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India March Of A Billion Aspirations

Jan 6, 2005
Metro-Vancouver, B.C., Canada
June 4, 2011

March Of A Billion Aspirations


In 1990, V S Naipaul wrote, ''Independence had come to India like a kind of revolution." A year later in 1991, India embarked on a programme of economic liberalisation setting free the creative energy and business enterprise of millions of our people. Twenty years later, the world cannot stop talking about India's march of a billion aspirations.

Our democracy is our greatest strength. At the time of Independence in 1947, a deeply conservative society like India chose democracy and gave a voice and vote to every man and woman. For a multilingual, multicultural and multi-religious society which guaranteed equality to all, it was the right thing to do. In one stroke, we empowered millions of our people, a majority of them poor and illiterate. Development would come later but democracy could not be delayed.

Our democracy has been of the people, by the people, for the people but development has not touched every man, woman and child. However, democracy has raised the expectations of our people who have expressed their anger and anguish at the poor pace of progress and the deficient delivery of development. Economically and socially, India is undergoing a transformation, and this is driving political change in our country. People are eager and assertive about wanting a share in the rapid economic growth of our country. They want to be partners in growth and are looking up to the political and business leadership of our country to facilitate the process of inclusion.

We have the right ideas but our implementation has not been efficient and effective enough to make a meaningful impact on the scale that is required. Sincerity of purpose is no substitute for success in programme implementation. This message has reached political parties and governments, and good economics is finally being accepted as good politics. This was the message of the 2004 and the 2009 general elections, and every state election in the last decade. More importantly, this message is being heard loud and clear by all political parties.

At 9% economic growth, we are ready for what economist Jagdish Bhagwati calls a "revolution of perceived possibilities", in which reforms can produce high economic returns along with improvements for the poor.

Our achievements of the last 20 years in manufacturing and services owe a great deal to the first four decades of nation-building in a poor country with limited financial resources. We laid a very strong foundation by building what our first prime minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru called the temples of modern India. These were not symbols of religion but structures of development - dams and steel plants, power plants and ports, airlines and IITs, we built them all. Now, we are able and willing to pursue economic growth for all-round development.

For democracy to be meaningful, development has to be inclusive, comprehensive and extensive. We have to empower all our people by making them partners in growth and beneficiaries of development. Our strong economic growth has to be reflected in the human development indices. The next decade is an opportunity and a challenge to educate and skill every individual so they can grow up to be productive citizens.

The march of a billion aspirations is gathering pace; our education and skill indicators are improving. In the last decade, we have made more people literate (218 million) than the number of people we have added to our population (181 million). The effective literacy rate has improved from 64.83% in 2001 to 74.04% in 2011. What is even more heartening is that literacy has improved more among women - there are 50% more literate women today than in 2001.

If i go to the rural areas of my constituency of Kurukshetra, the enthusiasm of young girls to be educated and independent is infectious. One cannot help but be inspired by it. Haryana has a disappointingly poor record in the male-female sex ratio and especially in the 0-6 age group, but given a chance our laadlis will change the perceptions of their families and communities by becoming educated and outstanding citizens of our country. The daughters of our nation have an equal right as our sons to be born and brought up as equals; to be given the same access to education and employment. This freedom which is guaranteed by law must be honoured by families and society.

Economic expansion is driving growth but for growth to be sustainable, it has to be inclusive. Without growth, there cannot be adequate resources for spending on the poor or on social sector programmes and income support programmes. Without an educated, skilled and healthy population, there cannot be high economic growth. This recognition of inclusive economic growth has spawned a virtuous cycle of policymaking and programme implementation. We are beginning to see results but greater impact will be visible in the years to come.

Development is now driving our democracy. The new spirit of India is visible in the drive of our people. When we talk about our proud past and our promising potential, it rests on our ability to sustain growth, strengthen inclusion and improve governance. We have to deliver development as decisively as we have delivered on democracy to be able to redeem our tryst with destiny.

The writer is Congress MP from Kurukshetra.




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