India completes more than 60 years of it's "independence" from the British this August 15th. I have seen more than half of that "freedom" now.
What have these last three decades meant to India? A view from eyes of a middle aged Indian. (I hate to call myself middle aged. But that's a reality now)
Let's start with the 70s.
1970s: Was a very crucial decade for independent India. Politically and socially it was a period of turmoil. Lot of people say, what we see happening in India today, has it's roots in the 70s. The degradation of Political System and the extra ordinary corruption, bureaucratic or otherwise, the State prevailing its might on hapless people, the seeds of which were laid in the 1970s. The ruling party led by a ruthless leader had monopolized all institutions; had undermined the Supreme Court and other key Democratic Institutions of the nation and was riding high on a Single Party rule with an impotent opposition. There were only pygmies willing to stand up to her, and Mrs Gandhi with one shot of "Emergency" bull dozed any hint of rebellion with ruthless iron hand.
The only silver lining in all this turmoil was the Indian Army. Had Indian Army fallen from it's duty and aligned with Mrs Gandhi, India would have been worse in 1970s than Musharaf's Pakistan today. But for Army's "apolitical" stance, India survived. India won the Bangladesh war of 1971 and Mrs Gandhi was the Hero. But she squandered away all the goodwill by making a mockery of Democracy on 26th June 1975; when she declared India as being in "state of emergency".
In 70s the World was dealing with Cold War, Pol Pot,Drugs and Hippie culture. It was an era of Bell Bottom pants where being "REBEL" was cool for the better off but for the not-so-better-off of India; those that were reeling under Nehruvian penalty of Cut-Copy-Paste Socialism and it's byproducts of unemployment and suffocating opportunities the Angry young men of movies like Deewar, Kala Pathar, Gharonda, Mere Apne were getting angrier and movies like these were making a social comment on the state of the nation in the 70s.
But it was not all DARK. For the first time in free India, a non-Nehru-Gandhi family and a non-Congress government came into power in 1978. This was a positive sign as India was showing it's political maturity. Or atleast giving some one else a chance. Although the Janata Party did not last too long, India had finally given democracy a voice. The very essence of democracy after all is to allow opposing views to flourish and be heard. India did part of it at least. That of allowing other side to be heard. The other side sadly said a lot but delivered none.
70s was the era of Ajit Wadekar and Sunil Gavaskar and lot of Test cricket. It was a decade when India's greatest movie star, the tall lanky, Amitabh Bachchan, would take the whole nation by storm. And it was an era of Sholay. Arguably India's greatest movie EVER. For me Sholay is India. A rural rustic setting, loaded emotion, drama and lot of action. It was an era of Radio commentary and Amin Sayani's Binaca Geet Mala. Television was still a distant privilege for 98% of the nation.
1980s : If 1970s was about "angry" India, 1980s was about a slightly happier India. An India about to start taking those first baby steps towards embracing Globalized world. 1980s was about Asian Games (Asiad'82), about Rakesh Sharma going to Space and saying those golden worlds .. "Saare Jahan say Achcha".. about Doordarshan and Ramayan and Mahabharat and soap operas.
Punjab was India's headache in 80s and it soon engulfed into terrorism. Indira Gandhi became a victim of her own politics as terrorism struck in Nation's capital. Rajiv Gandhi took over the nation's hopes and with it a lot of expectations. The blue eyed boy of India's first family, promised a lot, but sadly delivered only on a few fronts.
Amongst some sad things that happened in 80s, the Bhopal Gas leak was the most tragic. Bofors case showed that corruption can happen at the highest level and after that no one was surprised by PM being corrupt. IPKF's failed mission in Lanka was another blot.
Amongst India's greatest achievement was the cricket World cup victory at Lord's England. Nothing united the nation more than the picture of Kapil's devils lifting the silver cup on the Lords Balcony. That was when Cricket unofficially uprooted hockey as India's national sport. It became a passion and obsession more than a sport.
Around the world - Gorbachev's Perestroika was about to become the unintentional force for dismantling the mighty Soviet union and in a way ending the Cold War. This had a direct effect on India, close Russian ally. The fall of Berlin War in 1989 was a triggering point for the collapse of the Eastern Bloc.
Around end of 1980s a new political force emerged in India. The OBCs. Led by likes of VP Singh, Mulayam, Lalu etc, the OBCs would go on to dominate India's politics thereafter. In 1989 Congress lost the power again only to land India with another mess called the Janata Dal.
If TV in 80s was about Buniyaad, Rajni, Hum Log, Ramayan, Mahabharat, the movies took a turn towards Romance after the heavy doze of intense 1970 movies. Amir Khan became a rage in 1988 following QSQT and this chocolate hero trend would continue well into the 1990s.
1990s: Politics of Ram and Mandal sent the nation into a tizzy. Two powerful social groups, the upper cast Hindus and the OBCs amongst the Hindus, started making efforts for that political space. Early 1990s was a very difficult period for India as India was finally coming to terms with a very powerful social force. A force that would not ask but demand Reservations and force itself into every aspect of national mainstream.
