India finally zeroed in on a federal government with a strong center. It had a peculiar Indian
context in which the decision was taken. India had borne the scourge of partition and there
were many cleavages in form of communalism, caste, regionalism etc which could be overcome
only by a strong central leadership. There was also a strong need to give India a shape of single
nation through emotional, social and political integration and a center leaning federation was a
necessity rather than a desire. India, thus, emerged as a ‘union’ of states in which states had no
right to secede. Unlike federation in which, states are brought together through an ‘agreement’
out of their own will, union made it clear that their existence is merely for administrative
India inherited enormous challenges like poverty, deprivation, inequality, illiteracy,
underdevelopment, communalism and so on at the time of independence however, the
optimist was also no lesser. Jawahar Lal Nehru’s famous speech ‘Tryst with Destiny’ on the eve
of Independence reflected it. One big advantage India had was a consensus on the goals which
was a result of spirit of nationalism inculcated through long freedom struggle. Another one was
a relatively stable political system.Biggest task at hand was consolidation of India and realization of dream of true ‘nationhood’.
Unity of our nation was fragile and needed to be bolstered up amidst its legendry diversity of
race, religion, caste, region and culture. Vision of secular India and idea of not only political
freedom, but social and economic emancipation were the spirit behind.
India also aimed at self-sufficiency in economic field and hence truly dislodge the burden of
dependency. Planned development was sought for social and economic justice apart from
growth. Socialism was also set as a guiding light. Indian socialism was not an ideological dogma,
but a broad guide to development and social change. According to Nehru ‘Socialism or
communism might help you to divide the existing wealth, but in case of India there is no wealth
and all you can divide is poverty… How we can have a welfare state without wealth’. So socialism
was not a blind ideological goal, but it rather accommodated a lot of other ideas which were
necessary for the development of India.
Three pillars of Nehruvian strategy of development strategy were – planning for rapid industrial
and agricultural growth, a public sector to develop strategic industries and a mixed economy.
Mixed economy was preferred earlier for lack of
adequate resources, but private sector working
under broad framework of planning. In the long run,
state were to occupy commanding heights of the
economy, owning and controlling all basic industries
and strategic sectors of the economy. Public sector
was also expected to generate revenues in long turn
Another big achievement of India was a democratic
polity based on universal adult franchise. In words of K M Panikkar, ‘adult suffrage has many
social implications far beyond its political significance. Many social groups previously unaware of
their strength and barely touched by the political changes that had taken place, suddenly
realized that they were in a position to wield power’. It was a huge experiment and likes of
Churchill predicted that it would fail. Democratization aimed that all challenges will be dealt
with equal participation of all irrespective of one’s status and capabilities. It was also realized
that democracy was necessary in a country which aims at national integration. Democracy
served on the one hand an empowering tool, a vent for dissent and dissatisfaction on the other.
Democracy was also visualized as a tool of social change.
Gandhiji had foreseen the challenges that are ahead and commented that ‘with the end of
slavery and the dawn of freedom, all the weakness of the society are bound to come to the
In social scene, caste was a big malady and condition of lower castes was still deplorable. Status
of women was also no better, they had little inheritance rights and literacy was an abysmal
7.9%. There was also a lack of a civil code and polygamy was prevalent.Another big challenge was meeting the expectations of people who had infinite hopes from a
government of ‘their own’. Universal adult franchise, lofty promises like ‘Garibi Hatao’ of Indira
Gandhi in 1971 and grass root mobilization further fuelled these expectations. Rise of regional
parties in 1960s further stoked the fire of expectations.
Neveille Maxwell, a Times correspondent, in a series of articles wrote that Indian democracy will
disintegrate under the burden of caste, communalism, regionalism, economic disparities,
linguistic jingoism and other economic challenges. According to him, ‘The great experiment of
developing India in a democratic framework has failed’ and fourth general elections will be the
last one. Imposition of emergency further made this doomsday prophecy look more like a
reality. Early wars with China and Pakistan, death of charismatic leaders like Nehru and Indira,
communal flares, linguistic violence and Dravida movement, secessionist movements in
Kashmir, North-eastern states, rise of left wing extremism, apparent failure of land reforms,
agrarian distress, elite capture of politics, uncontrolled population and so on further posed an
existential question. It was advocated that unlettered masses of India require a leadership with
iron fist and not liberal democracy which they are likely to squander away. Extreme leftists
argued that Green Revolution would be turned into Red revolution and India too needs like a
Russian Revolution of 1917 and workers revolution of China of 1952-3.
It was argued that democracy and integration of India are imposed from above and not a result
of natural evolutionary process. An immature citizenry will fail to appreciate this change and will
be eventually disillusioned by failing mountain of expectations. Despite all this skepticism,
democracy in India had started deepening its roots aided by a stable early period in Indian
polity. Early charismatic popular leaders and their accommodative stance helped in allaying
many of the fears of various groups.