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Mainstream, Vol XLV, No 45

Being a Proud Indian

Wednesday 31 October 2007, by Nikhil Chakravartty


A midst the profusion of tributes paid to Indira Gandhi on the tenth anniversary of her martyrdom on October 31, perhaps the most eloquent but concise was by the eminent scientist-philosopher, Professor Yash Pal, who said she had made us feel proud of being an Indian.

To be proud of belonging to our motherland was the constant injunction that my generation had to abide by when we were young students—that was before the country became independent. The galling yoke of foreign rule was not allowed to thwart the personality of a true Indian. How elated we used to feel those days when our young revolutionary heroes mounted the gallows singing Rabindranath Tagore’s memorable lines—“Blessed is my life that I am born in this land”! It was the same spirit which could be suppressed neither by the bullet and the bullying of the Raj nor by the incessant ideological refrain of the White Man’s superiority.

This by itself was the surest guarantee for the triumph of our freedom struggle. All our great leaders have not only harped on the greatness and grandeur of our civilisation but instilled into millions upon millions of their countrymen the sense of irrepressible pride of being an Indian—born out of the soil of this mother earth that is India. Not everybody could face the trials and tribulations of being an activist in the freedom struggle, but everybody, even those who could not come forward to make the sacrifice for the struggle for independence, were mandated not to bend their heads in servility before the foreign ruler. Even today we could get a touch of that unbending spirit as we watch scene after scene in Attenborough’s Gandhi. To be kowtowing to the Raj or be a scab was the worst from a disgrace in the eyes of the awakened public those days.

This feeling persisted even after independence, rather our leaders who were wielding power could perceive the strength of this pride as a national asset and could draw upon it for the rebuilding of our country after independence—its economy, its culture, its foreign policy. Nowadays we hear a lot of attacks on the Nehruvian model of development. But any unbiased observer would concede that what Nehru tried to achieve was the rebuilding of a strong economy shattered by colonial depredation. The preference was for the industrial revolution model. The government had to step in because the private sector was at that time too weak and bereft of resources to undertake the building of the basic industries, in short providing for the necessary infrastructure. As for external help, the World Bank authorities made it abundantly clear that they were not interested in underwriting a programme of industrialisation of the country.

At this point, the strength of our national movement came into full play—instead of submitting to the dictates of the powerful vested interests of the developed countries and their friendly multilateral agencies, we in our country launched our unique programme of industrialisation. We had no hesitation in seeking the advice and cooperation of a whole galaxy of economists from many countries cutting across the Cold War dividing lines. That was how our mixed economy was planned, which held to the motto of self-reliance.

Without this, we would not have been where we are today. We might have had a sort of imported industrialisation that would have been at the mercy of the industrial giants abroad. More likely we would have met the fate of Pakistan, which lagged miles behind in economic growth while burdened with a bloated military outfit that was tied to the Pentagon while bringing in instability in government and politics of the country. Much as our pundits of today may run down the economic strategy of the Nehru era, it needs to be realised that with all the shortcomings of that strategy, there could have been no economic growth today without the foundations laid yesterday.

In a sense, our foreign policy strategy of non-alignment has been the manifestation of that same urge to be proud of being an Indian. After having liberated itself from the rule of the mightiest empire of the time, India was in no mood to be subjected to pressures by any outside power in foreign affairs. As the world got virtually bifurcated into two blocs—the Western bloc under Washington and the communist bloc under Moscow—our leaders refused to submit to either. Hence came non-alignment. As decades passed, more and more countries joined the ranks of the non-aligned—including a number of those who had originally joined one power bloc or the other—the snooty critics some of whom had branded non-alignment as sin, found themselves out of step with the growing worldwide urge against bloc politics until one of the superpowers collapsed thereby bringing an abrupt end to the Cold War itself. Non-alignment marked the triumph of self-respect in international politics.

During the current drive for economic reforms in our country, the term very much in fashion today is globalisation. There is certainly no place for an autarchy in today’s interdependent world. Both the advance of technology and extension of the frontiers of knowledge have made narrow nationalism anachronistic and definitely harmful to our economy and polity as well. At the same time, a copycat importing of any foreign model would not only be repugnant but harmful for our country.

The subservient implementation of diktats from the Fund-Bank bosses that the Finance Ministry mafia has all the time been clamouring for, can only harm the economy and in effect would undermine the very purpose of the economic reforms as befitting this country. What is missing in the present dispensation is a pride in our own achievements; instead has come the mortgaging the fate of our economy to the new Moghuls of the world economy, the giant conglomerates miscalled multinationals. The spirit that fought tenaciously to overthrow the domination of the Raj fifty years ago can hardly be expected to bow to the dictates of the super-moneylenders of the Fund-Bank caucus. If we allow ourselves to be subservient to the Fund-Bank order, we shall be swamped by the economic overlordship of the G-7. Already when we talk about our impressive foreign exchange reserve, we do not at the same time tell the country the enormous debt servicing that we have to bear now and this will continue for years to come.

Does that mean that we should have chosen to wallow in the backwardness of a stagnant economy? Not in the least. What a self-respecting country led by a government proud of its strength and accomplishments would have done would be to carefully review its own unique experiment of mixed economy for four long decades, and on the basis of such a re-examination of the past, design its own model of modernising the economy, removing the shackles that are impinging on its growth and rousing the entire nation with the vista of a strong economy that could harness the nation’s wealth, tap its human resources and ensure the social well-being of its billion strong people. All this demands the discarding of inferiority complex and rekindling the spirit of being a proud Indian. Globalisation in that case would not be mere subservience to the giant marauders that prowl the world market. It’s time the Prime Minister had spelt out the sign-posts on his Middle Way.

(Mainstream, November 12, 1994)

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