As India is nearing is 71st Independence Day, the debate is back. How much we have made progress as an independent nation? Although our political leadership has rejoiced time and again the value of freedom and that India today is an uncaged tiger ready to take on the world, the debate refuses to die. Has political independence made real a difference in our lives in the last 70 years?
Opinions on this debate will vary, especially for camps that are affiliated to different political colours. But there is no denying the fact that even after India was freed from the shackles of slavery and emerged as an entity with a political identity of its own on August 15, 1947, the political leadership of the country did not allow much space for socio-economic freedom in the last seven decades.
Take for example, the current regime of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It definitely has spoken in glorious terms the significance of freedom and given a call for a Congress-free India, but at the same time, it has ensured through its neo-liberal economic programmes and other initiatives that both the freedom of the people and institutions are kept under check.
Demonetisation not an anti-liberty move?
To illustrate, let's talk about demonetisation. PM Modi's unique move of scrapping high denomination currency notes on November 8 last year was an act of heroism for his constituency but from the perspective of economic and social freedom, it was a complete anti-thesis. To curb black money and funding for terrorism, one can't sacrifice individual freedom. At 70, it remains a black spot. Financially, too, there is still no confirmation that demonetisation has delivered what pro-Modi theorists had predicted.
The overdrive on Aadhar, something which was given shape by the previous Congress-led UPA, by the Modi government also amounts to restricting freedom of choice. The warning that the permanent account number or PAN would be deactivated if one doesn't link his/her aadhar with it amounts to forcing people to toe the government which is in spirit anti-democratic. Similarly, the decision to reduce interests in common people's savings and indirectly compel them to embrace the neo-liberal economy also conveys a similar story.
Goods and Services Tax not an anti-thesis to federalism?
When it comes to institutions, economic reforms like the Goods and Services Tax (GST) also seem to be undemocratic in spirit as they curtail the states' freedom in India's federal polity. For many economics expert, the question whether the revenue will be more or less under the GST regime is less important than the fact that the idea has put a curb on the state's freedom to make their own fiscal policies. There is a tinge of truth in this. India's federalism has already been hurt by an unequal representation of its constituent states in Parliament unlike in the US where the Senate has the presence of equal number of representatives from each state – big or small. And the GST reduces the states' say further. So, where precisely is the economic freedom – of both individuals and institutions – even after 70 years of independence?
Modi and his BJP although have vowed to get India rid of the Congress which has ruled the country for over 50 out of the 70 years, they are also exhibiting tendencies of past Congress governments to restrict people's economic freedom. India was a state-centric economy for the first four decades of its independence which made its economic story a complete reverse to the political. The political leadership, who had presumed that a controlled economy would see the country become a self-sufficient and truly independent country, understood just when the disaster was near and liberated the economy for the sake of survival.
Today, the game has completely changed as the potential of India's massive market has been unleashed. But when it comes to the micro level, the country's common man is still not liberated and has to tolerate the excesses of the state for the 'sake' of their own well-being.