Has India Progresses Satisfactorily Since Independence?

Has India Progressed Satisfactorily Since Independence?

By

Col (Retd) Bhaskar Sarkar

My cousin brother, aged about 65, a Modi admirer and Congress hater, is of the opinion that India has not made satisfactory progress since independence. I concede that every individual has the right to have and live by his own convictions. I believe that India has made remarkable progress compared other countries which became independent about the same time. The progress has to be seen in the background of its state of development, non availability of financial resources, trauma of a violent partition and the mass migration that followed and a huge illiterate, indisciplined  population fragmented by religion, caste, language and ideology. I would therefore like to lay before my learned audience the progress that I have seen during my working life which began in 1963 and leave it to them to decide whether we as a nation have made adequate progress and which political party made this development possible.

Progress I have Seen

As a young army officer undergoing training in College of Military Engineering, Pune in 1964, we used to ride bicycles to our classes and club. Today, about 20 lakh two wheelers are sold in India every month. 90% households in cities and 60 % in villages have two wheelers. School and college going children use two wheelers.

In 1964, it used to take 10 hours to go by meter gauge train from Siliguri to Banarhat in Dooars, about 200 kms. Now it , takes 3 to 4 hrs. There was no railway bridge over Ganga at Farakka or over Bramhaputra at Guwahati. Since then, meter gauge lines have mostly been converted to broad guage, steam engines have been replaced mostly by indigenously produced electric and diesel engines. Konkan Railways, about 600 km of new railway line across one of the most difficult terrain has been constructed. The railway network has been extended to Srinagar over the Pir Panjal range and into the forests of Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand and Chattisgarh. Many amazing tunnels and bridges have been built using state of art technology.

In 1964, an illiterate person could become a jawan in the Army. Today matriculation is the minimum qualification. My non matriculate sevadar’s son is an IT professional working with a British company in Bangalore and earning Rs 1 lakh per month and having company car. The daughter of a daily labourer in my friends factory is an MBBS doctor. How many countries can boast of such upward mobility?

We fought the Pakistani Patton tanks in 1965 with World War II vintage Centurion and Sherman tanks whose rounds used to bounce off the Patton armour. By 1971, Indira Gandhi had modernized the Indian Army with Soviet equipment. We defied US, defeated Pakistan and liberated Bangladeh. No new artillery gun or fighter aircraft has been acquired since 1989.

My father could not afford a car in his life time. I bought mine in 1971 when I was 31. A car then cost 20 month’s salary. There were only 3 car makers. Maruti Udyog, the 4th, was started by Sanjay Gandhi in late eighties. Today, there are over a dozen companies selling about 6 million cars a year in India. A car costs 6 to 10 months salary.

Hundreds of dams have been built all over India to harness rivers for irrigation and power generation. The Bhakra Dam and the Indira Gandhi Canal from Fazilka in Punjab to Barmer in Rajasthan have converted many barren districts of Rajasthan into grain bowls. Millions of hectares have been irrigated. How many dams have been started since 1999?

I was Chief Engineer of a Border Roads Project in 1985. Road construction was mostly done manually. Today, road and bridge construction is completely mechanized with pavers, dumpers, bitumen plant, mass concreting etc.

The first computers made their appearance in government offices in 1985. No one knew how to use them. By 2000 almost all offices in public and private sector were using computers and e mails. Today, typewriters are obsolete. All communications and design calculations have been computerised. Indian IT companies and professional dominate the world.

After retirement from army I settled down at Alwar in Rajasthan in 1994. It is a district headquarters. The waiting time for a land line was three years. By 2000, you could get a broad band connection in days. At the time only 10% girls went to school. Today, the number is almost 100%. Agriculture is mostly mechanized. In 1994 the vegetable vendors had not heard of mushroom, baby corn or broccoli. Today these are locally grown and easily available. There wasn’t a single engineering college in the district in 1994. Today there are 4. My part time maid has TV with DTH, two refrigerators and two motor cycles in the family. In  1994, the cycle rikshaw was the main public transport. Today, in addition, we have six seater light commercial vehicles, auto rikshaws and battery operated rickshaws. Everyone from managers to maids have mobile phones.

Who should get Credit for the Progress?

A lot of the progress is individual driven. There is some complacency in the children of the top dogs many of whom rely on the wealth, family business or influence of their parents to get ahead in life. But there is a strong desire among the children of the underdogs to get ahead. It is for the governments to provide the opportunities and level playing fields for everyone to become prosperous.

