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Published in the 1-15 May 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Unlike BJP, Congress received a fragmented, impoverished India
By Malik Tase

Among the many tall claims made by the BJP since its decision to go in for early elections, one is that the NDA has achieved more in five years than what the Congress did in fifty years and that the latter's 'misrule' has ruined the country. Ground realities, however, support neither.

In the first instance, it would amount to a fallacy to draw a parallel between the two respective governments inasmuch as they have functioned during altogether different periods and in totally different environments.

The twenty first century-eve India inherited by the NDA can bear no comparison with the mid-twentieth century India of the Congress. As against the legacy of a well-knit and well-developed India received by the NDA, what devolved on Congress, was a fragmented, impoverished and vastly underveloped India riddled with myriad intractable problem, followed by a daunting transitional period. Of paramount importance to the party were the unification of the country, consolidation of the newly earned freedom, sound foundation for a durable democracy, upgrading of the defence capabilities and planned all-round development. To its great credit, Congress remarkably accomplished all this in a large measure just in a little over two decades despite severe resource crunch and four external aggressions.

In defence the share that came to India on partition in 1947 was highly inadequate for a country of its size with a long coastline. Since the country had decided to steer clear of the military blocs sponsored by the then two superpowers, it could not expect any aid from either without strings attached. It had therefore to have recourse to commercial purchases, at the same time creating infrastructure and technology for indigenous production to make the country self reliant. This paid rich dividends. By 1994-95, the military strength grew to 1,265,000 (Army 1,100,000, Air force 110,000 and navy 55,000) with a formidable array of wide ranging equipment and machines making the country emerge as the mightiest military power in the region from the Horn of Africa down to Australia. It was able to export military equipment, train military personnel in other countries and serve as part of U.N. peace keeping force. Meanwhile, a nuclear device had been exploded at Pokhran in 1974 and a blueprint was in place for Pokhran II.

No less spectacular was the record in the primitive agricultural sector with a bleak past. The abolition of Zamindari, multipurpose river valley projects, canal networks, fertiliser factories, research and development centres, green revolution, change in irrigation and harvesting pattern and support price scehmes gave a tremendous boost to agricultural production, the output rising from 549.2 lakh tonnes in 1949-50 to 1800 lakh tonnes in 1992-93 and the food grain stocks to 32.4 lakh tonnes with enough leverage for employment and export.

Horticulture, animal husbandry, poultry, dairy and fisheries in a hopelessly rudimentary state also started looking up quantitatively and qualitatively with the setting up of research and development centres, dairies and poultry farms and cooperative societies. By 1994-95 India became the third largest producer of fruits and vegetables in the world after Brazil and China. The exports of vegetables and fruits in the said year touched Rs. 2871 lakhs and Rs. 48,855 lakhs respectively. Meat exports in 1992-93 amounted to Rs. 330 crores and meat products in 1994-95 to Rs. 394 crores. Output in live stock sector in 1992-93 was worth 588 billion rupees. Estimated egg production in 1992-93 was 22.9 billion. Operation Flood Programme helped 83.5 lakh farmers through 65,000 cooperatives and raised per capita milk production to 186 gms per day in 1993. Inland fisheries and deep sea fishing with mechanised vessels increased fish production from 7.52 lakh tonnes in 1950-51 to 47.50 lakh tonnes in 1994-95.

On the eve of independence, India did not have much of an industrial base and had to depend on imports even in respect of minor items like blades. However, with planned expansion, diversification of industries and increase in indigenous capabilities, every segment of industry from pins to war planes made rapid strides taking the overall growth rate to 8.5 percent in 1993-94. From an importer India became an exporter of quality goods and machinery and was able to offer consultancy and skilled labour. The country's overall trade relations with countries round the world changed dramatically. The export figures in 1994-95 stood at Rs. 3200 crores against the import figure of Rs. 2766 crores.

Alongside due attention was bestowed on space and missile programmes, transport, tourism, telecommunication, postal service, health, education, sports, entertainment, welfare and employment generating schemes, panchayats. The number of schools, colleges, IITs and IIMs, universities, hospitals, health centres, immunisation programmes registered phenominal increase.

Literacy rate went up from 27% in 1951 to 64% in 1991 and life expectancy rose to 65 years. Indian doctors, engineers, technocrats, consultants, management experts made their mark at home and abroad. Research and training centres exceeding 200 in number were set up covering all conceavable fields and awards instituted to provide incentive and fillip. With Rajiv Gandhi came the concept of the 21st century. Introduction of computers and information technology resulted in revolutionising the pace of life. Demand for Indian hardware and software increased by the day. Dr. Manmohan Singh's reforms added new momentum to the entire process and gave a new thrust to the economy, the benefits of which have accrued to the succeeding governments including the NDA.

Internationally, the Congress era was dominated by the cold war which called for great sagacity and adroitness on the part of the leadership to keep the country on course which it did admirably. India had attracted the world's attention during the freedom struggle itself. The post independence democratic planning and policy of peaceful co-existence added further dimension to it. The country's voice began to be heard with repsect in the councils of the world. Its co-sponsorship of the Non-Alligned Movement made it the leader of the Third World. India never looked back.

To deny the credit to the Congress for its pioneering efforts and stellar role in the nations all round development would be a flagrant travesty of truth. 

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