A checklist for progress as India marks 70 years of freedom
India has made great strides but continues to confront major obstacles. Reforms are needed to head off discontent among those who feel left behind by economic growth or cheated by bad governance
As India prepares to celebrate 70 years of freedom on August 15, the party that fought for its independence and later ruled the country for 50 years is facing an existential crisis.
The leaderless and rudderless Congress party is on a losing streak as it continues to be mired in corruption scandals. The latest case relates to the seizure of Rs100 million (US$1,466,867) in cash in income tax raids on a Congress minister in the state of Karnataka, DK Shivakumar, on August 2. Somewhat incredibly, the party is supporting him and accusing the federal government of playing vendetta politics.
Meanwhile, new revelations on the alleged role of late prime minister of India, Rajiv Gandhi, in the 1986 Bofors arms scandal may embarrass his wife, Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, if the case is reopened.
By contrast, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which heads the present federal coalition government, has kept a clean image, coupled with a reputation for good organization and strong leadership under AB Vajpayee and Narendra Modi. Thirty-seven years on from its formation, it is India’s largest party.
Since the BJP elevation to power in 2014, however, attacks on minority groups in the name of protecting cows have been on the rise in northern states. These attacks on Muslims have exposed a hollowness in the party’s slogan ‘Saab ke saath, saab ke vikas’ (‘Together with all, development for all’).
Rampant corruption from one party and social polarization from another does not mean the country has not progressed since independence
Rampant corruption from one party and social polarization from another does not mean the country has not progressed since independence. It has made strides. For instance, its GDP growth rate will remain at 7.1% in 2017-18, despite the demonetization policy introduced late last year. India is the world’s second fastest-growing economies. Smart cities are sprouting up and the country’s literacy rate has touched 80%.
India has a vibrant democracy, an active judiciary and a free press. Over 500 news channels operating 24/7 keep the public informed about events, which is essential for any democracy. Indian scientists are planning missions to moon.
Despite all this, the benefits of reforms are not reaching the teeming villages from which India derives its demographic strength and in whose populations its future lies. Major chunks of the funds allotted to social welfare programs are often gobbled up by corrupt politicians and bureaucrats.
If the common man is asked to list his demands for a better India, he may well mention the following:
- Root out corruption at all levels by showing zero tolerance to corrupt politicians and officials.
- Punish those who evade taxes, launder money, fund terror groups and criminal gangs, and loot public funds.
- Stop moral policing and attacks on cattle transporters and beef-eaters and ensure the victims get speedy justice.
- Prevent violence against women, children, the elderly, minority groups, the poor and ‘dalits’ (members of India’s oppressed lower castes).
- Provide homes, sanitation, education and jobs for marginalized sections of society; empower women to run self-help groups; and make public distribution systems more efficient so the poorest of the poor get their monthly quotas of rice, wheat, edible oils and sugar at subsidized rates.
An educated Indian may add the following demands to the above list:
- Stop unmerited subsidies and prioritize subsidies to farmers. Ensure a fair price for their produce and waive their debts to halt spiraling suicide rates. Develop mobile apps to give farmers timely guidance on managing the weather, sowing, inputs, prices, markets and crop insurance.
- Trim bureaucracy to cut spending on government salaries and use the money saved for social welfare schemes. The federal government may have 3.54 million civilian employees on its rolls by the end of this year.
- Amend the Representation of the People Act so that citizens can recall lawmakers for non-performance. While clamoring for salary hikes, many of them choose to skip or disrupt parliamentary proceedings.