Congress has been in power at the Centre from 1947 to 1999 when BJP under Mr. Vajpayee came to power and again from 2004 to 2014 when Modiji came to power. The short stints of coalitions governments under Mr. VP Singh, Mr. Chandra Sekhar, Mr. Raj Narain, Mr. Deve Gowda and Mr. Gujral could do little. Thus the progress made by India and Indians has been due to the vision and policies of Congress leaders like Pandit Nehru, Lal Bahadur Shastri, Indira Gandhi, Rajeev Gandhi, Narsimha Rao and Sonia Gandhi. Mr. Vajpayee also made a great contribution with his development of national highways and the Pradhan Mantri Grameen Sadak Yojna.

Modiji talks of “Make in India”. Pandit Jawarlal Nehru started “Make in India” even before Modiji was born. Modi talks of doubling farmer’s income. The “Green Revolution” which enabled India to transform from a grain importing nation to a grain exporting country was started by Lal Bahadur Shastri and actually doubled farm incomes.

Indira Gandhi persuaded Sikkim to join India and liberated Bangladesh in spite of US opposition and its 7th Fleet. Compare it with the “Surgical strikes by the Indian Army” which BJP leaders and the pro BJP media never tire of chest thumping and talking about.

Mr. Modi talks of acting against hoarders and black marketers. Mrs. Gandhi launched action against hoarders and black marketers and nationalized banks to prevent public money being used by hoarders and black marketers in the 70s. Now under BJP industrial houses have been allowed to open banks so that they can use public money for private business. Mrs. Sonia Gandhi legislated RTI so that corruption can be exposed while BJP governments of Maharashtra and Rajasthan have brought in gag orders to prevent exposure of corruption. The Law Ministry is working overtime to dilute RTI. Modiji has not appointed Lok Pal to prevent BJP corruption from being exposed. Now NIMO threatens the existence of NAMO.

Congress launched Indira Awas Yojna much before Modi launched PM Awas Yojna. Modiji talks of digital India. It was Rajeev Gandhi who brought in Sam Pitroda and launched the IT revolution and broad band communication network which we take for granted today. It was Manmohan Singh who launched the economic liberalization.

Amul was the start of large scale milk and milk product production that pushed India to be world’s second largest milk producer. It was launched during Congress rule in Gujarat. BJP has stopped sale of unproductive cows. This will damage the dairy industry.

GST was conceived by Congress but launched by Mr. Modi. Aadhar was launched by Congress and usurped by BJP. India’s longest road bridge and longest tunnel were started by Congress but inaugurated by Mr. Modi. Narmada Sagar Dam was started by Congress and credit usurped by Modiji.

How many young men and women know about Congress’s contribution to India’s development? Congress does not know how to project their achievements. Mr. Modi and BJP are experts at taking credits for other’s achievements and make small achievements seem earth shaking.

GDP as Yardstick of Progress

A lot of people measure progress in terms of GDP growth. I find it illogical. In calculation of GDP, producing 25 ltrs of milk costing Rs 40 per ltr is equal to consuming one bottle of whiskey costing Rs 1000. How can the two be equal? This method has been adopted by economists of the Western Economies to maximise the contribution of Capital and technology over which the Western Powers and their multinational companies have a strangle hold. The GDP method encourages conspicuous consumption and seeks to maximise corporate profit. It also makes developing countries borrow from IMF and lose economic sovereignty. Measurement of progress by measuring human development index will focus our progress to employment, food security, healthcare, education and preserving the environment.

Conclusion

Has India progressed? It is for my learned readers to decide. My grand children cannot even imagine what India was in the 1950s or 1960s. I wish they are keen to know the truth. Unfortunately, not many young people have time or desire to know to know the true story of India’s partition and progress.

Our leaders are humans. They make mistakes. Hitler attacked Soviet Union and led Germany to defeat. Japan attacked Pearl Harbour, forced the US to join World War II and surrendered after Hirosima and Nagasaki. President Kennedy got US into Vietnam and President Bush into Iraq and Afghanistan with disastrous consequences for the US. The list is endless.

Political corruption is universal and not a special trait of the Congress. President Lula of Brazil is in jail. President Zuma of South Africa and Prime Minister of Pakistan Mr. Nawaz Shareif have been forced to resign and could end up in jail. Ex President Clinton gets $750,000 and PM Blair a smaller sum for a lecture which is a cover for lobbying. The list is endless. NIMO is the first major scam to come to light during BJP Raj. We have to wait till BJP is out of power to know about corruption among their ranks. So please be fair in your judgement.

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