As the midnight hour marking modern India’s 65th Independence Day strikes, it is easy to forsee what the general reaction of the country will be. Some will say that what we have is not true independence, some will say that India is the greatest country in the world and the vast majority will loudly proclaim that inspite of all the problems India has, they love their India. Opinion pieces will be written supporting any of the above three stands, patriotic movies will be played across all TV channels, the national anthem will be sung and Nehru’s speech will be widely quoted. But in the midst of all this, a doubt will remain. What is India’s legacy? What has it shown the world so far and what will it leave for future generations? We certainly are among the economic powers of the world, but not THE economic power, and we most certainly won’t achieve that position in the near future. The 21st Century already belongs to China. We have no great technological advances or scientific discoveries to boast of. We are not the most literate and definitely not the most equal country in the world. Our army isn’t the biggest, our navy isn’t strongest. Then why should we look at India as it stands now with renewed pride and confidence in ourselves? Because we exist. It is as simple as that.
In 1947, the world gave an united, secular, democratic India 20 years. No more. We were a people divided by millennia old social constructs, seemingly incompatible linguistic, ethnic and religious groups, 80% of our population was illiterate and as many people desperately poor. The country was in a state of famine. We had next to no modern industry, no service sector and a small educated middle class that spoke in the language of the conquerors. By any historical trend, we should have broken up, disintegrated into a dozen squabbling states, become a Hindu dictatorship, or a secular one, the army should have staged a coup, and we should have proved Malthus right. In short, we should have been relegated to the pages of history as a footnote. A country and a people that tried to change the laws of society, and failed. And yet, 65 years later we exist. We have faced insurgencies from the left and assassinations from the right, tackled separatist movements, religious differences and linguistic clashes. We have built industries, dams, roads and cities. We have launched things into space and we have not let our country face another famine. We have built educational institutions that have produced some of the best minds of the world and most important of all, we have held free election after free election after free election. We have survived, and we have survived better than anyone thought possible. Yes, English is still the language of the elite, we still have hungry and desperately poor people, our cities are horribly planned and our leaders leave much to be desired, and those are problems that we need to tackle urgently, but the uniqueness of all this is that we are in a position to do so, by ourselves, as an independent sovereign nation. Inspite of history, inspite of logic, inspite of common sense, we exist. And that is our legacy. We may not become the most powerful country in the world, nor the richest. But as long as we can remain as one nation, reasonably feed, clothe and shelter our people, and we choose our own leaders, we have fulfilled our destiny. We are a mirror to humanity, with all its problems, issues, successes, achievements compressed into a population of 1.2 billion and an area the size of Europe. So as humanity as defied all odds to reach where it has today, so have we.
So, this independence day, as you watch the news channels, read the papers or simply talk to people, and you hear squabbles and complaints, and petty arguments, and talk of what India has not done, do not fret, take a good long look at the map of India, think about everything that could have gone wrong in the last 65 years, and realize, in India, there is always hope.