Contributions of the congress party difficult to be ignored
India got independence in 1947. The newly constituted country had many challenges before it. The Congress Party under the leadership of Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru and other top leaders began to shape and to give new direction to the country. The Congress leadership took the unification of the country as its first task, without which people can’t be dedicated to democratic institutions and the idea of nationalism. After this, the Congress leadership unified the country socially, culturally and according to languages. People were educated with regard to unity, integrity and secularism and as a result they became responsible to Parliament and the law of the land. All these things took the shape of values before people. These things may seem very easy in the current scenario, but the path through which India treaded was not so easy.
For this vision and political acumen was needed and Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru and other leaders of the Congress Party successfully did all the above-mentioned tasks with great ease and efficiency. The next task was to develop the country socially and economically and to establish India as a strong and non-aligned nation. To achieve this, the first Prime-Minister of India Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru took numerous policy-decisions. As a result, India began to march on the path of progress. In the process, the foundation for the development of the country took a solid shape upon which India of today is standing firmly. Due to these policy initiatives of Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru, he is aptly called the Builder of India. Pandit Nehru’s tenure as the PM had been the longest and it indicates his immense popularity among countrymen. Under the leadership of Pandit Nehru, the foundation of the country was laid and India achieved an international identity. So it is difficult to understand the blueprint of India’s development without going through the relevancy of the Nehru-Age.
After independence, economic disparity among states was a serious problem. Some states were miles ahead in terms of economic development. At that time, Mumbai and West Achievement Bengal were the two top centres of the country which owned 60% of the total industrial capital. These two centres also produced two-thirds of the total industrial production. Likewise, there was great inequality in agriculture and the eastern states were lagging behind with respect to northern and southern states. The Congress government led by Pandit Nehru understood the seriousness of economic disparities right from the start and the central government was of the view that the development of the country was possible only if all its parts were developed equally and in balance.
The tenure of the first PM of India can be observed as the process of maturing of democracy and also as social and economic achievements. Pandit Nehru adopted such policies which can lessen the gap between poor and rich states. For this purpose, the Finance Commission was constituted whose role was to distribute central taxes and other financial resources in such a way that can lessen the inter-state inequality and more financial assistance can be provided to poor states. In this way, the Congress government led by Pandit Nehru made planning as a powerful instrument to overcome regional inequalities. Pandit Nehru was of the opinion that the planning for the development should be to augment industrial as well as agricultural growth rate. The goals of planning were clearly observed in Second Five-Year Plan which was aimed at empowering backward regions. It was given importance in later plans also. The aims of the Third Plan were development of all regions, expansion of industries and to provide financial gains to poor states.
These policies clearly show that the Congress government was following that ideology of development which is called Sustainable Development in modern times and is itself a modern ideology. The Congress government constituted Planning Commission to fulfill these ideals. Right from the beginning, the Planning Commission has adopted the policy to provide more financial assistance to under-developed states in comparison to developed states. The Congress government also adopted the policy to invest heavily in steel, fertilizers, oil-refinery, petrochemicals, heavy engineering, chemicals, cement, so that regional disparity can be minimized. Besides, infrastructural development like power, irrigation, road, railway, posts and communication were given priority. From 1957, India has been largely dependent on public investments and these investments were primarily made in less developed states. Poor states like Bihar and Madhya Pradesh got advantage of these public sector investments. States like Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Assam and Northeast states marched on the path of progress due to the construction of road network in these hilly areas. The Congress government decided to encourage private sector to invest in under-developed areas. For this the government provided tax-exemption and loans at low rate to private sector.
From 1956 to 1991, the Congress government also used the licensing system for the establishment of private sector industries in under-developed areas. In 1969, banks were nationalized and it was ensured that the expansion of their branches should primarily be in under-developed areas. Guidelines were issued to banks and other public sector financial institutions for investments in these areas. Various ministries also chalked out plans for development of these areas and for creation of employment opportunities. Some programmes worth to mention here are Poverty Alleviation Programme; Grains for Work Programme and Integrated Rural Development Programme. The Congress government made poor states beneficiary through programmes related with education, health, family welfare and public distribution system. Nehruji was of the opinion that without rural and agricultural development, the country can’t march on the path of progress. Therefore in 60’s, Green Revolution was initiated using new seeds and chemical fertilisers. The Central government made huge investments for the development of rural infrastructure and for adoption of new tech in agri-sector. Very encouraging results came to the fore of these initiatives which were at first started in Punjab, Haryana and Western Uttar Pradesh. Later on in 70’s, these initiatives were extended to cover Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Eastern Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan and in 80’s further extended to cover Bihar, West Bengal, Orissa and Assam. It helped immensely in reducing regional disparity. Education proved to be a major thrust area in Nehru-Age. Nehruji was of the opinion that tech development in India is of utmost importance. In March, 1958, the Congress government passed many bills which were solely dedicated to policies of sci-tech. Pandit Nehru and other senior congress leaders firmly believed that only science can be the basis of economic, social and cultural development and can minimize ruining of resources. India got freedom in 1947 and soon Pandit Nehru and the Congress leadership understood the importance of scientific research and the role of tech for defence purposes.
