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Asia

India's aspirations 70 years ago and now

As India celebrates the 70th anniversary of its independence from British rule, many of the tasks the nation's founding fathers set for the leadership and people remain unfulfilled, says DW correspondent Kuldeep Kumar.

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In his historic "Tryst with Destiny" speech to herald India's independence from British colonial rule, the country's first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, one of the tallest leaders of the freedom struggle, voiced the newly born nation's aspirations on the night of August 14, 1947.      

"At the stroke of the midnight hour," Nehru said, "when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom." In his view, the tasks before the leadership and people of the new country were "to bring freedom and opportunity to the common man, to the peasants and workers of India; to fight and end poverty and ignorance and disease; to build up a prosperous, democratic and progressive nation, and to create social, economic and political institutions which will ensure justice and fullness of life to every man and woman."

Explaining his vision of a secular India, he said, "All of us, to whatever religion we may belong, are equally the children of India with equal rights, privileges and obligations. We cannot encourage communalism or narrow-mindedness, for no nation can be great whose people are narrow in thought or in action."

Tough circumstances

In the entire Indian history, British rule was unique because for the first time India was ruled by a foreign power that was interested in solely exploiting its resources, transferring huge amount of wealth from it for the development of its own economy and heavily depending on its "divide-and-rule" policy. Therefore, on August 15, 1947 India was a nation of poor, illiterate and unhealthy citizens with a depleted treasury.

Meanwhile, the partition of the subcontinent along religious lines into Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan resulted in the destruction of life and property on a vast scale and left the country's economy in tatters.

And yet, India turned itself into a viable secular, democratic republic with universal suffrage and very soon started building its educational, scientific, technological and financial institutions while inheriting the Westminster model of parliamentary democracy. The aspirations of the post-1947 generations were to see an India whose citizens were educated, healthy and prosperous - a place where discrimination based on caste and religion did not exist.

To some extent, these goals have been achieved. The country is now renowned for its scientific and IT expertise, has an advanced nuclear and space programs as well as a fast-growing economy.  

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A grim reality

But, over the past seven decades, the ideals and values adopted during the anti-colonial freedom struggle have almost disappeared.

Corruption has become all-pervasive, politics have become a family enterprise rather than being a route to serve the people, secular ideals have been jettisoned to a very large extent and the country is currently being ruled by a political party that is unabashedly pro-Hindu, at the expense of other religious communities.

Watch video 03:33

Inside India’s first partition museum

Fanatic Hindu mobs are lynching Muslims merely on suspicion of their carrying or eating beef. Vigilante groups are being given official encouragement to bash up any young couple that is seen together in public places showing even an iota of affection to each other.

While the constitution grants freedom to practice and propagate one's religion, various states are busy enacting laws almost banning religious conversion. The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party came to power with a pledge to create 20 million new jobs every year - a promise that remains nearly completely unfulfilled. Budgetary allocations on health and education are being steadily slashed.

The Indian people aspire for a government that can make cheap and reliable public health and education available, maintain peace in society and create jobs for the youth. However, the grim reality stares them in the face as news from places like Uttar Pradesh trickles in about tens of children dying in a short period of time in a hospital because of a shortage of oxygen. This is not the India that its citizens want to see.

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