In 2009, there was an article posted on by an anonymous Chinese strategist saying that ‘If China takes a little action, the so-called Great Indian Federation can be broken up’. The notion of the Indian state being that fragile sounds laughable in 2013, as it did in 2009 – notwithstanding separatist movements in certain corners of the country. But it wasn’t always so.
When India became independent in 1947, it numbered among the boldest experiments in democracy the world had ever seen. There was a lot of skepticism that the Indian union would last any significant length of time. That such a plurality of peoples, cultures, languages and attitudes could have a single imagined identity of ‘India’ was ludicrous to many. But India proved them wrong. And the nation did so by ensuring universal franchise from the very beginning. And by having a constitution designed for great social reform.
The boldness with which India began its tryst with destiny has become a rare commodity in recent years. Poverty, malnutrition, subsistence employment and all the other problems that ail India are used as convenient excuses to cover up what is essentially a failure of imagination. We want to develop ‘low cost’ technologies instead of wanting to be the best at something.
The nuclear tests of 1997 were the last, really bold step that the nation took, with the golden quadrilateral highway programme perhaps coming close.
As Saurabh Chandra noted on twitter a few days ago, ideas as ‘crazy’ as Elon Musk’s Hyperloop is ideal for a country like India to adopt. Like the country leapfrogged over landline phone connections to cellphones in almost every household today, only our imagination is limiting us from doing the same in dozens of other fields. We mistake jugaad for innovation and get lost on inventiveness with terms like ‘appropriate technologies’.
We can use a lot more of the boldness this nation was born with – in technology, social reform, governance, art and in every conceivable field of human endeavour. And it is that boldness that will allow us to be independent in every sense of that word. Happy 67th Independence Day, India.