INDIA@75 – WHAT ARE OUR FREEDOM FIGHTERS TELLING US?

15th August 2022, marks 75 years of India’s independence from the British rule, 75 years since our tryst with destiny, 75 years since we promised to redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially – a pledge to make India truly independent – independent in protecting our borders and pursuing our foreign policy, independent in growing our crops, independent in making our own medicines and vaccines, independent in being able to cook our food with our own oil, and independent in a way how we live our lives.

          The wars unfolding in front of our eyes, across Europe, the Middle East and Africa have shown us that we need to protect our people with our own machines, our own fighter planes, our own tanks – which can maneuver in our terrains and waters –  with our warships, our satellites and our missiles. Dependence in defence sector will push us into a tug-of-war between the superpowers. If we wish to pursue an independent foreign policy with strategic autonomy, we need self-reliance in defence sector. Industry-backed R&D research, acquisition from the Indian manufacturers, the establishment of defence corridors and private sector participation are already happening. What is needed is youth mobilization with their brilliant ideas. Young innovators can bring life to the defence sector, known to lag behind in the completion of projects. In the words of Sardar Bhagat Singh, “The sword of revolution is sharpened on the whetting-stone of ideas.”

          The geopolitical implications have shown us that our staple crops – wheat and rice – along with pulses and vegetables cannot be taken for granted. Yes indeed, we are proud of our self-sufficiency and our agricultural exports. Minimum support price and crop insurance schemes are in place; but we need diversification in MSP and efficiency in the implementation of the schemes, especially during crop failures. Loan waivers and free electricity are not the solutions. Solar water pumps will only deplete the already scarce groundwater resource. What we need is crop diversification, organic fertilizers, bio-pesticides, naturalization of farmlands, transition to renewables and scientific intervention for our farm brothers and sisters. We have everything in place, but what we need is honest motive and action. In the words of Sarojini Naidu, “We want deeper sincerity of motive, a greater courage in speech and earnestness in action.”

          The Covid-19 pandemic had been an eye-opener in many respects. We do have good management strategies, manufacturing capability, intelligent doctors and scientists, and production-linked incentives in drug manufacturing. What we need is the development of capabilities to produce our own basic ingredients – Active Pharmeucitical Ingredients (APIs) – needed for manufacturing drugs, medicines and vaccines. Right now, we are dependent on China, we need to produce our own. A robust health care system, with adequate doctor : patient ratio, opportunities for youth by training and expansion to rural, Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities will contribute to a healthy society. For that, our local governments – Gram Panchayats, and Municipal Corporations must be strengthened and equipped to handle health-related crises. In the words of Dadabhai Naoroji, “In self-government, is our hope, strength and greatness.”

          India imports 80% of its crude oil requirements. The fuel imports directly affect the value of our Indian Rupee, inflation and our lives. India imports crude oil majorly from Iraq, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. We are diversifying the sources to Africa, Latin America and Russia, but this is a major dependency. We have to reduce our dependency on these imports and save foreign exchange through the Ethanol Blended Petrol programme. The target of 10% blending is already achieved. The real impact will be seen only if we increase the blending to 60%, including blending in turbine fuel. We need waste-to-fuel models and safe biogas plants gradually replacing LPG and LNG for energy independence. In the words of Lokmanya Tilak, ‘Progress is implied in independence.’

          Climate change and its impact have become a part of our lives. We witness floods and droughts, at times, simultaneously across two parts of one nation. India’s wheat crop wilted in North India during the summers of April-May 2022 and, at the same time, Assam was reeling in floods that killed people, damaged crops and affected livelihoods. The formation of the International Solar Alliance, the internationalization of the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure, target to achieve a capacity of 175 GW worth of renewable energy by the end of 2022, and the Energy Conservation (Amendment) Bill, 2022 are steps in the right direction. What we need is building climate resilient structures during urban planning itself, rain-water harvesting at the level of cooperative housing societies, hybrid energy models, and groundwater rejuvenation by building Sponge Cities and Bioswales. We wish to see bamboo replacing plastic. For that, we need citizen mobilization – the mobilization that India witnessed during its freedom movement – in how we consume water, electricity, gas and petrol in our lives and save our planet. In the words of Sardar Vallabhai Patel, “Every citizen of India must remember that he is an Indian and he has every right in this country, but with certain duties.”

          India meets its 60% requirement of edible oils through imports. We import edible oil from Indonesia, Malaysia, Ukraine, Argentina, and Brazil. We need to grow non-invasive species of mustard, soyabean, sunflower and oil palm on our land, for our people. For that, we need to do away with the feeling that India will always be dependent on others for edible oil. We can grow our own crops, in our own soil and refine our own oil from the crude. We just need a belief in our Yellow Revolution. The rest – research, soil experiments, employing youth with job opportunities in agri-tech will follow. In the words of Lala Lajpat Rai, “We must have complete faith in ourselves. We can be successful, only if we believe in our efforts. Nations are made by themselves.”

          India is a land of mineral resources. We are blessed to be sitting on the deposits of iron ore, manganese, bauxite, lead, zinc, copper, gold and others. Apart from land resources, the International Sea Bed Authority has allotted 75,000 sq km of sea area in the Exclusive Economic Zone across the Arabian Sea, the Bay of Bengal and the Northern Indian Ocean, to India. This area has vast resources of rare earth minerals such as nickel, copper, manganese, and cobalt, enough to meet our clean energy needs. These can be utilized in semiconductors, electronic devices, smartphones, solar panels, electric vehicle batteries and chargers. We have India Semiconductor Mission in place; we have Design Linked Incentives in place. But mining techniques are outdated. We need to modernize our mega excavators, mining machines and equipment. Also, we need to train and employ deep sea divers, sea excavators, train mining engineers, mineral technologists, semiconductor and electronics scientists – all these to reduce our dependency on the countries like China – even if unprecedented and risky. We just need courage in the uncharted waters. In the words of Aruna Asaf Ali, during the Quit India Movement, “He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life.”  

          For democracy to thrive and prevail in our country, we need social independence – independence from the shackles of divisions based on caste, creed, religion and language and true freedom of thought, belief and expression including dissent. In the words of the Chairman of the Drafting Committee of the Constitution of India, Dr. B R Ambedkar, “Democracy is not merely a form of government. It is primarily a mode of associated living, of conjoint communicated experience. It is essentially an attitude of respect and reverence towards fellow men.”

          Last, but not least, we require employment independence. On one hand, India is suffering from brain drain, and on the other hand, we have under-employment and disguised employment, here in our country. The cream of our country is outside, serving in the countries like the US, Canada, Singapore, France, Germany, Japan, the UK and the Middle East. And at the same time, we have a dearth of good, industry-ready mechanical, civil, electrical, mining engineers, qualified doctors, researchers and scientists, here in India. The service sector at times is exploitative in character. Every year, thousands of young students, mostly unemployed, sit for government examinations and try their luck in the ratio of 10,000 persons applying for 1 government job post for some income stability. Instead, if we create jobs across the sectors of health, education, renewables, heavy machinery, manufacturing, and housing, here in India, be more supportive and understanding towards youth, provide investments for their pension benefits, including by the private sector, we can reap the benefits of the demographic dividend – Young India. For youth too, it’s the time to rethink their goals, diversify interests and aptitude, explore opportunities and strive for excellence. In the words of Father of our Nation, Mahatma Gandhi, “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”

          It’s only when we become truly independent, then can we say that India will awake to life and freedom.

–BY YOGITA KADU

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