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Five decisions that changed India

August 14, 2007

Text: K Subrahmanyam

In the last 60 years of its independent existence, India had to take a number of crucial strategic decisions.

It could be said that, by and large, the Indian leadership took wise decisions. This is borne out by the fact that, having started out as an impoverished country, plagued by feudalism, illiteracy, food import dependence, communal violence resulting in Partition and a total lack of industrialisation and infrastructure, today India is on the way of becoming the fourth largest market in the world, has a comfortable foreign exchange reserve, has developed advanced technology in space, nuclear energy and information technology sectors and is sought after as a strategic partner by major powers. It has managed to sustain its democracy -- one of the few in the decolonised world -- federal structure, commitment to secularism and an apolitical armed force.

Yet, India still has about 22 percent of its population below the poverty line and has a long way to go to become a developed country.

At the same time, one should not overlook the fact that there is no parallel to the Indian democratic experiment in which a modern democratic State of some 800 million people above the poverty line has been built up in 60 years without violence, starting from a colonial State of 350 million, more than 60 percent of whom were below the poverty line.

This progress involved a large number of wise decisions and a smaller number of not-so-wise decisions.

In this article, we consider five of the wisest strategic decisions taken by the Indian leadership. They are:

  • Despite the massive illiteracy and feudal culture, India decided on a universal adult franchise system as the basis of its democracy. She decided to be a secular state in spite of the deep religious commitment among its people.
  • Against opposition from the United States, China, Pakistan and the Non-Aligned community of nations, India decided to support the Bangladesh liberation struggle and help in ushering in a sovereign Bangladesh.
  • India decided to give up the centralised planned economy model's licence and quota permit Raj and opt to join the market economy and globalisation process in 1991.
  • The Shakti tests demonstrated to the world that India proposed to play its due role as one of the six balancers of power in the international system.
  • The Indo-US joint statement of July 18, 2005, completed the process begun by earlier prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to make the US a strategic partner (though he used the term natural ally) and liberate India from the technology apartheid to which it had been subjected since the first Pokhran test in 1974.
  • K Subrahmanyam is the doyen of India's strategic affairs experts. Photograph: Indranil Mukherjee/AFP/Getty Images
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