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Key takeaways

  • India was divided into two states, the Muslim majority state of Pakistan and the Hindu majority state of India in the year 1947.
  • Constituent Assembly was elected by the Provincial Assembly and came into force on 9th December 1946.
  • The first general elections in the world’s largest democracy were held between 25th October 1951 and 21st February 1952, with 1949 candidates competing for 489 seats and over 173 million people voting.
  • The Indian National Congress won 364 seats and Jawaharlal Nehru became the first Prime Minister of India.

Introduction

Anniversaries have a habit of confronting us with uncomfortable contrasts. In the 75th year of India’s independence from British rule, can we say that our country has come a great way forward, socially and economically? The answer can be in the affirmative. By and large, the nation has come a long way from a newborn nation to the forefront of international indices on socio-economic progress. Traversing through the timeline of this nation, we might see periods of political instability, economic stagnation, and repeated fallbacks of this nature. Being a diverse nation of different cultures, languages and traditions, what challenges have we overcome to reach this standpoint? To what extent has the Indian State become the nation “federal in nature but unitary in spirit”, as envisaged by our nationalist leaders? Has inequality in forms of caste and class been overcome yet? This article tries to analyse and understand the stages of socio-economic progress in independent India, which might help us better understand our nation celebrating its 75th Independence Day this year.

Political changes in Independent India

India's post-Independence era start on August 15, 1947.Soon after its “tryst with destiny”, India had to go through one of the watershed events of its history, the Partition. India was divided into two states, the Muslim majority state of Pakistan and the Hindu majority of India. Millions of people crossed national borders on bullock carts, by trains, and on foot. Communal violence erupted across the country. People moved in larger numbers to escape regions of bloodshed. Over 10 million people were relocated between India and Pakistan as a result of the partition, and one million people perished.Thus the British left our nation, implementing their last tool of divide and rule.

The years following Partition was turbulent with a series of events that were too much for a newly independent nation only on its start in the path of development. The consolidation of princely states, the Indo-Pakistan War of 1947, the adoption of the Constitution, the first general elections, State Reorganisation and so on. But most important of them certainly was the assassination of the Father of our Nation, Mahatma Gandhi, on 30th January 1948.

A Constituent Assembly was elected by the Provincial Assembly and came into force on 9th December 1946, responsible for the herculean task of drafting the Constitution of India. It had Dr Rajendra Prasad as its Chairman and a Drafting Committee chaired by Dr B. R Ambedkar. After several debates and deliberations, the Constitution of India was adopted by the Constituent Assembly of India on 26 November 1949 and became effective on 26 January 1950. The constitution replaced the Government of India Act 1935 as the country's fundamental governing document.

Consolidation of all the princely states of India into one nation was the next step to be taken. To guarantee the supremacy of the central government and the Constitution it was Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and his right hand V.P Menon, who handled the task with the help of political discussions with the rulers and in some instances by imposing military force too.

The first general elections in the world’s largest democracy were held between 25th October 1951 and 21st February 1952, with 1949 candidates competing for 489 seats and over 173 million people voting. The Indian National Congress won 364 seats and Jawaharlal Nehru became the first Prime Minister of India.

The Nehruvian era in Indian politics was characterised by a number of legislations and policies toward the social and economic progress of the country. Several policies were formulated for the development of the public sector and also in creating an indigenous scientific and technological cadre. It was also during this time that India developed a foreign policy, which gained international attention for the novel concept of NAM or Non-Alignment Movement. Following Potti Sreeramulu’s death on fasting, raising the demand for the linguistic state of Andhra Pradesh, states were reorganised on a linguistic basis in 1952, by the recommendations of the States Reorganisation Commission. Andhra became the first state to be formed so.

Following Nehru, Lal Bahadur Shastri became the Prime Minister, who was also a Nehruvian socialist. The most important political challenges during his tenure were the Indo-Pak War of 1965, and the anti-Hindi agitation in Tamil Nadu and other southern states. He pioneered the “Jai Jawan Jai Kisan” campaign aimed at boosting India’s food production, and also the Green and White revolutions.

Indira Gandhi who served as the Minister of Information and Broadcasting under the Shastri government became the next Prime Minister of India. She was and is the first and only woman PM of India to date. She had disagreements with senior Congress party officials in 1969 over several topics. One of the most notable of them was her choice to back independent candidate V. V. Giri against Neelam Sanjiva Reddy, who was the designated nominee of the Congress party for the role of president of India. The other was her decision to nationalise banks without any consultation with Finance Minister Morarji Desai, whom she had defeated in the elections that brought her to power. These actions culminated in her expulsion from the party for indiscipline by party president S. Nijalingappa. Gandhi, in response, launched her own Congress party group and was able to keep the majority of Congress MPs on her side. Though she lost the majority in the legislature, the Gandhi group, known as Congress (R), was able to hold onto power with the help of regional parties like the DMK. The abolition of the privy purse was another major decision taken by her government. Though her beginnings were not ideal, she decided to take a major shift in her policies, by adopting socialist ideals after the 1967 elections. She gave more importance to anti-poverty policies such as “Garibi Hatao”. Following the election in 1971, her greatest victory was the victory in the Indo-Pakistan War, which resulted in the creation of an independent Bangladesh. In 1974, India tested its first nuclear weapon in the desert of Rajasthan, near Pokhran.

