Tuesday, February 2, 2010

India-Sixty Years a Republic

On January 26, 1950, Dr. Rajendra Prasad became the first President in the newly proclaimed republic of India. Just over two years had passed since the independence from the British and the bitter memories of partition. During the small period of time India experienced the trauma of partition, war against Pakistan over Kashmir, assassination of Mahatma Gandhi and war against the Nizham of Hyderabad. As the world’s largest democracy severed the last official ties with the British crown, it was starting a journey which will transform it into a nation with many contradictions.

Despite being a nuclear power, India is still largely a poor country. A third of the worlds poor live in India. Illiteracy, the caste system, role of women in the society and British colonial policies have all contributed to this. Although largely an agricultural country, India has not been immune from chronic food shortages. Feeding the mammoth population has been the primary challenge to successive Indian governments.

The governments have taken many steps to alleviate poverty including subsidizing food and other essential items, improving agriculture, price supports, raising the level of education and spreading awareness on family planning. According to the World Bank Group, these have borne fruit over the years. According to the World Bank, in 1980, 60% of Indians were below US $ 1.25 PPP (Purchasing Power Parity) level, hence in abject poverty. It has improved to 42% in 2005. However, 46% of the children are suffering from malnutrition.

The political situation in India is also a source of concern. After the initial unrest, post-independent India enjoyed political stability due to the overwhelming popularity of the Indian National Congress. But from late 1960s, the grand old party gradually lost its former hegemony. The rise of regional political parties was facilitated by the language policy of the Congress party in the sixties. Secessionist movements calling for separate states (such as in Telangana) or outright independence (such as in Assam, Punjab, Kashmir etc.) are found in virtually every state. When the growing influence of the Maoists-which is in itself facilitated by the abject poverty of the rural population-is added to the equation, the outcome seems to be frightening.