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Home > India@60 > Columnists > Girish Rishi

We need to set lofty goals

August 14, 2007


This is a day upon which 'well done' can be said. It is also a day to hope that even more can be accomplished.

Thus wrote, The New York Times in its editorial 50 years ago on August 15, 1957 noting India's 10 years since Independence.

The 60th anniversary, that we now celebrate, is a good milestone on the path to greater things ahead.

A nation's anniversary aggregates all, especially in a place like India. The North Indians and the South Indians, the Hindi speakers and the not-so Hindi speakers, those in the east stretching in to Mizoram and the far west in weathered Jaisalmer, the rich and the poor, the lower castes and the Brahmins, the fishermen off the coasts and the inhabitants of the Himalayan foothills, the Pandits and the Mullahs -- get all aggregated as Indians, their differences lost in the euphoria of a milestone of a nation.

On this anniversary many write about the success of the great political experiment started sixty years ago that indulged a people coming out of imperialism, who, ironically, embraced a foreign concept -- democracy.

As expected, on this anniversary many write about the economic upswing that started just about the time of the 50th anniversary. For sure, today, the world struggles to apply the 'Third World' label on India as the country is increasingly seen as a rising economic power with capital -- both economic and intellectual.

60 years ago, the founders of the nation had set lavish goals for themselves. Captured ably by the eminent historian Granville Austin in his research, the Constituent Assembly members looked to unite the country through their work. There was a fear that with the mosaic of cultures and traditions India would be challenged to stay together. These leaders also wanted to draft a Constitution that would provide stability with an aim to protect minority interests.

It is safe to conclude that India has done well on these two fronts -- unity and stability, although more could always be done. It is the third and perhaps the more important goal that we have long ways to go.

60 years ago, the founders of the nation wanted to trigger a social revolution that would lead to the 'ending of poverty and ignorance and disease and inequality of opportunity,' as Nehru put it.

On August 15, 1957, India's 10th anniversary, Nehru addressed 380 million across the nation from the Red Fort [Images]. Today, regrettably, there are almost as many people under the national poverty level, according to World Bank estimates.

India's leaders and especially Nehru, at the time of independence, saw democracy as more a means to an end -- an end where every person would have access to education, healthcare and a way to make a living.

In the last 60 years, India has fallen well short of this goal. We have done well on the means as freedom and democracy have flourished. But, the end seems farther today than it did to the founders 60 years ago. The economic boom's trickle down effect is, but, not dramatic enough.

At this 60th anniversary, when we have much to be proud of, we need to set lofty goals just as our forefathers did in that period around 1947. Like them, we need to be dreamers with a pragmatic approach. They set these goals and attempted to put mechanisms to achieve them.

Elevating almost a third of our billion plus population will require many approaches some that will succeed and some not. Public and private sector will need to come together to solve this most difficult of challenges, credible NGOs will need assistance, the new rich will need to become philanthropists and turn their attention to education and healthcare beyond their neighbourhoods.

Creative approaches such as the ones being taken by organisations such as Asha, Pratham, the Azim Premji [Images] Foundation, Myrada and several others will need to flourish.

No person under the national poverty level! Now, that is a goal we should set for the next four decades -- when the nation celebrates its 100 years of independence.

Girish Rishi is a Chicago-based writer. He can be reached at girishrishi@hotmail.com





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