On August 15 1947, India gained her Independence from British rule. Over the ensuing 70 years, India has become the second-most populous country, with more than 1.3 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world. In seven decades, India and her people have faced and overcome many challenges and in the process grown tremendously.
From the moment of independence India faced challenges of an unimaginable scope. First came partition into two separate nations, Indian and Pakistan, which led to the largest mass migration in history. Fearing religious persecution in each nation, an estimated 15 million people moved from one country to the other. Sadly, this migration and ensuing widespread violence resulted in one million civilians being killed and more than 2.2 million missing and who, to this day, remain unaccounted for.
Another shackle to be thrown off was the legacy of colonialism, a prime factor for endemic poverty and deadly famines. For decades, India has struggled to overcome illiteracy, poverty and corruption. Navigating the Cold War was a significant hurdle as well. India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, shrewdly maintained a national policy of non-alignment during that time and, as a result, received financial and technical support from both the United States and Soviet Union. Doing so enabled India’s nascent industry to grow at 7.0 percent annually between 1950 and 1965.
Despite daunting challenges, India has had some major successes. As the country’s population exploded from 359 million in 1950 to more than 1.3 billion today India’s economy has managed to move more than 500 million people out of poverty over the past two decades.
With the advent of the internet, India became the world-wide hub for IT services and the business process outsourcing. Aggregate revenues for the industry in 2015 were more than $147 billion with exports accounting for more than 67 percent.
IT has also been a driver of India’s export growth rate of 21 percent, the highest of any country during the past decade. The next two highest are Brazil at 15 percent and the United States at nine percent. Agricultural exports have also increased from $5 billion to more than $40 billion annually — making India the world’s seventh largest agricultural exporter.
With prudent use of resources and visionary leaders, the stereotypical images of starving Indians have been put to rest. Mother India ranks 2nd worldwide in farm output and is not only self-sufficient in food-stuffs, but a net exporter of a variety of grains as well.
During the past 70 years India’s impressive increases in food production have been in great part due to the government’s efforts to improve roads and power generation infrastructures and the sharing of improved farming techniques.
Utilizing satellite, climate and weather data is enabling farmers to facilitate crop growth. A free nationwide database supported by Water Watch Cooperative, a Netherlands based organization whose goal is “increased food production while using less water and pesticides,” is updated weekly so that farmers can receive warnings about anticipated floods and droughts and take preventive measures. Farmers are also better able “predict and increase their yields, protect their crops from plant diseases and know when it is the best time to irrigate.”
The country’s agriculture sector employs 66 percent of the country’s workforce and accounts for more than 22 percent of GDP. Blessed with land that in many locations is capable of three separate crops a year, the impact of agriculture on the country is impressive; not only was India the world’s largest manufacturer of tractors, with 29 percent of the world’s output in 2013; she is also the world’s largest tractor market — a sign of even more expansive agricultural growth to come.
Although faced with a massive educational gap between its urban and rural populations, improvements in education are progressing. Illiteracy is still high and remains a challenge, so too basic education, especially in rural areas dealing with high poverty rates and non-standardized schools (the average student to teacher ratio is 42:1).
Fortunately, increased internet access and MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) are enabling millions of Indians to take advantage of educational opportunities. Classes are often free and can be taken at a student’s convenience with online offerings that include everything from basic literacy and math classes, to skills and trades and all the way up to college courses for credit. Best of all, the courses are easily accessible on the computer and a variety of mobile devices.
One of the brightest gems in India’s “crown of accomplishment” is the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO). Thus far, ISRO’s results have been remarkable. Already they have completed more than 100 successful missions including a lunar spacecraft in 2008 when India became only the fourth country to plant their flag on the moon, and the only one to it on their first attempt.
ISRO is noted for their inexpensive space-launches. In 2014 their mars orbiter Mission achieved orbit around the Red Planet two days after the NASA’s MAVEN craft and for an astoundingly lower cost, $74 million versus $671 million. Earlier this year, this year ISRO impressed the world by launching 104 satellites from a single rocket. The previous record was 37 satellites Russia sent into orbit in 2014.
As if these accomplishments aren’t impressive enough for such a young nation, on June 15, India became the sixth member of the “heavy-lift” rocket club with the launch of the GSAT-19, a communication satellite taller than a 13-story building and weighing 3,136 kg (6,914 lb.). Heavy-lift capacity is defined as being able to successfully launch satellites weighing more than three tons into orbit, a capability that only the U.S., Russia, China and the European Space Agency possess.
India is crowding her way onto the world stage and has made known her intentions to be a player in world affairs. Prime Minster Modi, unlike his predecessors, has openly embraced a pro-American position and is willing to back the U.S.’s efforts for peace and trade in the region.
Still, the future isn’t going to be all smooth sailing for India. She is still faced with the need to modernize the military in the face of threats from neighboring Pakistan and China. While war might not be imminent, the possibility can’t be ignored, especially with the ongoing border dispute with China over the Doklam region, and U.S. President Trump’s warnings to Pakistan about supporting terrorists. The fact that India, Pakistan and China all have nuclear arsenals makes the stakes of military action even higher.
India also must deal with feeding and housing an increasing population, the need for improved infrastructure, fragile and problematic religious freedom issues and an increasing wealth-disparity gap.
While it’s been 70 years since independence, Indians can still benefit from reading Nehru’s famous speech given on the eve of independence, “Long years ago, we made a tryst with destiny. At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom.”
India is now “fully awake” and eagerly embracing a future surfeited with possibilities.