Saturday, August 18, 2007

India @ Sixty- Ten events that changed India

Lord Attlee of labor party stood and won the 1945 British elections on the platform of relinquishing colonies and boy he did. During his stewardship, British gave independence to most of its colonies in South Asia, including the jewel in the queen's crown; India. In fact, Prime Minister Attlee sent Lord Mountbatten with an express mandate to accelerate creation of Independent India. Lord Mountbatten exceeded the expectation (of his boss) by creating independent India and Pakistan few months ahead of schedule (did he get a hefty bonus?).

From the freedom struggle to Independence, Indians fought and won to have their own rule, but has it been all honey and prosperous after that? To say the last sixty years have been tumultuous would be a putting it rather mildly. Here are few events that I believe have left indelible impression on independent India.
  1. Independence & Partition: I wonder if Mahatma Gandhi would have gone ahead with the independence struggle had he known the ultimate price for it. Of course, he paid the ultimate price himself and fell to assassin's bullets. But, the independence and the birth of two nations brought untold misery to millions on both side of the hastily drawn border. There was no scientific method or madness to how the borders were drawn and led to migration of millions and millions dying. This division also brought an eternal enmity between the two countries which refuses to die down. India and Pakistan have fought 4 wars and the antagonism remains as high as ever. In the era of of globalization and flatness, both countries are hell bent on raising walls and dividing people.
  2. Assassination of Gandhis: Three Gandhis (Mahatma, Indira, Rajiv) lives ended abruptly and in the due course it left a lasting scar on India's psyche. India would have been a different country had Mahatma not fell to Nathuram Godse's bullet. Indira Gandhi's end at the hands of her to guards and the subsequent pogrom created bad blood between Hindus & Sikhs and has redefined politics in Punjab forever. The assassination close to Chennai of Rajiv Gandhi brought a fundamental shift in India's policy towards Sri Lanka.
  3. Linguistic creation of states: Jawaharlal Nehru caved in to pressure after Potti Srimulu's death and laid the foundation for division of states on linguistic basis much against the findings of several of his own commissions. This led to linguistic chauvinism / agitations in several parts India including Tamil Nadu. Now it is practically impossible to transact with the Government if one doesn't speak the local the language. There are ways to get around this challenge but none are straight forward. Also, some of the water sharing problem that states like Tamil Nadu has might have been played differently if the states were aligned differently.
  4. Universal Francaise: Despite of all its inherent problems, this single act changed the face of India. It changed the way in which the political class acts and has brought about positive economic change in millions, who otherwise would not have had the opportunity.
  5. China War: India has a much bigger border issue with China than with Pakistan, but strangely it doesn't attract as much attention as it should. India had its skirmishes with China in 1962 and lost squarely to Chinese Red Army. This forever changed how India views China and its own military strength. Indian defense establish laid shattered after the 1962 war and it took them a decade to gain the lost esteem by decisively handling the creation of Bangladesh.
  6. Birth of Bangaladesh: Of all the wars India has fought with Pakistan, this is the only time it won decisively. While Indira Gandhi boldly managed the international pressure, Indian defense establishment led by Field Marshal Manekshaw executed well on the ground and created a new neighbor on the eastern front. The division of Pakistan altered South Asian politics forever and engineered realignments. It is unfortunate that India and Bangaladesh are not in friendly terms and has unresolved border and water disputes.
  7. Going Nuclear: Not going in to the merits of this decision, going nuclear has altered India's image in the international arena. Nuclear deterrence might have actually helped India and Pakistan avoid a traditional war after the Parliament attack. Now, India-US agreement on nuclear fuel supply has brought both Right and Left against the Congress Government and might yet again alter the political landscape.
  8. Declaration of Emergency: Indira Gandhi declared emergency to stay in power, but the democracy survived. Not only did the democracy survive, it is also stronger now.
  9. Payment crunch and Liberalization: India has come a long way since its near shave with bankruptcy in 1991. It had to devalue INR twice and fundamentally change course. Thanks to the leadership of Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh, India fundamentally slowly but firmed moved to loosen the crippling regulations and embrace free market. In the recent days, Left has succeeded in slowing down the process but it cannot (and hope not) reverse the course.
  10. Embracing Globalization: India is slowly but surely becoming part of the global marketplace ecosystem. Even though ITES is the most visible beneficiary of the global market place, pharmaceutical, auto and aviation sectors are also not very far behind. We can debate the merits of globalization, but no one can deny the fact that it is primarily responsible for the 9+% GDP growth. According to Manmohan Singh, 'best is yet to come' and that may be true. But then I only hope the politicians and the Left allow India to be part of the global market place and not raise barriers.
What is your 10 events that changed India?