In line with Messechuattes Institute of Technology, foundation of an IIT at Kharagpur was laid in 1952 and later its branches were established in Chennai, Mumbai, Kanpur and Delhi. The expenditure on scientific research and science related activities was pegged at 1.10 crore in 1948-49 which rose to 85 crores in 1965-66. It directly impacted technicians. In 1950, there were 1,88,000 technicians which increased to 7,32,000 in 1965. The number of students in engineering and technological colleges was only 13,000 in 1950 which increased to 78,000 in 1965. Likewise there were only 2,600 students in agricultural universities which rose to 15,000 in 1965. Pandit Nehru was a great visionary. He not only understood the importance of science and technology but also believed that atomic energy will revolutionize the social, economic and political landscape. It will also impact the security of the country.
In this way, India was one of the few countries which understood the importance of atomic energy. Pandit Nehru wrote in 1948, “Future will be theirs who can generate atomic energy.” In the very next year after independence, the Congress government constituted Atomic Energy Commission under the chairmanship of great atomic scientist Homi Jehangir Bhabha. This commission came under science research department which was in direct control of Pandit Nehru. The Congress government in 1954 constituted a separate atomic department. In 1956, the first atomic reactor of India was built in Mumbai. It is interesting to note that the first atomic reactor of India was also the first in Asia. Under the ultra-modern and highly developed atomic programme of India, the primary task was to establish several atomic reactors across the country. However, under the leadership of Pandit Nehru, India was committed to peaceful use of atomic energy. In 1962, Indian National Committee for Space Research and Rocket Launching Facility at Thumba were established. Under the leadership of pandit Nehru, the then Defence Minister, Sri Krishna Menon took several measures to augment defence research and development. Important decisions were taken to manufacture defence equipment's and ammunitions. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru was dedicated to the country’s unity, integrity and sovereignty.
Pandit Nehru was a strong supporter of science, technology, atomic energy and military power but at the same time he was greatly honoured as a world leader who believed in world peace and peaceful coexistence of other countries. Pandit Nehru gave the glimpse of his vision in the organization of defence forces. The size of defence forces was kept relatively small. The budgetary provision was merely two per cent of the National Income. Pandit Nehru had full faith in country’s military power and that’s why he didn’t recommend the expansion of Indian Army despite the fact that the U.S. provided huge military assistance to Pakistan. This decision of Pandit Nehru indicates the depth of his thinking and the dimensions of his vision. In fact, he wanted to save country’s rare resources and to avoid foreign interference in internal matters and the foreign policy since the domestic defence industry was unable to cater the requirements of the Indian Army. On the other hand in the 19th century, France, Germany and other countries had witnessed the uncontrolled army unleashing anarchy. Pandit Nehru and other top leaders of the Congress Party wanted that the army of a democratic country should be non-political. The army should accept the civil control and should not interfere in country’s politics. That’s why, every section of the society got ample representation in the army.
Under the leadership of Pandit Nehru and the Congress Party, the vision of the founders of the Indian Republic was not limited to political and economic issues. They were as much committed to social changes. They had firm belief in socialistic values and were of the opinion that as long as the benefit of political and economic development doesn’t reach every section of the society, the dream of integrated development of the country can’t be achieved. The ideology of the founders was expressed in, “socialistic pattern of society” and was officially accepted in Awadi convention of the Congress Party. These ideals of Pandit Nehru and the Congress Party were made an integral part of the Second and Third Five-Year plans. Various important measures for social change were taken and it also started to shape the country as a welfare state. These ideals of a welfare state were also incorporated in the Second and Third Five-Year plans. Land reforms, planned economic development and rapid expansion of the public sector are some of the measures taken in this regard.
Labour laws were formulated to provide them rights equivalent to socialistic ideals. Workmen were provided employment security, health and accidental insurance benefits and also right to form labour unions and to go on strike. More equitable distributions of state’s resources were ensured. The rate of income tax and excise duty were fixed. The scope of education, health and other social benefits were expanded. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and the top leaders of the Congress Party wanted such social changes which can obliterate social inequality and can uplift the downtrodden. A provision for the elimination of untouchability had already been incorporated in the constitution. To make it more stringent, the Congress government in 1955 declared the practice of untouchability as cognizable offence and hence punishable. The government also implemented the provisions of reservation as enshrined in the constitution. To reserve seats for schedule castes, schedule tribes and other backward classes in educational institutions and in government jobs was ensured. Arrangements were made to provide these weaker sections the benefits of scholarships, hostels, loans, homes, health and legal aid. A commissioner of schedule castes and schedule tribes was also appointed so that these schemes can be better monitored. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and the top leaders of the Congress Party were influenced by the thoughts of Charles Furish, a French philosopher who used to say that the development of a country can be assessed through women’s social and political status in that society. Women organizations played an important role in freedom-struggle. Pandit Nehru was a strong supporter of women’s rights. In 1951, the Congress Party proposed the Hindu Code Bill which was welcomed by prominent leaders, women M.Ps and other women activists but at the same time the bill was vehemently opposed by the Jan Sangh and other Hindu organisations. Keeping democratic values in mind, Pandit Nehru stopped this bill with immediate effect so that more support can be garnered. Pandit Nehru was committed to pass this bill. During first general elections in 1951-52, he made it an important issue. After coming to power once again, the government passed various provisions of this bill through four different bills. These bills ensured single spouse system; provision of divorce for man and woman both; to increase the age-limit for marriage and the right to enable woman to get maintenance and a share in family property. In this way, a path-breaking step was taken in order to empower women. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru was a renowned educationist also. Under his leadership, the Congress leaders understood well that education of good standard is necessary for social and economic development; equality of opportunities and to build a society based on socialistic values.
