A dream to see an Indian unfurl the tricolour in outer space and one to see its women secure in her own space—in that dichotomy lies India@71. Making headlines for being the fastest growing economy, yet unable to become a middle income economy. A democracy that has created wealth, yet one whose quest to provide a comfortable lifestyle, equal rights and opportunities to all its citizens remains incomplete. At 71, India’s still a young nation struggling to make it big. It has the highest penetration of mobile telephony and skilled artisanry and a growing flock of entrepreneurial behemoths, but its per capita income hovers at $1,977.29. Much improved from when the colonial masters left the land partitioned and poor, but way behind its Southeast Asian neighbours who have traversed similar historical arcs. Still unable, tragically, to give its children decent and cheap education, and healthy diets.
PM Narendra Modi always seems keen to be an agent of change. On August 15, 2018, one expected big-ticket announcement came: a massive health insurance programme that eventually aims to cover the last in the line. Modern healthcare is absent across vast rural swathes, so this is a step, not a destination point. Other fundamentals need to be revisited too. In 1947, India was freed of the ignominy of foreign rule but we are still shackled by doubts. About who we are and want to be.
About who is an Indian—searching for an identity everyone can accept. The elite and middle classes are self-absorbed, insular. Other identity gulfs roil us. Are these linked to the poverty of our economic policy? Is that why we haven’t provided a roof over every head, helped citizens own their environment responsibly, made modern sanitation a commonplace? Made clean, safe shelter homes? A people has to be at peace with itself to focus its energies on constructive development. What we see instead is farm distress, the industrial morass and the general anomie brought on by modern unemployment coming together to create ever-new forms of social and gender violence. India is on the cusp again.