One of the darkest chapters in the political history of Independent India, the Emergency was also imposed during her tenure. This was following a verdict by the Allahabad High Court on 12th June 1975, which took away her seat in Raebareli, citing electoral misconduct. Following this, Emergency was declared throughout the country in the guise of restoration of law and order. The Emergency saw the entry of Indira Gandhi's younger son, Sanjay Gandhi, into Indian politics. He wielded tremendous power during the emergency without holding any government office. In 1977, after the extension of the Emergency twice, elections were declared in which she faced a massive backlash. The Janata alliance, under the leadership of Morarji Desai, came to power. However, the hatred against Indira Gandhi was not strong enough to hold this coalition government together. Following various disagreements, Morarji Desai resigned in 1979.

Indira Gandhi returned to power again in the elections of January 1980. Her third term was however extremely difficult for her, owing to various disagreements from within Congress itself.She also brought her son Rajiv Gandhi into the Indian political scenario. Meanwhile, a rising trend was that of the Bhindranwale group who were militants and they captured the holy Sikh temple of Amritsar. Indira Gandhi ordered the army to remove him and his followers from the temple, under “Operation Blue Star”. Accused of using religious sentiments for her political gains, she was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards on 31st October 1984.

Rajiv Gandhi was selected as the next prime minister by the Congress party. People who were fed up with the inefficiency and corruption of career politicians and seeking better solutions and a fresh start to address the nation's long-standing issues saw his youth and inexperience as a strength. Rajiv led the Congress party to its largest-ever majority (nearly 415 seats out of a potential 545), resulting in the dissolution of Parliament. Under Rajiv Gandhi, India went through several administrative and industrial reforms. However, the general elections of 1989 proved not to be unfavourable for him as VP Singh of Janata Dal came to power. It was during his tenure that the Mandal Commission Report was implemented.

It was during this time that one of the major chapters of Indian politics started with the “Ram Rath Yatra” led by LK Advani and his BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) followers, started as a clarion call for the demolition of the Babri Masjid at Ayodhya and to build a Ram Temple there. Karsevaks from across the country moved towards Ayodhya, which also led to communal violence between Muslims and Hindus everywhere. In order to stop the Rath Yatra, Advani was arrested by the Singh government. This led to the withdrawal of BJP support for his ministry, and its fall.

The 1990s also saw an increase in militancy operations in the Kashmir region. The militants reportedly unleashed violence against the Kashmiri Pandits who had to flee from there. In May 1991, during a campaign for the Congress in Tamil Nadu, Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated by an LTTE suicide bomber. In the elections that followed, the Indira faction of Congress returned to power under PV Narasimha Rao as the Prime Minister. In the era that followed, India’s political scenario entered a new phase, characterised by regional political parties and the dominance of religion-based vote banks.

Following the demolition of Babri Masjid, communal violence and riots took place in different parts of the country where a number of innocents were murdered in the name of religion. The Bharatiya Janata Party emerged as a strong political force after the May 1996 elections. However, this phase was characterised by a series of coalition governments that lasted only for limited durations. On 20 March 1998, the President inaugurated a BJP-led coalition government, with Aal Bihari Vajpayee as Prime Minister. During the 2000s, the NDA government under him faced a series of corruption scandals and major failures in Indo-Pak relations despite his talks with Pakistan Prime Minister. In 2002, 59 Hindu pilgrims returning from Ayodhya were killed in a train fire in Godhra, Gujarat. This sparked off the 2002 Gujarat riots, leading to massive violence against Muslims everywhere. Allegations of this being a state-sponsored riot are undergoing judicial trial to this day.

In 2004, following the victory of a Congress-led coalition called UPA (United Progressive Alliance) in the elections, Dr Manmohan Singh became the Prime Minister of India. In the general elections of 2009 Congress-led UPA won a massive victory. However, this period saw a series of corruption allegations against the government and all-time high inflation. The 21st century also witnessed internal security challenges such as the rise of Naxal-Maoist groups and also acts of terrorism in India such as the Mumbai and Delhi bomb blasts.

In the year 2014, the BJP returned to power at the Centre and launched Narendra Modi as the Prime Minister. The intensive campaigns across the country helped the party win astounding popularity.

The political history of a country like India cannot be explained or analysed in limited words. Our nation has gone through a series of highs and lows, and periods of massive turbulence in its 75 years since Independence.

Social Progress in Independent India

As far as India is concerned, development of the social sector cannot be limited to various aspects of human development. There are many factors to be taken into consideration such as the caste-class inequalities prevalent and intrinsic to the cultural fabric of the nation.Therefore while trying to understand the social progress in post-Independence India,the starting point would be education.

