India@66: Six leaders who shaped independent India
These are the leaders who shaped independent India
Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls
Where words come out from the depth of truth
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
Where the mind is led forward by thee
Into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.
- Rabindranath Tagore, Gitanjali, 1912
Any piece on Independence Day is bound to carry these lines. Every year journalists, bloggers and anyone worth their salt who think they can wield a pen, come up with articles lamenting the sacrifices of the men and women committed to one goal: Freedom.
But this is no dirge. This is a celebration of their lives.
These are the people who shaped independent India. In life they were mortal. But in death, they are immortal.
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (1869-1948)
Albert Einstein, while describing Gandhi, once said, "Generations to come will scarce believe that such a one as this walked the earth in flesh and blood."
While growing up, Gandhi was never the ideal that he has now become. He studied law in England, became what many called 'a brown sahib', and even tried to inculcate western habits in his home when he returned to India. Ironically, it was when he was exposed to racial violence in South Africa that he began the transformation into an apostle of peace.
Since he returned to India in 1915, till India was free in 1947, till he was murdered in 1948, Gandhi led a life of example. Now, more than six decades since the British left, India is still trying to pick up the pieces of 1947, and somewhere, there is the calm voice of Mahatma Gandhi, guiding us along the way.
"My life is my message" - MK Gandhi
Jawaharlal Nehru (1889-1964)
India's first Prime Minister, Nehru was a dominant figure in India's freedom struggle. He met Gandhi in 1916 and despite his differences, remained loyal to him.
When India attained independence, it was only natural that the most dynamic leader be given the responsibility of running the country. And Nehru did not disappoint. His policies have shaped the India of today. Nehru adopted a mixed economy; he defined India's foreign policy as anti-imperialist, anti-apartheid and anti-colonial; he was also one of the men who founded the Non-Aligned Movement. In 1954, it was Nehru who drafted the Panchsheel Treaty with China.
"Democracy is good. I say this because other systems are worse." - Jawaharlal Nehru
Dr. Rajendra Prasad (1884-1963)
When the Indian freedom struggle finally reached a climax, and the British realized independence was the only way forward, the Constituent Assembly was formed to draft India's constitution, and Dr. Rajendra Prasad was elected its president. When, in 1950, the constitution was ratified, Dr. Prasad was made President of India, a post he held for 12 years.
Dr. Prasad was instrumental in giving a new India a global identity. He retired from the post of President in 1962 and was, fittingly, awarded the Bharat Ratna.
"In attaining our ideals, our means should be as pure as the end." - Dr. Rajendra Prasad
Indira Gandhi (1917-1984)
Born to Jawaharlal Nehru and Kamla Nehru, Indira Gandhi was expected to take up the mantle of politics some time or another. Her moment of truth came when Lal Bahadur Shastri died unexpectedly in 1966. She took over as Prime Minister.
If England had Margaret Thatcher, India had Indira Gandhi. The first thing that comes to mind when you think Indira Gandhi is 'Operation Blue Star' and the national emergency, but one achievement that has rarely been celebrated is the fact that it was during her tenure that India kick started its nuclear programme.
Gandhi became Prime Minister three times and was assassinated in 1984. She left behind a legacy of confidence, that India could achieve anything it set its eyes upon. She was also a symbol of women power. Today, if anyone tells doubts the abilities of women, just say 'Indira Gandhi'.
"Martyrdom does not end something, it is only a beginning." - Indira Gandhi
Atal Behari Vajpayee (Born 1924)
If the last decade of the 20th century is the era of coalition politics, Atal Behari Vajpayee is its architect. Elected Prime Minister for 13 days in 1996, Vajpayee returned to power in 1998 and immediately picked up from where Indira Gandhi left off, re-launching the nuclear weapons programme. Facing global sanctions, Vajpayee said the programme was only meant to be a deterrent.
In 2000, the Vajpayee government began an extensive divestment programme due to which India achieved steady economic growth, becoming a world leader in information technology.
A smart orator and a passionate poet, Atal Behari Vajpayee changed the world's perception of India for the better. And the results are there for all to see.
"You can change friends but not neighbours." - Atal Behari Vajpayee
Pamulaparti Venkata Narasimha Rao (1921-2003)
PV Narsimha Rao came a full circle when he became Prime Minister in 1991. While he was an ardent supporter of the Quit India Movement of 1942 that wanted the British to leave the country, he opened up India's industries to the world in 1991.
Instrumental in bringing globalisation to India, Rao's greatest achievements were the economic reforms he introduced when India's economy was in the doldrums, which resulted in an inflow of investment from around the world.
"Time, itself, is the solution to all problems." - PV Narsimha Rao
Source: India Syndicate