It’s India’s 65th Independence Day today. A day on which we look back and feel nothing but absolute pride. Looking forward, regardless of what is happening around us today—despondency over the drift in government, lost opportunities, rising inflation or the humiliating defeat that our cricket team, only recently crowned World Cup champions, is suffering at the hands of England—there are enough reasons to be optimistic. Here are five:
One, it is incredible that India has retained its democratic framework—we were years ahead of other democracies in empowering every citizen with the right to vote; and let us not forget India was almost 90% illiterate when it gained Independence in 1947—and has not lost its way as some other former countries under colonial rule have. To the country’s credit, it has done so despite being almost a federation of several countries in their own right that have a unique culture, language, and economic and political potential—all of which are recipes for Balkanisation.
Key democratic institutions, especially the judiciary and the media, despite the odd compromise, largely remain rooted to the principles of democracy that ensure that freedom goes beyond sovereignty.
Two, the demographic shift in the country’s population has left India in a very enviable position. It is estimated that 60% of the population is below 35 years of age. In other words, a little over 700 million are demographically at their peak. Anecdotally, it is apparent that the next generation is far more accomplished and, hence, more equipped to exploit the opportunities of rapid economic growth. The world’s centre of gravity, propelled mainly by China’s meteoric ascendance, is visibly shifting Eastwards—and for once India is at the right place at the right time.
Since they were born in or after 1975, people who are in their mid-30s or younger are representatives of modern India and bereft of any colonial baggage. Unlike the previous generation (who reaped the advantages of political freedom), they also know what economic freedom means. It is a heady combination that can only augur well for creativity.
Already, corporate India is beginning to reflect this demographic shift. In the next five years, we should begin to see this affect the political sphere as well. While one can’t predict what they will do when in charge, it is reasonable to assume that it will be something new (instead of the responses that we have all come to loath).
Three, it is evident that India is seeing an amazing social change that will only accelerate. The era of elitism, where an incestuous cabal dominated employment in, and control of, most institutions in the country, is on the wane. The employment pattern has become a lot more representative of the entire country. Even at our own workplaces, our colleagues do not necessarily come from urban precincts; in the Mint newsroom, for example, they come from all parts of India, and even from foreign countries.
Simultaneously, there is a churn underway in the Indian society inspired by a wave of migration, which could well probably be the largest we have ever seen. People who were once marginalized are entering the mainstream, albeit gradually, and now have an opportunity to be part of the growth process. This is feeding off, and also resulting in, a more visible spurt in urbanization. Unlike villages, cities and towns are anonymous, and ensure that caste and economic background rarely come in the way. The latest Census introduced the concept of census towns—these are not official towns and, hence, do not have a formal administrative apparatus such as a municipality—and showed how their numbers have increased in the last decade. As a result, there is a growing heterogeneity within earlier homogenous regions, which can only ensure that the diversity we are so proud of becomes commonplace and serves to not only stoke creativity, but also provide a glue that bonds.
Four, every passing crisis only serves to highlight the incredible resilience of the people of this country. Despite terrorist strikes, beginning with the assassination of Mahatama Gandhi, communal riots, economic crises and other such, the people of India have refused to be overwhelmed. Most commentaries ignore this aspect. The devastation suffered by the people of Mumbai and Delhi in the wake of terror attacks was as bad as that suffered by citizens in New York and London. Our cities too have bounced back and life has gone back to normal (although it is debatable whether their administrators have learnt the lessons their peers in these foreign cities have), but, somehow, this has never been incorporated into international commentaries.
Similar character has been on display when India and Indians face economic shocks—it is difficult to imagine this is the same economy that teetered on the brink of defaulting on its international debt obligations 20 years back. Up against what is an unprecedented bout of corruption, institutions such as the judiciary have stepped in to fill the governance deficit; some may quibble that this is not desirable, but imagine the situation without this intervention.
Five, although the scale and frequency of alleged graft in public office seem to suggest that this is a country of the dishonest, this is not the case. On the contrary, the corrupt and dishonest are but a minority. This country is poised on the crossroads of prosperity based on the commitment of a majority that goes about its life and works in a quiet and diligent manner. This majority will eventually prevail. It is just that in a democracy this process is infuriatingly slow.
In the final analysis, therefore, it is evident that there is enough reason to be optimistic about our future. And to celebrate, I am going to follow a quintessentially Indian ritual and fly a kite on what is unofficially the last day of the season.
Happy Independence Day.
Anil Padmanabhan is a deputy managing editor of Mint and writes every week on the intersection of politics and economics. Comments are welcome at email@example.com