In the spring of 1947, our country made a crucial decision. Free from colonial rule, Indians were given a choice of choosing representatives and leaders for their nation. However, 85 percent of the 170 million eligible voters were illiterate. 72 years post that period, India’s challenges were no longer logistical. In a very less span of time, India had to prove its worth on the global stage and its leaders were given the responsibility of developing the nation from scratch. The period after independence was marked by focus on rapid economic, industrial and agrarian development. The 1990s saw the liberalization, privatization and globalization phase which provided Indians access to foreign goods and ultimately a foreign lifestyle. In the contemporary period, development is being equated with importing new technologies, efficient use of artificial intelligence and encouraging the start-up culture in India as an example. We’re chasing numbers on international indexes, altering our image and regaining our lost confidence, vigor and strength.
However, development as we see it is mostly in economic and monetary terms. Nobel winning economist, Amartya Sen draws a parallel between development and freedom. In order to be truly developed, we need to be socially and politically free with our societies being transparent, just and equal.
In the present-day scenario, many socio-economic factors are hampering our true developmental progress. While it is very difficult to specify one such hindrance to the path of development, I cannot help but comment on the current political tone that our politicians are setting for the nation. India has not excluded itself with the new global trend- The rise of right-wing populism and authoritarian leaders all over the globe. Since 2014, the Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) has intertwined two concepts in such a manner that it has now become increasingly difficult to distinguish between the two. These two famous concepts are those of nationalism and development. Igniting nationalist feelings by providing rhetoric of our glorious past through misrepresentation of historical facts, changing names of Indian cities that were once the epitome of multiculturality, diversity, plurality and peaceful coexistence of people belonging to the many traditions and religions that India has been home to, are some of the baseless activities this government has associated itself within the recent past. When Nationalism is used as a tool to silence the voices of the marginalized, it can become a hollow sounding word. The BJP’S regressive nationalistic tendencies interfere with the inclusive and open nature of democratic practice in India.
The democratic functioning of the country has weakened significantly since the inception of the forces of the far-right. Their governance has led to an assault on one independent democratic body after another. With the governor of the RBI resigning for ‘personal reasons’, and the CBI conducted raids on the homes of Indian journalists who are just trying to do their jobs more responsibly, the situation in India seems quite grim. In a recent state election, the election commission too came under the spotlight for all the wrong reasons- delaying of voting in a state of Gujarat for manipulation of the result in favor of the ruling right-wing party was one of the most appalling incidences in the history of India. The BJP has also gone to the extent of monopolizing education. Under the directions of the government, the Jio institute, a non- existent educational institute was given the prestigious Institute of Eminence tag. What was worth noticing was that the government gave no recognition to universities that have been devoted to social science research for many years. Imparting an education that teaches people to be critical of the government’s actions, the institutes that foster opinions, generate debates and take the responsibility of reformation of society, saw no place in the eminence list.
Some of the real developmental challenges to our nation lie in what has been termed as the ‘political economy paradox’ in India. The regional income differences in India and development paces are star kingly contrasting to one another. The red corridor, which is one of the most resource-rich areas, contributing effectively to the GDP of the nation, also ironically happens to be the poorest region as more and more people are displaced as ‘development induced projects’ and coming up of more and more private industries. The allowance provided by the BJP government for environmental clearance for industrial development has been a significant factor for the destruction of natural livelihoods for people in close proximity to natural resources.
As one of the youngest nations of the world with an average age of 29, about 68 percent of our workforce is not equipped with skill sets that make them more capable of dealing with challenges in the near future, the biggest risk includes those from automation and artificial intelligence. Like other developed Asian nations who followed the ‘Asian Model of development’ in the 1860s which lay emphasis on improving the human and social capital of their citizens which led to the rapid and inclusive growth of their countries, India in 2019 still seems alien to the concept of prioritizing the needs of its citizens. India spends a total of 1.2 percent on health and about 2.7 percent of its GDP on education that has the power of citizens to empower the children of this country and make mold them as responsible adults who make wise choices in the interest of the nation. But it is clear that education of any kind is a threat to the functioning of Indian politics.
Instead of focusing on the agendas that should take up most of their time and effort, politicians debate on issues regarding the building of the Ram Mandir or spend precious capital on the making of humungous statues of leaders which stands for the one thing our country doesn’t possess – Unity.
It is time we realize that the Indian society at this point of time is anything but unified. We are a country of great societal, cultural and ideological differences and the key to a more secure future is in the acceptance of the very same fact. We cannot infuse patriotic values in people who feel left behind from the ‘mega development process of India’. It is time we look at nationalism from a progressive point of view, where nationalism can be spoken of in terms of equity and justice for all. For true development, people from all realms – political or apolitical, influential persons like our educators and people in visual mediums of the field of arts and entertainment should strive to present their opinions on issues that are having an impact on the discourse of our society. I write these views as I see a wave of change in the way issues of governance and development are being perceived through various platforms including social media platforms which is making it a lot easier to engage in constructive debates which a much-awaited a step in the right direction. But the nation needs to know that it needs to go a long way in making a real and profound impact in the world.