Addressing the historic session of the Constituent Assembly on the night of 14-15 August 1947, at the cusp of India’s independence, Jawaharlal Nehru voiced the yearning of millions of Indians when, in his matchless eloquence, he declared: “Long years ago, we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge…At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom.”
In what’s considered to be one of the finest speeches of the last century, Nehru also voiced the aspiration of Gandhiji, that their work would not be over till they wiped “every tear from every eye,” adding “this is no time for petty and destructive criticism, no time for ill-will or blaming others. We have to build the noble mansion of free India where all her children may dwell.”
As modern, democratic India turns 75, it is indeed a time for celebration and introspection. As a veteran who has had the honour to wear the nation’s military uniform for over 40 years with great pride and child-like joy, I feel it is my duty to express my thoughts, for whatever they are worth, at this historical juncture. Unquestionably, this young nation, whose roots emerge from one of the world’s oldest and most profound civilisations, has come a long way since independence.
Notwithstanding the many challenges it faces, its future appears promising and its prospect of occupying a seat at the global high table seems a certainty. Nevertheless, as the poet Robert Frost exhorted, there are still “promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep”.
Wisdom is never such a rarity in hindsight, but India’s journey of 75 years, after snapping the shackles of 200 years of British subjugation leaving it utterly poor, illiterate, deprived and disease-afflicted, calls for a serious look at all that has happened -- the good, the bad and the ugly. Only an honest self-appraisal will help us charter our future path with clarity, success and, above all, happiness of all our people.
First, the good news of how India has vastly improved on development indices. From a measly Rs 2.7 lakh crore GDP in 1947, India has risen to a nearly $3 trillion economy, the fifth largest in the world in 2022, and is forecast to become the third largest economy by 2031. That is a long way from the poverty-stricken nation of 1947.
Above all other parameters, India has remained a vibrant democracy, lifted millions out of poverty, become a credible nuclear and space power and, importantly, from an importer of food grain, has become an exporter of it to many parts of the world.
All that despite being located in one of the most geopolitically stressed regions of the world, surrounded by two adversarial neighbours. That despite a few hiccups here and there, India has stood its ground and ensured its territorial integrity, thanks to its highly professional armed forces, is also something to be proud of. India, despite resource constraints, today fields the third largest military in the world which, in addition, has a glorious combat record since 1947.
Notwithstanding the above-mentioned landmarks, and the many not stated, India has “miles to go” in not only indices of basic human development but in many facets of political, social, economic and security aspects. We must not cheat ourselves. As a large and mature nation, on the cusp of becoming a global power, India owes it to its future generations to firmly adhere to the constitutional, democratic, human and secular values we have inherited from the founding fathers of our Republic. India’s universal respect, since decades, has been based on “the power of its example.” I personally have savoured the affection and respect people abroad have for India for its respect for all religions and being lofty in its worldview.
Let our unity in diversity be an axiom for celebration, and not division. Majoritarianism, alienation of minorities, and pandering to religious and regional affinities may help win elections but can be fatal in the long run for India’s unity and social harmony. Let all in India follow the absolute noble example of inter-faith harmony as exhibited by the soldiers of the Indian armed forces. To all of us, religion is one’s personal belief and the ultimate loyalty is to the motherland. It is my fervent prayer and appeal that this aspect of soldiering should remain untouched, and its purity maintained. As Indians all over this vast subcontinent and millions abroad fittingly celebrate India’s 75th Independence Day, let us all pledge to be faithful to our Constitution, our tricolour, and to work to ensure that all 135 crores of our people march in unison and happiness. Only then will India become ‘Vishwaguru’.
(The writer was the first chief of the Defence Intelligence Agency and Deputy Chief of the Integrated Defence Staff)