Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Sixty years of Independence

In 1997, BBC ran a series called Fifty years of Independence. Hosted by Sir Mark Tully Padma Bhushan, each 3 minute long daily episode showed a major event or topic in Desh’s post‑independence history. Covered were: freedom, the tragedies of partition, the assassination of the Mahatma and Kashmir; birth of the Indian democracy and the rise of the generals in Pakistan; five year plans and the non aligned movement; 1962 and 1965 wars; Mrs Gandhi’s ascendance and the fall of Ayub; nationalists and Naxalites in the east; the Bangladesh War; populist demagogues in New Delhi and Islamabad; two elections of 1977; Zia-ul-Huq and Afghanistan; deaths of Zulfi Bhutto and Mrs Gandhi; Khalistan, Kashmir and the north east; Rajiv, Rao and reforms; caste and communalism; coalition governments in India; and presidents, prime ministers and generals keeping each other in check in Pakistan; and, SAARC. Bangladesh, too, saw the end of the Empire sixty years ago today. If Tully had covered that country, he would have shown violent coups, dictators and political instability.

Inspired by many of these great events, Shashi Tharoor wrote the Great Indian Novel a decade or so earlier. Of course in about another decade prior to that, Salman Sahib wrote the novel that created a new literature. We can’t claim to have the talent for such high brow stuff, so last year we conjured up the Great Desi TV serial.

If one were to add the ten years since, which events would be added? Coalition governments and communal violence in India, military coup and political violence in Pakistan, in the shadow of another war in Afghanistan. Both countries exploded nuclear devices. And Desh came close to full scale war on a number of occasions. That is, the past decade has not been all that different from the previous five.

Or has it? Anyone visiting any major cities in Desh would say that things have changed radically. We see the emergence of new societies, new values and new culture, hand in hand with rapid economic progress. We see the awakening of a generation, we see changes in what the heart desires. And we like what we see.