Rajiv Gandhi was tragically assassinated in May of 1991 while campaigning for elections. In early 1990s terrorism in Punjab was receding but a more deadlier version was taking it's roots in Kashmir.
1993 saw the bombing of Mumbai followed by a retaliation of the worst kind in form of riots. Bombing of Bombay Stock Exchange was a symbolic event; signifying that the new enemy of the nation was not only going to target Army,Policemen or other groups but common office goers, places of economic significance and other un armed Groups.
Following bombings of Indian cities, aggressive Hindu nationalism would be the counter effect and have it's root stronger.
1990s was also about opening up of Indian economy to the world. Narasimha Rao would lead that effort even as BJP the opposition party would give him tactical support to pass all those bills. In 1996 Vajpayee became PM for 13 days and lost the trust vote by the magic figure "1". Soon Vajpayee again became PM and ruled for 13 more months before Madam Jayalalitha played tantrum with nation. The days of Single Party rule were officially over in 1990s
1990s saw India's 3rd war with Pakistan when Pakistani troops under the evil designs of General Musharaf, sneeked into Indian territory in Kargil. Again the whole nation would come together to provide that moral support to Indian troops under Vajpayee's leadership.
India successfully defeated the external threat but somehow became immune to internal one as terrorist activities and bombings of places became common.
World: Early 1990s witnessed momentous event as Nelson Mandela was released from jail after 25 years. South Africa finally saw an end to Apartheid. The collapse of Soviet Union officially ended the cold war as splinter countries aligned with the West. Germany was unified after almost 4 decades. Saddam Hussien fingered USA by brazenly hijacking Kuwait, before falling to Scud missiles. CNN became a household name over the world as Kuwait war became the world's first 24x7 live war.
1990s saw Bill Clinton and India come closer but only to drift away after Pokhran blasts.
India slowly discovered the power of IT in late 1990s as an entire generation of Engineers migrated towards Computers.
In sports, Sachin Tendulkar became a phenomenon. Vishwanathan Anand made history.
Cable Television changed the middle class values more rapidly than anything till date and ended the monopoly of Doordarshan. Coke,Pepsi and SRK became brand names of monstrous proportions in middle class India. DDLJ became an inflection point in bollywood as candy floss took over the Indian cinema.
Sushmita Sen and Aishwarya Rai exploded on peagent scenario and help spawn a multi-billion dollar cosmetic modeling industry in India. Amartya Sen won a Nobel Price for Economics.
New India post 2000 :
Y2K was a huge deal in India as the world needed computer skills to deal with a messy date format. That mess was what the doctors ordered for millions of young Indians who flocked to "greener pastures". But that was just the beginning of a new generation of India getting exposed to West. Either via IT or Call Centers or other MNCs working culture. The new India that would order Pizza instead of Dosa or eat burger instead of Wada Pav.
But that's not all of India. That's a fraction of India that is now more visible thanks to MTV,IBN and NDTV.
Last decade has seen more and more terrorist attacks happen on Indian soil. Earlier it was only Kashmir, Punjab and north East. Now it is spread out. No city big or small is off limits. While economically India is having a high GDP growth rate, there is a lurking feeling that polity of India is degrading. The middle class value system that held Indians together under severe stress from different forces is fast dwindling into low levels each passing year. The generation that got exposed to everything fast - fast cars, fast food, fast talk - seems impatient with everything including the past. But blaming west for all ills and changing culture would be naivety of highest order. We need to look into our own mirrors. Why are we picking up only wrong things? What about work ethics, civic sense, the attitude of giving space, nationalism and just general community living?
Sometimes the coming India paints a scary picture. The cynic in me becomes a Casandra, thinking we are doomed. Future is dark. If we somehow conquer Islamic terrorism in next decade, there will something else to deal with. May be an increasingly powerful Dragon just right next door on East, will pull some of it's levers. Who knows?
But the optimist in me feels we have seen worst. We have seen a massive partition, we have seen 1000 years of plundering and rule by "outsiders" and the worst is behind us. The new confident generation is ready to MOVE ON and more importantly TAKE ON. And that is a huge thing on 62nd re-birthday of India.
I purposely put the words "Independence" and "Freedom" at the start of post in double quotes. Independence will have real meaning when we DO NOT have to depend on west for our economy (service industry oriented economy), on middle east for our OIL, for a vote from China to get a Security Council membership. But more importantly, domestically we are free of poverty, free of worshiping one Powerful family and allowing it to keep ruling this country directly or indirectly for another 60 years, freeing ourselves from suitcase politics of Amar Singhs of the world, freeing ourselves from the constant want to imitate America and American way of life, freeing ourselves from China dumping cheap goods on our borders and destroying local industries, freeing ourselves from need to get our talents certified from Harvards and Stanfords, and freeing our selves from the "Gora" complex for ever.