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High Commissioner’s Op Ed in The Business Times, 15 August 2017 – At 70, India regains the spirit of youth

At 70, India regains the spirit of youth

A new era of empowerment and inclusion is turning dreams into realities.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017 - 05:50


The mission of transforming India will be fulfilled when every citizen has access to a life of opportunity, dignity and basic needs. 


ON Aug 15, India is celebrating 70 years of independence. It is an important milestone for the world's largest democracy and the second-most populous nation on earth, not just because of the remarkable journey of seven decades, but also because of rekindled energy, enterprise, optimism, citizen participation and a national resolve usually associated with the start of a nation's journey. At 70, India is regaining the spirit of youth.

It is a moment to celebrate in Singapore, too, because of our ties of history and kinship, for Singapore's association with India's freedom struggle in Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose's Indian National Army and Mahatma Gandhi's ashes immersed in the waters of Singapore.

Though India gained independence through a peaceful freedom struggle, our beginning was anything but peaceful. We had to unite a country fragmented into provinces and 572 princely states; heal a society bleeding from partition and burdened by historical disparities; and build an economy ravaged by colonialism.

The world, recovering from a horrific war, was slipping into a new division. The wounds of partition became a scar of neighbour's hostility. Over time, as the spectrum of challenges expanded from terrorism and claims on our territory to nuclear proliferation, our neighbourhood became a difficult one. We drew strength from the moral foundation of our freedom struggle and the guidance of an extraordinary constitution that had the vision and breadth to address every economic and social challenge. Scepticism of the world at our birth has turned into confidence about our future.

Over these seven decades, we have grown by about one billion people. We are federation of 29 states and seven union territories. We have 22 official languages, with different scripts, and hundreds of dialects. Our currency note can be read in 15 languages, besides English and Hindi. Our layered history, the diversity of our people and the pluralism of our civilisation are reflected in the infinite symbols of faiths, cultures, traditions and monuments. In the 2014 election to our Parliament, 553 million Indians cast their votes in the largest election in history.

We have built a strong and resilient economy that has become the world's fastest-growing major economy, the sixth-largest manufacturing sector, a leading producer of farm and dairy products and a key contributor to the evolution of the digital age. We have made enormous advances in science and technology, produced affordable medicines for the world and developed the most cost-effective space programme. We have developed the capacity to keep our nation secure, our seas free and our people safe. And, we have consistently fulfilled our international responsibility - strengthening global institutions, advancing international peace, seeking a fair deal for all nations and a sustainable future for our planet.

We take pride in our progress, but we are conscious of the many human and economic challenges that persist in the lives of millions of our citizens, visible across villages and cities of India. But, we draw confidence and inspiration from our journey so far; and from the high tide of hope and change sweeping through India. It draws its energy from the people of India, especially the 800 million-strong youth, and from the historic mandate received by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the National Democratic Alliance government in 2014.

The change has begun with the way the government works. Clean, transparent, efficient, responsive and policy-driven governance is as much a basic obligation to people as it a means to transform the economy. About 1,200 unnecessary laws have been repealed and hundreds of procedures eliminated. Federalism is no longer the fault line of centre-state relations, but the definition of a new partnership of Team India. Citizens now have the ease of trust, not the burden of proof and process. Businesses can focus their energy on enterprise, not on crossing hurdles. In a nation connected by mobile phones, Digital India is transforming the interface between government and citizens.

It has ushered in a new era of empowerment and inclusion that is turning dreams into realities. A unique biometric identity for 1.2 billion people, increasingly linked to government programmes and financial system; broadband network connecting 250,000 village councils; mobile phones in the hands of virtually everyone; and, governance migrating to digital space is expanding digitalisation rapidly. It has helped open nearly 300 million new bank accounts in the past three years; transform delivery of services and benefits; put banking, insurance and pensions within the reach of the poorest; and unleash entrepreneurship across the country.

It is helping farmers access information, inputs, credit, advisory, insurance and markets, as government expands investments on the agriculture sector, which still sustains livelihood for a majority, on a scale not seen in decades. 

The mission of transforming India will be fulfilled when every citizen has access to a life of opportunity, dignity and basic needs. So, by the time India turns 75 in 2022, we will clean up India and address our social challenges; build 50 million affordable houses to put a roof over every head; reach power and connectivity to all our 600,000 villages; and, provide water and sanitation for every household, healthcare for every citizen, education for every girl child and skills for all our youth. With the pace of progress in the past three years, our goal is not a distant mirage, but well within our reach.

This is possible, because we have also accelerated our growth and made it more broadbased and inclusive. Not just the scale of numbers in India, but the determinants of politics, governance, policy, demography and resources tell us that India can and will sustain growth rates of 7-8 per cent long into the future.

Economic reforms cover both policy and processes and include 7,100 specific measures by the centre and the states in the past three years. They have made it easier to enter, start, operate and - if necessary - close businesses in India. Startups, small and medium companies and micro enterprises are also benefiting from infrastructure, and credit support and tax incentives

India's infrastructure is possibly expanding on the biggest scale in the world today. Highway expansion has gone up from 2km per day to 23km per day and will touch 40km per day by 2018. A total of 133km of rural roads are being added daily, and 2,000km of coastal roads and 1,000km of expressways are coming up.

Railways will invest US$125 billion in the next five years. High-speed rails, six new major ports and 18 new greenfield airports are being built. In the last three years, 76 gigawatts (GW) of power capacity - 21GW in solar and wind - have been added. As India urbanises rapidly, urban development - from smart cities, new townships and affordable housing - is the new locomotive of development. Our material progress will not be at the expense of our inheritance from nature. This commitment stems from our ancient heritage and our responsibility to the future.

India has always been at the crossroads of the world. We are now in a new phase of deeper global integration, and benefited from it. In turn, as the world's largest democracy and soon to be one of its largest economies, Indians also recognise their own responsibility to the world.

As in the past, we will defend ourselves with our strength, but we will engage the world with our values of openness, pluralism, dialogue and democracy. Our engagement will grow, not our claims on others. We will devote our energy to promote a more democratic and rule-based international order, in which all nations, small and large, can thrive as equal and sovereign nations.

We will work with others to keep our commons free and safe, and our nations secure from terrorism. We will share our resources, markets and prosperity with our neighbours. We will seek a sustainable future for our planet, as we have, in creating a new international solar alliance together with France and other partners.

Partnership with Singapore is among our closest, forged by human, cultural, political and economic bonds. The Asean region is our valued neighbour and strategic partner, admired for its role in fostering regional integration, stability and prosperity. Just as we treasure our own timeless links with the region, we are deeply committed to our common destiny. So, in whatever India does to advance its own development, or for peace and prosperity in Asia and the world, Asean countries, particularly Singapore, will always be integral to our endeavours.

  • The writer is High Commissioner of India to Singapore