Independence Day 2020: New Normal and Better Normal

Progress of 73 years cannot be captured in infographics


August 15, 2020

/ By / Pune

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi offers homage to Father of the Nation Mahatma Gandhi at Rajghat, on the occasion of 74th Independence Day, in Delhi on August 15, 2020.

As India marks its 74th independence day, it is an occasion to see how far have we come since our ‘tryst with destiny’ began on that fateful day of August 15, 1947.

For a nation ruled by foreign powers for centuries, 74 years of independence is not a lot of time. But in a relatively short time we have made great strides as a nation and a democracy, staying loyal to our first ever Constitution. Structured politics, dynamic socialism and world’s largest electoral process to elect the law makers and leaders have worked. There were flaws, aberrations, ups and downs and even shocks. Some of these were due to inheritance of bygone era before independence. Some were our own creations.

True, we have not yet regained our lost glory of the Vedic times characterised by rich tradition of respecting nature, peaceful coexistence and well-being of not only humans but also the flora and fauna. Historians have written that Indian society in the past was the richest in the world. Today India is placed 3rd in terms of GDP and 122nd in terms of GDP per capita. In 73 years, catching up to past glory was uphill task through the democratic socialism after Independence.

We did make  progress not only in terms of the GDP and in rising number of millionaires  and billionaires  but also in the number of poor that have been pulled out of  the dark and stark poverty, number of lower middle class that entered into the cherished middle class and then from middle class to prized higher middle class. Our development is percolating deeper in social strata. Lot is yet to be done, but 20th century ended pathbreaking reforms and 21st century began not only with transformative booms like Y2K but also important and game-changing but indiscernible reverberations that cannot be captured in any infographics.

Over the last decade, world has woken up to new reality, that is embedded in the predictions like ‘the centre of gravity of the development will shift to Asia’ , ‘21st century belongs to India and China’, ‘India would soon be global guru’ and so on.

There are deflection debates too. ‘Launching a spaceship amidst the ship full of poverty does not make nation a flagship of development’ or ‘tinkering with algorithm does not make the nation super soft-power’, and that ‘sending yoga teachers all over the world does not make nation a global guru’. Democratic socialism is argumentative. It should remain so.

This is where comes first point of inflection.

We are observing an extraordinary assertiveness at all levels in raising our bars and targets. Our ambitions are soaring as never before.  First it was A P J Abdul Kalam, former President of India also known as India’s ‘missile man’ who flamed young minds. He told Indian youth that they should dream. He also said that dream is not what you get while sleeping. Dream is that which does not let you sleep. Youth did not dump his advice as a political slogan.

The son of a boatman in living in a hut in small town in South India who dreamt of piloting planes and then became nuclear and space scientist to elevate India into nuclear power was taken seriously by the youth. The thought leadership of Kalam was selfless and strong. Youth learnt to set goals higher, even if they appeared to be impossible.

Likes of Google, Microsoft, PepsiCo, IBM, Nokia who themselves wanted to raise their bar of ambition, chose young educated and ambitious Indians to be their CEO.

We always said that future depends on the skill of youth. Now we are indeed saying yes, future belongs to youth, if we let them have it!

Here comes another inflection point.

Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi, son of a tea seller at a railway station, became Chief Minister of one of the progressive states of India and then got elected as Prime Minister of India. His leadership is bold and brisk.  His mantra in life has been that falling down is not a failure but refusing to get up is. He has set a goal to take Indian economy to USD 5 trillion and doubling the farmers’ income -both by 2024. His dedicated calls for Swachch Bharat, Smart India, Skill India, Self-reliant India are all making impact on youth. They are not dumping his ambitious plans because they come from trustworthy, self-less and dedicated leader.

We are, however, told by many that setting high goals are fine, but where is roadmap? Well, youth in India now have started understanding that leaders set goals, and it is we that have to prepare roadmap. That is the only way that to let youth have their future. Today’s youth who are studying in colleges will be policy makers within couple of years and they would be in position to prepare better road maps and get independence in deciding their future.

Recent National Education Policy as well as Agriculture Infrastructure Fund declared by Modi-government are pathbreaking schemes that are designed to let the youth have their future.

In any business, the CEO follows three Gs: Goal setting, Guidance and Governance for implementation through monitoring. Roadmap is prepared by managers and lane-map is prepared by supervisors and by-lane map is set by shop-floor-handlers. It is a collective exercise. Changing technologies help in this process, impact speed as well as resource utilisation. The add on to this process is Sustainable Development Goals, SDGs, set by United Nations. The process of roadmap preparation is aided by ambitious SDGs, their targets and measurable indices.

World today, unfortunately, is going through the enormous shock of Covid-19. At the same time, we are also learning lessons on how to be resilient towards such shocks and strengthen our systems to take on the future life-threatening disasters.  We are talking of setting a new normal. However we also have a golden opportunity to set up a better normal. Better normal is about charting our road map towards the SDGs and letting youth implement it as it is their sustainable future. We should let them have it. What youth would learn during their college and university days would certainly mold their future. Educational campuses are laboratories for building a smart and sustainable future. Learning by doing, applying knowledge more from campus than just in classroom, tapping on keyboards than the equations written by somebody else on the blackboard, accepting Nature as the best guru rather than only the professors. This could lead us towards SDGs.

Mahatma Gandhi was once asked before independence if he would like to see the same standard of living for Indians after independence as for the British.  He replied:

“It took Britain half the resources of the planet to achieve this  prosperity. How many planets will a country like India require!”

Indeed, the sustainability of resource in our production and consumption is the keystone of our future. Respecting nature and living with nature and not living on nature should be the foundation of our road map. That would take us back to the lost glory of Vedic era.

(Rajendra Shende is a former director of UNEP and currently chairman of Terre Policy Centre and advisor to Media India Group. The views expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of Media India Group.)



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