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This day, 75 years ago, India began its journey with the audacity of hope. It trusted its mostly illiterate citizens with the right to vote and the responsibility of building its democracy.

Born in the flames of religious strife, it pledged itself to secularism. It committed itself to end poverty. Those were some of the elements of our tryst with destiny. How far have we come?

A Mint special issue casts an eye back on this journey —and at what lies ahead. What was the path that led from the Nehruvian economy to liberalization? (‘The long road to breaking free’ by Niranjan Rajadhyaksha; p5.) What of the unfinished struggle for Indian women’s independence? (‘The private rebellions of Indian women’ by Shrayana Bhattacharya; p11.)

These are some of the questions the issue attempts to answer. This issue also includes the findings from the latest round of the YouGov-Mint-CPR survey (p6-7), which offer us a portrait of the evolving Indian. She is young, aspirational, and unafraid of breaking the rules. To her belongs the next 25 years. Happy Independence Day!

  • The long road to breaking free

A few days before that momentous midnight hour in August 1947, Vallabhbhai Patel addressed a public meeting. A newspaper report from that day tells us that after explaining why Partition was painful but necessary, and calling on the princely states to join the new Union, Patel told the audience that ‘the main task ahead was the economic regeneration of India’.

Patel was voicing a view that was embedded in Indian nationalism from its earliest days. From the sharp critiques of colonial economic policy, to the Industrial Conferences that were held in parallel to the annual meetings of the Indian National Congress, to the sustained campaigns for the spread of technical education, to the success in negotiating for some element of fiscal autonomy after 1919, to the setting up of the Reserve Bank of India in 1935 — Indian nationalists had invested a lot of energy in economic issues. Read more

  • A portrait of the evolving Indian

As independent India turns 75, its citizens are more aspirational than ever before. They hope for, and actively seek, a prosperous future—and are getting confident about it. But on the way lies a confusing melting pot of political, social and economic beliefs that they must contend with to lead India into the future. What form of welfare will get the work done? Which policies will click better? Who is the right leader? How should a democracy itself be?

But before that, do we even agree on which are the biggest issues India faces? Read more

  • How to make denim in licence raj

As a boy, Kasturbhai Lalbhai loved nothing more than chasing kites in the gullies of his ancestral neighbourhood Jhaveriwada in Ahmedabad’s old walled city. But after his father’s death in 1912, the 17-year-old was pulled out of school and summoned to run his family’s fledgling textile factory. He went on to become one of the most illustrious mill-owners of modern India.

The Lalbhai heritage traces to Shantidas Jhaveri, an eminent merchant and chief jeweller to Mughal emperors Jahangir and Shah Jahan. In the 18th century, the Gujarati family expanded into banking, providing loans to local warlords seeking to control Ahmedabad. But after the British cracked down on indigenous banking after 1858, the Lalbhais turned to cotton trading.  Read more

  • Nation of marvels and missteps

India at 75 is a wonder, having defied frequent predictions of the demise of its democracy, the disintegration of its polity and a descent into a Malthusian dystopia of galloping population growth and diminishing food supplies. There have been serious setbacks on this journey. Some crises have threatened to sever the threads holding this incredibly diverse nation together. Several strands may have been weak, ready to fray. Each strand may have its distinctive colour and shade. But the fabric which these myriad threads have woven has proved to be remarkably sturdy and resilient and a most pleasing blend of colours and textures. This is a nation to be celebrated, to be cherished because it is like no other. Its story began many centuries ago and continues to unfold. It has been a journey full of surprises and I am certain that more surprises, hopefully pleasant ones, will follow as we head towards 100 years of independence. Read More

  • The private rebellions of Indian women

How independent are women in independent India? Are we able to steer the direction of our lives as freely and unencumbered as men? Have our aspirations, and the freedoms to translate them into reality, grown in the past 75 years? The answers to the questions are not as obvious as statistics or hot-takes on ‘Twitter Pradesh’ may make them seem. How do we understand ‘independence’ when our lives are fundamentally interdependent? Who is this Indian woman? Does she aspire for the empowerment advertised by white western feminists or measured by elite experts?

