On August 15th, 2022, I stood at the Red Fort in New Delhi while the National Anthem played. As the attendees and I proudly sang along, a lot of emotions swept through me.
My thoughts immediately turned to the birth of this nation. I remembered the turbulent period that my parents witnessed as India became a democracy in 1947. I wanted my children and others to understand what transpired.
Miracle Of History
The British were forced to leave the country hastily. A new country had to be created virtually overnight – from a beautiful idea to a gritty actuality. At this time, India was being torn apart through a tragic partition with the world’s largest forced migration of humanity – 20 million people resulting in 2 million being killed. The Indian leaders had to get approval for the new country and obtain signatures from over 500 princely states of which only 21 actually had state governments. India had to contend with several major religions, 121 languages and hundreds of dialects. Yet, amidst these challenging circumstances, the miracle of history that is India was conceived.
By comparison, imagine that in today’s world, the European Union was forced to become an independent country overnight!
Healing Without Anger
How did India pull it off to become the world’s largest democracy? It was because of the leaders, the people, and their values. Leaders, who took the ancient wisdom of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam to heart, aspired to build a world that is one family. The concept of non-violence was imbued in most people. The early leaders of post-colonial India were intent on healing without anger. They adopted this attitude even towards the erstwhile rulers who were leaving the country in a dire state.
This expansive spirit and joy in the newly-born nation is echoed in the national anthem, written by Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore, which extols India’s “Unity in Diversity” by evoking the beauty of all parts of the country and capturing a spirit of its soaring majesty.
India adopted a constitution within three years of gaining independence. Guided by the astute Dalit social reformer Dr. BR Ambedkar, leaders took the best ideas from several other countries: the fundamental rights and the federal structure from America, the parliamentary system from the British, the division of power from Canada, and the concept of liberty from the French.
World’s Largest Democracy
The Indian Constitution reflected the inclusive vision of Modern India and introduced many ideas of its own. This process included leaders of multiple faiths and, most importantly, women. The constitution took the bold step of granting universal suffrage – voting rights for everyone over 18. And then as a Republic, India had to hold a free and fair election, which it did successfully in 1951. Over 100 million people voted, making it the world’s largest exercise of a fundamental democratic right.
India’s democracy has been resilient and has weathered many storms over the past several decades. When the country was established the per capita income was a paltry 50 dollars; today it is over $2,000. The population is nearing 1.4 billion and is one of the youngest in the world, with over 350 million under the age of 14.
The future is bright, but every democracy is messy. While taking pride in India’s accomplishments, leaders of the nation, citizens, and its well-wishers must remain vigilant to forces, both internal and external, that could adversely impact its progress.
Emerging Global Power
As I reflect on this 75th anniversary, I note India’s emerging position as a global power on the world stage with pride. The country stands as a beacon of hope for many other nations who share a colonial past as India demonstrates what democratic nations can achieve.
India has much to be proud of in the achievements of the last 75 years, and India’s future lies in fostering the strength of this resilient democracy. As native of the world’s largest democracy and now a citizen of the world’s oldest, I wish India all the best on her journey to 100 and beyond!