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A Lasting Legacy

By Sahil Mehta 

The 70s will go down as the most epochal decade in the history of independent India. India’s intervention in Bangladesh liberation war and the subsequent 1971 Indo-Pak has already been mentioned. The victory in the war and the maturity showed by India in the Simla pact with Pakistan was lauded in the world and gave immense popularity to the leadership of Indira Gandhi. But more tragic than the war it was India’s failure to successfully deal with the problems of illegal migration and refugees and with the conflict with Pakistan. In retrospect, maybe India paid too heavy a price in exchange for global goodwill.

Then there is the curious case of Sanjay Gandhi. Many, like his elder brother Rajiv, would put all the excesses and corruption during the Indira Gandhi squarely on his shoulders. Undoubtedly Sanjay Gandhi committed many atrocities on the people of India but none deserve more attention than the family planning measures he took. Forced vasectomies and sterilization and what not stain the decade of the 1970s and still cause an aversion to much need family planning measures. The end of the decade also saw the formation of the infamous Mandal Commission which while set up with good intentions continues to cause widespread discontent among students.

But perhaps the most significant socio-political movement was the Jai Prakash Narayan led struggle which eventually led to the declaration of emergency. An ordinary man, freedom fighter with Gandhian ideologies, struggling against a corrupt government with the support of the people and the government panicking and using force to evict and arrest them; Ring any bells? Do the names Hazare and Ramdev seem familiar?

There are so many more parallels to be drawn from the 70s. In the 70s Indira Gandhi wanted a people’s car. And so Maruti Udyog was formed. Today the Tata’s have taken the meaning the people car’s to a next level with Nano. In 1973 we faced an oil crisis. Now it’s a perpetual problem. In the 70s there was a food crisis and agriculture needed a boost… enter Green Revolution. Today again, food security is a major problem. Family planning was needed then, they screwed it up big time. But now looking at the population, those same methods don’t seem so horrifying. There were good things too. Gavaskar made India take notice of cricket as a 5 feet 6 inch boy from Mumbai dominated the most fearsome and much taller pace attack in the world. Today Dhoni and the gen-X of Indian cricket have dominated the world again by winning the World Cup. 

A female Gandhi led then, another leads now in all but name. A son of hers took the reign from her then, a son is ready today. The opposition was weak then, and the BJP of today lacks leadership as well. Corruption plagues the government now like it did then.

But perhaps the greatest parallel to be drawn arises from the people’s struggle against government influence in their daily lives. The economy may have been liberalized but the government still influences people’s lives and choices far too much just as it did in the totalitarian and dictoral times of Indira Gandhi. Much has changed and much remains the same. India has come a long way from the decades of old. No longer do we wait for hours for phone calls to connect, nor are there 7 year waiting lines for scooters.  Democracy cannot be suppressed at the whims and fancy of any ruler. The judiciary plays an important role in controlling the government. And the world no longer ignores us; rather it sits up and takes notice every single time India takes the podium.

 But everything said and done, some of the same fundamental problems still face the country and it is important to go back to the 70s and learn from our mistakes then so that we can truly move forward into the future and deal with the challenge that arise from being a major player in a global economy.


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