In a diverse country the size of a continent, our experiences of womanhood are deeply different based on class, caste, climate and where we live. Certainly, urban readers of this paper are not representative of the nation. There is no monolithic ‘Indian woman’ and nor do I have the confidence to write on her behalf. Between women sipping gin-n-tonics at clubs and rural solidarity groups pushing for liquor bans in states, our social landscape is too complex to offer an easy unidimensional story on how gender relations have evolved. Read More

  • Big bucks, scene and unseen

How do you make a film if you don’t have money?" the producer asked. He was not drunk. Far from it, he was in the mood to tell the truth. “This is how. You start with an idea and you take that idea from star to star. Finally, one says yes and his secretary gives you six days after six months. You rush off to a financier and you tell them that you have six days with Shah Rukh Khan or Salman Khan or whoever, and on the strength of that he gives you some money. You go and get a song written and composed. You get the star on set and you get the dance shot, if you’re lucky, in six days. Then you take that song and you show it to another financier and he gives you money to shoot an action sequence. You take that money and maybe even pay a writer to give you a story but that doesn’t even matter. Have you seen Professor Pyarelal (1981)? They say Hrishikesh Mukherjee put it together on the editing table. That’s how it goes." Read more

  • Sands of time and the missing future tense of Indian languages

In a piece he wrote a few decades ago, the Hindi writer Agyeya had apparently said, “Indians understand the sweep of time but not its immediacy." The person who recalled this line wasn’t able to place where he had read it. But even without knowing those details, one can read the paradoxical life of Indian languages in it. Currents of time have swept them to the shores of the present, but we do not know how modern they really are.

What is the test of modernity for Indian languages? It cannot be measured by how they adapt to the world of gadgetry and social media. Indeed, on digital platforms, the role of Indian languages has become confined to recollections. They are the preserve of emotions, of relationships, of the local, of kinship. In contrast, reason, science, business, diplomacy are transacted through English. Read More

  • From roads to phones: The big leap

Road transport, which accounts for about 87% of the country’s passenger traffic and 60% of its freight traffic movement, has zoomed ahead in the last two decades.

From unpaved single-lane roads, two-lane highways and no expressways, India today has four- and six-lane express highways as part of the country’s Golden Quadrilateral built by the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI). Read more

  • Faster, higher & Stronger

Then came Mirabai Chanu Saikhom. Four feet 11 inches, and focussed. On 30 July, at the 2022 Commonwealth Games, one competitor after another walked onto the platform in the women’s 49kg weightlifting event, and put up some of their finest performances. None even close to Mirabai’s first attempt. In total, Mirabai lifted a Games record of 201kg. The woman who got India’s record Olympic tally at Tokyo also won India’s first gold medal at the 2022 CWG.

Athletes like Mirabai are the confident, conquering face of India, now an emerging force in sport, whether cricket, wrestling and hockey, or fencing, gymnastics and boxing. India has won world titles and Grand Slams, and produced several champions. In Tokyo last year, India notched up its highest tally at the Olympics with seven medals. In a country ready to embrace sport, Indian athletes are getting faster, higher, stronger. Read More

  • Tracking the India Inc story, beyond domestic markets

From the days of limited ambition, Indian businesses and companies increasingly look towards foreign markets for growth and opportunity. How will India’s growth story unfold in the coming years? Which are the sectors in which it will be able to take on and overtake global peers? Mint takes a long view. Read More

  • The national language of desire

The story of aspirations in India is a relatively recent one. For a long time, the idea that people could significantly change the trajectory of their life within their lifetime was one that did not make sense to anyone but the handful born to a life of privilege. Life was a condition into which one was born, the circumstances that determined the course of one’s time here were already scripted; what remained was for us to live out what had been determined for us by birth.

The future was to be feared rather than looked up to. The cultural mechanisms developed to cope with the fickleness of fate were many. At a time when stories of unexpected success were few and sudden disasters were many, to articulate any aspiration was to tempt fate. Read More

  • For some entrepreneurs, capital does trump caste–just not always become suspicious when I get something easily," says Riki Biswas, co-founder of Pointo—an electric vehicle service company, in Kolkata. The entrepreneur has embraced the everyday struggle of running a startup: from learning to smoke bidis to bond with e-rickshaw drivers, to avoiding brawls with local thugs and choosing to build an asset-light company. Not all of Biswas’s troubles, however, are work-related. Read more
  • The India that waits for welfare sarkar

As a young undergraduate student in Delhi University in the mid-1990s, I belonged to a generation that tasted the first fruits of economic liberalization. Freed from the shackles of the state, our lives and futures improved dramatically. We embraced the new consumer goods flooding the market with gusto—queuing up four hours, for instance, to taste a McDonald’s burger when the chain first opened in New Delhi. Our future prospects, visible in private sector recruitment drives on campus, looked lucrative and bright. The state had exited from our everyday lives, and we celebrated our newly found economic freedom.

A few years later, I joined a non-profit. My work took me through dusty rural roads. Here, I encountered a different India. Far from celebrating the exit of the state, this India was waiting, in fact, yearning for the state. Waiting for it to build schools, roads and hospitals. Read more

  • The memory collection

Ten things that have accompanied Indians in their highs and lows since Independence. Read more 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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