I know at least two people who were born in India, not just on August 15 but on August 15 of 1947. You can quite easily guess what they were named. “Swatantra” means “freedom” so these boys were named Swatantran and Swatantra Kumar reflecting how this sentiment held sway both in the South and the North of India. They entered a world when India became independent after decades under the British Raj. We then became a democratic Republic in 1950 and started having General Elections, usually once in 5 years. When I was born in November 1951, India’s first ever General Election was taking place. The Congress Party (The Indian National Congress) not surprisingly swept to power with an overwhelming majority, winning 364 of the 489 seats in the Lok Sabha or the Lower House of Parliament. Remember, people then associated the party with the Independence struggle spear-headed by Mahatma Gandhi.
As a child growing up in Bellary and Bangalore, in the ’50s, I remember looking on in admiration at the “Congress volunteers” as they were called in those days. There was, I faintly recall, an agitation by them to have Bellary remain in Karnataka when the new state of Andhra Pradesh was formed. In 1956, we in Karnataka, felt immensely proud of our Congress Chief Minister, Kengal Hanumanthaiah when the splendid Vidhan Soudha was built.
I remember the elders in my family speak with awe of Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister. He was in his prime in the 1950s when many of the recently Independent countries of the world freed from the yoke of colonial dominance looked up to India for leadership. However, India in those days was a relatively poor country. We had a huge population, (even for those times) poor agricultural produce and a fledgling industry. It was sad but true that people in the West used a catch phrase of “India’s starving millions.”
India has changed very significantly since those days. Should you wish to see a crisp summary of how India has fared as an economy since Independence, here is an article by John Williamson in his “The Rise of the Indian Economy.”
For me, even as a kid, the turning point was the Indo-China War of 1962. The humiliation of the Indian forces primarily because of the political bosses Nehru and Defence Minister Krishna Menon have been written about in great length in books like Brigadier Dalvi’s “Himalyan Blunder.” Nehru was never the same again and died two years later, a poor shadow of himself.
The first time I went to vote was in the 1971 elections for the 5th Lok Sabha. By then , Mrs. Indira Gandhi had formed her own party after the old Indian National Congress split in 1969. In March 1971, the Indo-Pak War hadn’t yet taken place, it was to break out later that year. She won the 1971 elections and after the War, Mrs Gandhi became the undisputed boss of India. She was unstoppable. Perhaps power went into her head and in 1975 she declared a state of Emergency, an event unprecedented in India.
I hope to write about what followed and the future elections in which I voted in later posts.