Home >Opinion >Columns >Learn from past mistakes to boost India’s democracy

I’m writing these lines with a deep sense of shame. When the country was just four days away from the 74th anniversary of Independence, what happened in Parliament shattered people’s hopes and their faith in parliamentary democracy. Honourable members, please do not forget that this juncture of independence and progress has been achieved with great difficulty from generation to generation. To clarify my point, I would like to go back to the past 50 years as I’m also a travelmate of this glorious journey.

Let me start with September 1971. There were pictures of Indira Gandhi everywhere and denizens of Allahabad feel proud in saying that they are residents of the original city of the Nehru dynasty. Indira Gandhi was known for her eloquent speeches. We used to hear her speeches on All India Radio, in which she often talked about drawing the blueprint of India’s golden future, but the conditions at the ground level were completely different.

The black shadow of the 1965-67 famine was still hovering over the country. Gujarat, Maharashtra and Rajasthan were also drought-prone in those days. Back then, the country produced only 107.8 million tonnes of foodgrain. The next agricultural year proved to be worse; as a result, we had to import about 2 million tonnes of grain from the US and other countries. Society was imprisoned in the ruthless system of ration shops. People in villages could not even see sugar for months. Discussions over a war with Pakistan were in full swing. As expected, war broke out in the first week of December. India won a decisive victory over Pakistan and broke it into two parts. The whole country was overwhelmed with the pride of nationalism. In this frenzy, we had forgotten the growth rate that had slipped below zero, the long queues in front of ration shops and the pains of everyday life. This sentiment was intact even after eight months when the country started to celebrate the 25th year of independence.

This was not unnatural, as the country’s literacy rate was hovering at just 35%. In those days, the infant mortality rate was 138 out of 1,000 newborn babies. The life expectancy rate of the citizens was 48.72 years. The Raj was gone, but the devotion to the new kings was still there. Political dynasties were taking advantage of this. Their numbers were increasing, continuing to this day.

Now, come to 1997. This was the sixth year of the beginning of economic reforms in our country. Computers had interfered in life and mobile phones could also be heard ringing from time to time. Little did we know then that through it we are inching towards the greatest change of human civilization. Education was being privatized and businessmen had started opening engineering, medical and degree colleges. No wonder the 2001 census reflected its impact. Our literacy rate jumped tremendously and now 64.83% of the population in the country was literate. The infant mortality rate was also significantly reduced. Now only 73 out of a thousand newborn babies lost their lives. The life expectancy rate had also increased to an average of 61 years. The green revolution made it possible to feed such a large population.

By that time only the states had Ayaram-Gayaram (turncoat) brand governments. However, soon the Centre also got infected with this disease after the rise of regional political parties. At that time, Inder Kumar Gujral was the prime minister elected by a provisional coalition. It was as if the faction of 40 rich people who ruled Delhi during the Ghulam dynasty had been re-established. The situation at the borders was in a bad shape.

By those days, terrorism had also established its roots in India. Once the northeast used to burn; now, bad news was coming from Kashmir. It was natural for Pakistan to be ambitious in such an unfortunate time. Two years later, the events in Kargil were the result of this situation. No wonder the passion of the 25th anniversary was totally missing during the celebrations of the 50th anniversary of Independence.

Now, let’s come to the present moment. India has made tremendous economic progress in the past 74 years. Despite covid, the world believes that we will join the club of the top three economic superpowers, if not today then tomorrow. This year, the gross domestic product growth is estimated at 9.5% and the literacy rate has reached 78%. The infant mortality rate has dropped to 28 per thousand and life expectancy is now around 70 years. We can feel proud of it, but in neighbouring Sri Lanka, the infant mortality rate has come down to six per 1,000. India is accustomed to living with its sense of fulfilment and embarrassment.

Tension is still there at the borders. China has not lost its impudence yet. However, because of the tough stance of India, China had to retreat in many places, but to assume that the threat is over would be a mistake. The Indian government is quite aware of this. That is why the three services have been brought under one command. The current Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat claims that India can fight on two fronts simultaneously.

If someone asked me what I consider to be the country’s greatest achievement in the past 50 years, my answer would be just one word—democracy! We have been dealing with the challenges of our time and society through democracy, but our MPs have probably forgotten this. In every civilization of the world, it is customary to learn from one’s mistakes on the occasion of a birthday. Will politicians take advantage of this opportunity every year? Hopefully, before the next session of Parliament, they will set an example of establishing harmony so that our Parliament can discharge its obligation with full dignity.


Happy Independence Day to you all.


Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan. The views expressed are personal.

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