude of so many of our people.
While our democracy is our great strength and a unifying force, we must not allow it to become an excuse for not working together in the larger national interest. We have to strengthen and revitalise our institutions of governance, policymaking, and education so that we are able to harness the energies of our people better.
Indians have proved that individually they can excel and compete with the best in the world. We must be able to do so collectively too. We need to do more to unleash the full potential of our people’s creativity and enterprise. We need better teamwork and the ability to build wider social and political consensus around the ideas of change and modernisation.
To overcome the many challenges we face — developmental as well as social, domestic as well as external — we require at least a minimal consensus on a national agenda. We must all be equally committed to the values and ideals of our Constitution, be it secularism or social justice. We must all join hands in the search for communal harmony and national integration. We must all stand together in the fight against terrorism and extremism of all kinds. A nation of a billion people, as diverse as ours, cannot move forward unless we learn to work together for the common good and for the national interest. There must be a national consensus at least on a basic agenda of good governance, economic development, and national security. No developing nation can make the required great leap forward without a basic consensus on a minimal agenda on such vital issues.
While there is much to be proud of in our record of the past 60 years, the unfinished agenda should make us humble and energise us to work together. The emerging challenges, at home and globally, should make us firm in our resolve to be united and to be cooperative. I do not see enough commitment to such a consensual agenda in our political parties, in our media, in our intelligentsia, and in our social elite. On this 60th anniversary of our Independence, I call upon every Indian to think of India first and work to make India First.
Dr. Manmohan Singh, an economist by training, is Prime Minister of India. As Finance Minister between 1991 and 1996, he was instrumental in liberalising and opening up the economy.
Independent India at 60