The rate of literacy in 1951 was mere 16.6 per cent. The situation was more pitiable in rural India where the literacy rate was only 6 per cent. The founders of Indian republic in 1961 introduced provisions in this regard. The provisions were education upto the age of 14 should be free and compulsory and its expenditure should be borne out by the government. The Congress government took many measures to develop the education system. The budgetary allocation for education in 1951-52 was around Rs 20 crores and it rose to 146.27 crores in 1964-65 a seven fold increase. During the tenure of Pandit Nehru, several steps were taken to augment education particularly girl education. Between 1951 and 1961, the number of students increased two fold whereas the number of girl students rose three fold. In the middle-school level, the no of students increased from 10 lakhs to 40 lakhs and the no of girl students rose from 2 lakh to 10 lakh during these ten years. In order to keep pace with the increasing students, the no of schools had to be increased. Between 1951 and 1961, the number of schools increased from 7288 to 24,477. This welcome change also touched the higher education institutions. At the time of independence, there were only 18 universities in which 3 lakh students were enrolled. After 17 years, the no of universities rose to 54 and the no of colleges affiliated with these universities also increased to 2500. It is interesting to note that that the no of girl students increased six times. The aim to make all the citizens literate was very far but the Congress government succeeded in establishing education as a value in Indian society.
This was a major achievement. Pandit Nehru and senior leaders of the Congress Party well understood the fact that the dream of integrated development can’t be fulfilled without the development of rural India. At the time of independence, 70 per cent of the population lived in villages and the economy was agriculture-based. In these circumstances, two important programmes Community Development Programme in 1952 and Panchayati Raj in 1959- were started. The aim of these programmes to lay the foundation of welfare state in rural India. To modernize agri-system and an overall development of rural India were its main purposes. 55 blocks were selected for the experimental start of Community Development Programme in 1952. Every block comprised 100 villages and 60 to 70 thousands of population. By the middle of 60’s, the no of community blocks increased many-fold. 6000 block development officers and 6 lakh Gram Sevaks were appointed so that this programme can be better implemented. This programme comprised almost all aspects of rural India. Emphasis was given to agriculture, communication, health, education etc. The core objective of Community Development Programme was to make people responsible and self-reliant. The programme was aimed at organizing people for their own welfare. Use of fertilisers, better seeds and adoption of scientific way of farming led to an increase in agri-production. Apart from these, roads, ponds, wells, schools, health centres were built and facility for health and education was extended. Pandit Nehru hugely praised Community Development Programme and often expressed it as a great revolution and as a symbol of reawakening of India. There were of course some shortcomings in this programme. To overcome this, a committee was constituted under Balwant Mehta which recommended decentralization of administration at block and district level in view of these developmental programmes. The Congress government implemented the recommendations. A self-governance system was introduced all over the country whose primary unit was village Panchayat. The new system was known as “Panchayati Raj” and various states began to implement it from 1959. District Board (ZilaParishad) was divided into three layers and its members were directly elected.
Community Development Programme was integrated with Panchayati Raj system. This three layered committee was made responsible for implementation and monitoring of these development-programmes. In this way, the power to implement and to take decisions regarding these programmes were vested in people. People’s active participation ensured that the shortcomings of these Community Development Programme will be removed. Under this the role of government officials was limited to only assist and direct. Thousands of self-help groups like cooperative banks, land mortgage banks, market committees were constituted in this connection. These all committees were self-governed because they were run by the institutions whose members were directly elected. The formation of these self-help groups and the Panchayati Raj system were in fact the true representatives of the revolutionary change that was undergoing in the Indian society. Rural administration was vested in people and it resulted in high growth rate in rural India. It not only provided people the much needed administrative power but it made them more self-reliant and changed their outlook also. Above all, it proved to be the beginning of the development of human as resource. On the whole, the age of Pandit Nehru can be termed as an age of struggle and hope. During this time, the country came out of its dark phases and marched slowly and steadily on the path of progress with new vigour and energy. Liberal outlook, unparalleled leadership and effective policies provided the country a strong base upon which India has been progressing continuously.