The percentage of those who completed primary education or above was about 55% among those born between 1950 and 1970. This value has climbed to over 80% for those who were born around 1990. The most disadvantaged category, however, is made up of Indian rural women. Only 25% of this population attended at least primary school in the 1950s. The likelihood of women born after the 1970s gaining from schooling is significantly higher. Between the 1960s and the 1990s, the proportion of rural women who attended elementary school or higher went up from 30% to 70%. But today, we can see that there have been considerable changes in this sector. We have over 300 premier institutes in the country and India is known for its “knowledge economy”. From primary school to college, there are diverse streams of education like vocational, polytechnics, management, arts, and so on.

On October 2, 1952, the Community Development Programmes (CDPs) were launched in an effort to improve the lives of the rural population. The Panchayati Raj system was first implemented in the states of Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh on October 2, 1959.The task of implementing the development projects in rural areas was handed over to the chosen leaders at three levels, namely the village, the block, and the district.For the well-being of city dwellers and industrial workers too, several plans were put into action. According to the provisions of the Constitution, the Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) currently have the same legal standing as the legislatures and the Lok Sabha.

Rates in nutrition have seen notable changes during the past seven decades. Severe types of starvation and subsequent illnesses were widespread in the 1950s. The population was expanding and food was becoming limited as nutritionists tried to find practical, everyday answers to these issues. Chronic undernutrition and food insecurity posed a serious concern. With the Green Revolution, there were considerable changes in this field. In 1970, India saw the White Revolution, or the Operation Flood, which was the world’s biggest dairy development program, pioneered by Verghese Kurien. It transformed India from a milk-deficient nation into the world’s largest milk producer.Within less than ten years, there were no longer any food grain shortages, India was self-sufficient in grain production, and thus nutrition levels too went up. Access to primary healthcare and a sanitary environment also increased.

The ICDS (Intensive Child Development Services) Scheme was launched in 1975, which provided nutritional meals for children in government schools. It also aimed to combat gender inequality in primary education. A 1992 study by the National Institute of Public Cooperation and Child Development showed that there was considerable improvement in birth weight and infant mortality of Indian children along with better immunity and nutrition.

Economic development in Independent India

India has come a long way in the past seven decades, from an economy in its primary stages of development to be one of the prominent powers of the global economy today. It has developed in terms of infrastructure, education, healthcare, science and technology, and in almost all other sectors. According to a report by International Monetary Fund (IMF), India has become the fastest growing economy in the world with a projected Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth of 8.2% for FY2022.

The Nehruvian era was characterised by extreme state control over the economy. The private sector had only a negligible presence. He introduced policies like land redistribution with the aim of reducing class disparity. The introduction of the Five Years Plan in 1951 too was one of Nehru's key economic reforms.

Modern economists categorise the first 45 years following independence and the first almost three decades of the free market economy as the two periods of India's economic growth. The economic policies of privatisation and liberalisation were implemented during this period. International investors began to respond favourably to a lenient FDI policy and a flexible industrial licencing strategy. Following the economic reforms of 1991, increasing FDI, the use of information technology, and more domestic consumption were among the key drivers that fueled India's economic boom.

The agriculture and service sectors have steadily developed in India post-Independence. visible in the information technology and telecommunications industries. The growth in the service sector has reached its peak in today’s Indian economy, with outsourcing being received from a number of global companies and the telecom boom. These trends havefueled the expansion of ITES, BPO, and KPO businesses. The development of information technology competence has resulted in the creation of thousands of new employment, which has raised domestic consumption. It follows that additional foreign direct investments have subsequently been made to match the demand. Moreover, 30% of the workforce in India is currently employed in the services industry, a rise that began in the 1980s. Only 4.5% of the working population was employed in the industry in the 1960s.

The agricultural sector to has seen considerable advancement since the 1950s. The Green and White revolutions amongst others guaranteed food and social security in India. In the first half of the 20th century, the industry increased at a rate of roughly 1% annually. The growth rate in the years after Independence was around 2.6 per cent annually. The main drivers of development in agricultural productivity were the expansion of farming lands and the introduction of high-yielding crop varieties. The industry could be able to stop relying on imported grains for meals. Both the yield and structural modifications have improved. Other key determinants that led to the country's agricultural revolution included consistent investment in research, land reforms, a wider range of finance options, and improvements to rural infrastructure. The agri-biotech sector in the nation has also flourished.

Conclusion

The growth and progress that India has achieved in the economic, and social sectors are remarkable in the last 75 years. The political scenario too has seen the rise and fall of different trends. Today our nation is at the forefront of the global community as a power to reckon with. India won freedom mainly through a sustained, non-violent struggle involving the sacrifice of thousands of people. We, as its citizen have the obligation to hold onto this legacy and strive for the development of our country on its way forward.


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