I distinctly remember mentioning in my Independence speech the following words, ‘When the whole world sleeps India shall awake to life and freedom…’. If our generation calls itself Midnight’s children then your generation, rightly so, can call itself the children of financial liberation. And your generation has lent a completely new dimension to my words, because today, literally, when the whole world sleeps [read America] you people are busy processing their payrolls, their tax filings and all such jobs that have been outsourced to you. So if your generation is generous enough then they should lend me some credit for being the first visionary of the present day India, but that is something you are not willing to lend and which I shall not accept. For keeping you awake for the whole of the night and doing other people’s petty work is not what I wished for you. I envisioned a completely different India and I rise today to defend my vision, my actions and the path that I choose to put this, then nascent, country on, for I am tired at being criticized for over 5 decades.
I am going to take you back in time and try to show you what I saw so you understand that all my decisions were rational conclusions using all available data and experience. And I shall focus only on two of the most contentious issues that have been attributed to me.
Let’s rewind back to the beginning of the 20th century. America was a capitalist superpower, England a colonial super power and Russia playing the communist or oligarchic role. The free enterprise characterized by the American economy did well all along 1920’s and then the great party ended with the crash of 1927. A crash so severe that it took the country 20 years to come out of the depression that followed. So, even in 1940 America was just limping back to normalcy. How could we, after watching the plight of the average American during the depression, have adopted a capitalist economic structure?
On the other hand we had Russia, a vast land abundant in raw materials and arable land doing pretty well. When a country decides to gain economic clout by exporting raw material it leads to the rise of oligarchs or dictators. Look around the world today [oil exporting gulf countries] and you will get a fair idea of what I say. The same happened with Russia which was ruled by dictators under the guise of communism.
So we adopted a mixed economy model. A model that gave sufficient room for the private enterprises while the public sector was to be at the commanding heights of the economy. And you tell me that this was a completely wrong approach. Look east, look at China, this is the model that they have adopted and what a giant leap they have taken in a matter of decades. So, the fact of the matter is, it is not the model that was wrong, it is the execution that failed. And we did certainly give you much better than what China gives it citizens. We gave you democracy right from the beginning, free speech and a free press and also a right to free enterprise but only with certain limitations. When a private company from England set foot in this country and over the next 200 years colonized it, how were we to be expected to throw away the nation to private companies once again and so we restricted the individual company from growing too big. The newly liberated country was like a small child and had to be protected and the core institutions of democracy strengthened before the flood gates could be thrown open to private and foreign companies once again, else, who knows, you probably would have been ruled by the Tata’s or the Birla’s or worse, by the Ambani’s.
The next point of contention is Agriculture or Industrialization? Should the country have invested in agriculture or in large scale industrialization? More than 80% of the population was engaged in agricultural activity and we thought it would be better to aid the farmers in this rather than try a dynamic shift to industrialization. And what with industrialization, did the population even have the economic power to buy what would be produced. Absolutely not. And then we would be left with the option of export. When the britisher’s began exporting their cheap cloth to India they killed the local producers here. So exporting to somewhere else would mean to be a britisher in someone else’s land and kill the local producers there which we thought is morally wrong. I know, people of your generation do not let morality interfere too much with economics but men of our generation did. That’s why we invested in the Swadeshi movement. It meant to produce only that and that much which can be consumed here. We embarked on a mission to build dams and canals to make water available for irrigation. Bhakra-Nangal was one of the earliest mega projects and we felt we were building the temples of modern India. Thousands of villagers lost their lands and their means of livelihood, yet they knew they were giving it up for the future of their country. Why do villagers of your time rise and revolt when the government wants to acquire land for government projects and private factories. Because the connect is not there. The villagers don’t see how they or the country will benefit from these. Either they will not or the government fails to give to sell them the vision.
We put the state first because that is what we had done all along. A generation of Indians had lost their lives putting the state first and the self last. Today on the 64th Independence Day I have put my arguments to rest. Alternative histories are difficult; hence it shall be difficult to envisage the state of present day India had we not focused on Agriculture and the mixed economy model. But you people have all the wisdom of history now to take the state forward in whichever direction you deem correct. We, for our part, have done our bit.