A young and inexperienced India that began its tryst with destiny as a sovereign, socialist, secular democratic republic has come a long way in the last sixty six years. The blue-eyed optimism of the early fifties gave way to pragmatic realism as the country coped with a population explosion, spiraling inflation, lukewarm growth and widening gap between the haves and have-nots. Indeed the events of the last few decades have shaped India into where it stands now– the high and low, the profound and profane–all coalesce here.
It is retrospection as well as an introspection of these events that constitute India Since 1947:Looking Back at a Modern Nation, an anthology edited by Atul Kumar Thakur. It is a volume of 30 essays, that prolifically and compellingly, provide a deep insight into the events, trends, policies and polity that have shaped our nation into what it is now.
The book starts with leading social historian Ramachandra Guha’s The Rise And Fall Of The Bilingual Intellectuals. It traces the vibrancy and dynamism spawned in intellectual circles through multiplicity in lingual choices and laments that the bilingual intellectual is on the decline. This essay has, among other things, an amusing exchange of opinions on bilingualism between Mahatma Gandhi and Rabindranath Tagore.
Eminent journalist Prem Shankar Jha’s India: Where Democracy has Gone Wrong is an incisive analysis on the pitfalls of Indian governance in the last 65 years, dwelling on the increasing corruption and criminalization of politics. His take is candid, and he doesn’t mince with words when it comes to critically analyzing the brazen bad-governance, carried by the political classes of the country.
Veteran diplomat and Statesman K Natwar Singh, in The First Sixty Five Years of India’s Foreign Policy, provides in fine details, a first-hand account of India’s external affairs over the last six decades, applauding the Nehruvian principles of foreign policy – a cohesive and comprehensive framework that has ‘stood the test of time’.
Shashi Tharoor, in his short and succinct essay Politics and the Indian Middle-Class, laments the flight of the middle class from the civil services to the professional world. He is, however, hopeful that the participation of the middle class youth in the coming decade will change the face of Indian politics.
Eminent politician and ex-governor of Kashmir Jagmohan, in Kashmir: Past, Present and Future objectively analyses the unfortunate events behind the deep-seated Kashmir issue; having experienced the ground realities from very close quarters, he also puts forward seven suggestions to help tackle this sustained crisis.
From the political spectrum, the anthology moves into India’s current economic situation, beginning with John Dreze and Amartya Sen’s Putting Growth in Its Place. The two stalwarts of development economics dispassionately articulate India’s high growth – low HDI syndrome and emphasize on inclusive growth, something which remains a big challenge in this country of growing social imbalances.
Bibek Debroy’s The Time Ahead for Indian Economy is a rather longish commentary on the Indian economy; it calls upon labour and legal reforms as the need of the hour, in order to create efficiencies in the production process.
The editor himself delves into one of the most burning issues of the current socio-political landscape viz. the conflict between the State and the oppressed tribal communities of India. Atul’s attempt is bold and his tone stark; there is a strong undercurrent of antipathy against the State for marginalizing communities those have been living ‘at the periphery’. It is a difficult theme, perhaps one that calls for a separate volume of work altogether.
India’s north-east has, for a very long time, borne the brunt of New Delhi’s neglectful nonchalance. The seven sister states have had a long and chequered history of ethnic conflicts, extremism and insurgency; this part of the country also bears the scars of a draconian law called Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) of 1954. Yet it is only in the recent past that India’s northeast has managed to garner some attention in the national mainstream media.
Ratnadip Chowdhury, a young and promising journalist from Assam, reminds the reader of this grim reality in his essay Seven Sisters’ Plight. There is also an engaging piece by Sumana Roy on the Chicken-Neck corridor, a geo-strategic choke point near the Siliguri town of North Bengal, which connects north-east with mainland India.
Cultural and literary critic Rakshanda Jalil’s Looking Back: 64 Years of Independence draws on personal experiences to compare and contrast a nascent India and the India of today, resulting in a piece that is endearingly fresh. Banibrata Mahanta’s The Indian Novel in English and National Identity and Saugata Ghosh’s Litany of Lost Tongues are significant contributions on the subject of the swiftly growing Indian writing in English.
There are other essays on the politics of environmentalism, India’s foreign policy in the contemporary order and India’s sports culture. For the discerned movie buff, there is also a very engaging piece on the emergence of ‘parallel cinema’ that was spearheaded by the three doyens of Bengali celluloid – Satyajit Ray, Ritwik Ghatak and Mrinal Sen.
Each essay in this collection is informed, pertinent and well-researched; thirty essays chosen very carefully and painstakingly to present a holistic picture of India’s transition from a fledgling democracy to a modern nation. The book is indeed very well timed; there is understandable anger, anxiety and intolerance for the endemic corruption, mismanagement and anarchy in the system.
However, as most of the contributors have emphasized, much solace and strength is to be derived from the notion of sovereignty, a principle that has survived sixty-five tumultuous years of nationhood. Through all our triumphs and tribulations, advances and setbacks, the biggest truth of all times has been the survival of democracy in this part of the world. Every informed citizen of India should read this collection to rekindle that faith once again.
The author is a New Delhi based journalist. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org