What are the strengths that have so far served India well and how could they be leveraged in the future? Could we point out what we did right and where we went wrong during our 75-year journey? And then see what we must do well and avoid on the road to 2047?

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Illustration: Jayachandran

According to the rules

We have fully understood the Constitution of India. It is a document imbued with the elemental spirit of India, drawing on what is most noble in our traditions but putting aside the dross inherited from the past, such as the caste system, patriarchal values ​​and social prejudices. It embraces the universal values ​​of the Enlightenment, which are best represented by political democracy and the institutions of a modern state. Its anchors are drawn from a shared cultural sensitivity and spiritual affinity among its people. It affirms the immense diversity of India. His idea of ​​a nation rejects homogeneity. Instead of seeking to suppress the innate plurality of the Indian people – plurality of religious beliefs, languages, customs and traditions – the Constitution seeks to transcend them into a shared identity of citizenship, based on individual rights and responsibilities. While acknowledging the reality of the social condition inherited from India, he outlines, in broad strokes, the aspirations of an ancient culture but of a young nation. The Constitution recognizes that an independent India should take its place in the community of nations, contributing to the welfare of wider humanity. We are citizens of India, but we are also citizens of the world. The Constitution is the source of political legitimacy and sets its limits, which no authority should transgress to the detriment of Indian citizens.

Since its adoption in 1950, the Constitution has guided India’s political development. It allowed for relatively smooth and non-violent political transitions. It allowed the exercise of civil authority over the armed forces. He presided over social and economic reforms aimed at promoting a more equal and inclusive society. He made an independent judiciary the sentinel of constitutional propriety and this was an indispensable guarantee against arbitrariness. India remains a living democracy, despite occasional and even serious shortcomings, thanks to its enlightened Constitution.

The late boom

Since its independence, India has experimented with a number of economic development strategies, some more state-centric, others more market-oriented. There is no doubt that state intervention paved the way for a successful green revolution and an early white revolution. The state has established several centers of excellence and higher education, such as the Indian Institutes of Technology and the Indian Institutes of Management. They have provided India and the rest of the world with a steady stream of highly qualified technical and management personnel. State investment has also enabled a successful, world-class space program and a sophisticated nuclear program. India is today one of the first space and nuclear powers. The focus on higher education and advanced science and technology has paid off. India is right.

India has always had a strong asset in its dynamic entrepreneurial class, supported by a professional management corps. In the first years after independence, we found ourselves with a highly regulated economy with pervasive state intervention. This was the legacy of a state-controlled economy adopted during World War II. The influence of socialist thought was also evident. It was not until 1991-92, when the Cold War ended and India’s economy was near bankruptcy, that sweeping economic reforms and liberalization measures were enacted. The Indian economy has become more open to the rest of the world; economic autarky has given way to progressive globalization. The growth of the economy accelerated, Indian industry became globally competitive, and there was a steady infusion of foreign capital and technology. India is, in terms of purchasing power parity (PPP), the third largest economy in the world and could well become the second by 2047. India has understood, although a little late.

India has done its foreign policy well. As a civilizational state, a great power already independent and determined to take its destiny into its own hands, it is not surprising that India has opted for a foreign policy based on the principle of strategic autonomy. Strategic autonomy is the ability of the state to make relatively autonomous decisions on matters of vital interest. This has found articulation in the policy of non-alignment in the past; today it can be called multi-alignment. The label is not important. What is important to note is that India’s foreign policy objective has been to create an external environment conducive to the realization of the country’s transformation. This has imparted a remarkable coherence to India’s foreign policy behavior under governments of different ideological colors. The small corps of professional diplomats has been remarkably successful in protecting our vital interests and expanding India’s diplomatic space. The successful negotiation of the Civil Nuclear Agreement with the United States and the Nuclear Suppliers Group in 2008 marked a turning point in this regard.

Brotherhood is the answer

What did we misunderstand?

The Constitution has remained the bulwark of democracy but needs bipartisan political consensus to guide political and social behavior. This consensus has begun to erode in recent years. We have a much more polarized politics and weakened institutions. The management of diversity goes through the principle of fraternity, one of the founding principles of the Constitution, along with freedom and equality. Without a sense of brotherhood, diversity becomes a source of division rather than affinity. India has several fault lines which, if left unaddressed, can overwhelm the nationalist spirit. We are witnessing the rise of communitarianism and the sometimes violent assertion of caste and regional identities. A north-south divide is beginning, partly exacerbated by divergent economic trajectories but also by linguistic differences. The upcoming delimitation exercise to redraw parliamentary constituencies could reduce the political importance of less populated southern states. This can bring disruptive trends to a tipping point.

Growing inequalities in income and wealth also undermine the egalitarianism implicit in democracy. These can be attributed to the differential availability of education. While giving priority to higher education, we have neglected primary and secondary education. We failed to understand that in independent India, access to education in English remained the passport to better jobs and better earning power. This has condemned a very large portion of our population to low status, low income jobs. No effort has been made to provide opportunities for higher and technical education in local languages. Almost all technical manuals are in English. The same goes for teaching materials in advanced science and technology. It is not surprising that we are witnessing a “revolt of the vernacular” against an English-speaking elite, derided today as “Lutyen’s elite” or “Khan’s market gang”. It is the glaring failure of those who profess liberal values. There are no easy answers. Are we going to universalize the teaching of English from secondary school? Should massive investments be made in the translation of teaching materials and journals into the main regional languages, and who would pay for this? Does artificial intelligence and machine learning offer a way out?

Other challenges need to be addressed. An independent judiciary is the guarantee of constitutional integrity. But sometimes he is selective and even inconsistent in carrying out his role. The country’s law and order and judicial system need urgent reform. It must be more accessible to the ordinary citizen. The huge backlog of cases pending before the courts must be cleared up. India’s Prime Minister and Chief Justice have both drawn attention to this.

The task of the state

The state must return to first principles. The three primary and indispensable responsibilities of a State are to provide all citizens with security, education and health. In recent years, we have witnessed a gradual retreat of these responsibilities by the state. The private sector, driven by profit, has moved in to occupy this space. Some of the fastest growing segments of the Indian economy are private security, private education, and private healthcare. The services they offer are heavily biased towards people with relatively high incomes. This is a negative development, especially in a democracy.

What about the economy? The country is facing headwinds, like many other nations, but a few general points need to be made for the future trajectory of our economic development. India must remain an open and market-oriented economy. It should strive to stay ahead of the curve of globalization rather than resist it. Globalization is criticized as having led to economic inequalities. These are failures of public policies and not of globalization, which still offers the best prospects for eliminating poverty and improving prosperity. In this context, India should reconsider its decision to stay out of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), especially given the global policy shift towards regional trade agreements in general. After all, India has joined the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) and is negotiating trade agreements with Australia, the UK and the European Union, which will have higher standard provisions than the RCEP.

Indian foreign policy has enabled a relatively more benign external environment conducive to transforming the economy and should continue to do so. India has developed close strategic partnerships with the United States, Europe and Japan. These may be in economic decline relative to China, but remain the repositories of the most sophisticated technologies, the source of capital and remain the world’s key markets. Faced with an assertive China, these partners have an interest in India’s economic success, because it is the only country that has the potential to emerge as a credible counter-power. The mild phase may not last. Now is the time to revamp our economic policies and regulatory procedures to allow for a major injection of capital and technology from our strategic partners. It would also help India deal with China’s growing security challenge.

I think, overall, India could finally start realizing its potential in the next 25 years. There is room for optimism. All the building blocks are in place.

The author is a former foreign minister and senior fellow at the Center for Policy Research.

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