India’s next 70 years: a wish list

Some of Cambridge’s leading India specialists and alumni share their wishes for the next 70 years of independence.

Indian Heat by Ian D. Keating licensed by Creative Commons

Dr Shailaja Fennell — University Lecturer in Development Studies

My wish for the next 70 years of Indian independence is the implementation of an evidence-based, coherent, renewable energy strategy. Renewable energy opportunities that facilitate improvements in education, health and skills in rural populations, particularly among the youth, could be a powerful catalyst for triggering new linkages in networks, both human and technical, between rural and urban areas to sustain growth and to promote the convergence of living standards for all citizens.

Dr Bhaskar Vira — Director of the Cambridge Conservation Research Institute, Reader in the Political Economy of Environment and Development and Fellow of Fitzwilliam

My wish for the next 70 years of Indian independence is for the country to find pathways towards inclusive and sustainable prosperity that leave no one behind.

This demands ideas and policies that can address a historic legacy of exclusion and inequality that has created uneven life chances for India’s people, especially the young. It also requires a commitment to development strategies that do not neglect the fragile ecology of the sub-continent and recognise the environmental foundations on which future prosperity depends.

India has a young population, which offers outstanding opportunities for the country’s future ambitions as it continues on its historic tryst with destiny. To fully redeem the pledges that were made 70 years ago, to all the people of India, will require a combination of vision, commitment and new ways of thinking.

India has been remarkably resilient despite its significant social, political, economic and environmental challenges over the last 70 years. The future of people and the planet depends on the country fully harnessing the potential of its youth and securing their futures over the next half century.

Public Transport by Ahmed Mahin Fayaz licensed by Creative Commons

Professor Jaideep Prabhu — Jawaharlal Nehru Professor of Indian Business and Enterprise and Director of the Centre for India and Global Business

India must grow and become a prosperous economy, but that growth must be inclusive. It should benefit those who have not benefited from the past 70 years of growth: around half the Indian population. Focusing on state-led action and aid alone has largely failed.

I’d like to see India’s talent for jugaad — frugal, flexible and inclusive innovation — scaled up. My hope is that this can be done systematically across the board, to develop and deliver radically affordable solutions in health, education, energy, agriculture and finance.

Dr Anjali Bhardwaj-Datta — Leverhulme Trust Early Career Fellow, Centre of South Asian Studies

My wish for the next 70 years of Indian independence is a just, tolerant, and freer India, where everyone, regardless of faith, caste, class, gender or sexuality, belongs equally. I wish for a healthy and literate India — free of violence, fear, hunger and suffering, with children attending schools, and more power to the girl child. I wish for an India where we do not see people on the streets, without a home or food. I wish for a green and safe India.

Two Smiles — Pune, India by Ian D. Keating licensed by Creative Commons

Mithun Srivatsa — CEO, Blowhorn

One of our great strengths is our very diverse, boisterous democracy, and our unity. We need to continue working together to create one of the biggest demographic shifts of poor people to the middle class.

In the next 15 to 20 years, technology will play a key role in this. It has the potential to enable a lot of people to get out of poverty. I’m pretty sure we will make it happen, and it will be an exciting thing to see. Indians are great innovators.

And in terms of geopolitics, we need to resolve issues with our neighbours and take on a global leadership role and play that role with dignity and grace.

Professor Howard Griffiths — Professor of Plant Ecology, Department of Plant Sciences

My wish is for a second green revolution, in which modern agricultural methods become more sustainable. While the first was a success in some key areas such as the Punjab, it relied on extensive use of water, fertiliser and pesticides.

We must work with communities and research organisations across India to ask: what do you need for agriculture in your region? How can we help to improve crops and empower communities to maintain productivity for the future?

Streets of India — Goa Bananas by Ian D. Keating licensed by Creative Commons

Dr Nayanika Mathur — British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow at the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities

My wish? That India remains true to its founding principles of diversity, openness and secularism.

Globally, we are witnessing the diminishing of respect for difference and in the active support of dissent and deliberative argument. India distinguished itself early on in its life as a post-colonial nation state by strictly adhering to these principles in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. It is of the absolute essence that India remains steadfast to these ideals and doesn’t descend into majoritarian authoritarianism.

Dr Ankur Barua — Lecturer in Hindu Studies, Faculty of Divinity

My wish for India’s next 70 years is that it can become more capable of engaging robustly with the fault-lines — social, economic, and religious — that pervade various arenas, and that the unfinished task of weaving a nation through, with, and out of its fragments can be completed. That the nation-state of India, forged through the visions of Gandhi, Tagore, Ambedkar, Nehru, and others, will negotiate the binary of ‘East versus West’ neither by lapsing into a nativist glorification nor by diluting its concrete richness in a faceless universalism.

Daybreak by Ahmed Mahin Fayaz licensed by Creative Commons

This article first appeared in CAM — the Cambridge Alumni Magazine, issue 80.

The University of Cambridge is marking the 70th anniversary of Indian independence with a season of activities which celebrate Cambridge’s long-standing and deep-rooted relationship with India. For more information visit Celebrating India.