The recent Indian success at the Tokyo Olympics and now the Paralympics has sent a loud message to everyone—that New India is rising fast, it is aspirational, has a global outlook and wants to achieve a lot more. Many people are surprised with India’s best-ever performance at the Olympics and the Paralympics. Most medal winners belong to small towns and rural areas and not big cities, unlike 10-15 years ago. This story of an aspirational middle and small town India is a result of massive improvement in social infrastructure in the last 10 years.
Over the last decade, Digital India has created a network through which most people can stay connected and have access to smartphones and multimedia content. This, in turn, has given them an insight into what is happening in the world, what are the facilities that people enjoy in other countries. This development has been accompanied by a massive influx of money, infrastructure and investment in large parts of India, which were hitherto neglected. Roads have been built to reach even the smallest of villages with a population of less than 250 people, wireless network covers 99 per cent of India, power lines have reached almost all villages and homes so have toilets, and an estimated Rs 17 lakh crore has transferred into the accounts of at least 50 crore Indians through Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) in the last 10 years.
Economic theories tell us that once the basic necessities of life like food on the table, power, water in the tap, a roof over the head, access to education and medical health, a bank account, and access to internet and a mobile connection are met, people want to realise their aspirations—and Indians have high aspirations. A young and aspirational India now wants to have a better quality of life.
We saw this earlier in cricket. Because of the large amounts of money flowing into IPL, a new generation of young players has arrived, many of whom do not belong to big cities. This new crop is different; they are very combative, competitive and they play to win. They do not care about the opposition’s reputation nor their display of aggression, and they give it back. We now see Indian players sledging their opponents, standing their ground and not turning away, which was not the case with the earlier generation of players. These players are self-assured, they have worked their way up, they stand up to competition and they play hard. They are also fitter, more focused and more combative than their predecessors.
We are now seeing the same results in athletics, archery, shooting and in many other areas of sports, which require investment, perseverance and a collective focus; all of these were earlier missing. The performances of the women’s and men’s hockey team, the latter won a bronze, and the gold medal in javelin throw show the change that is taking place on the ground. The gold in javelin throw is a particularly great victory. Neeraj Chopra belongs to a small town in Haryana, worked his way up and through sheer perseverance, hard work and intense training abroad was able to achieve so much.
Many of our sportspersons are now training abroad consistently, participating in global competitions and doing extremely well. This newly acquired confidence, the ability to look the world in the eye and compete on equal terms mark the arrival of a New India, which is radically different from the old. The old India was riven by bad governance, lack of investment, high corruption and lack of self-confidence.
Even in the realm of defence, India is standing up to the aggression by our neighbours and giving it back. This is a trait India must build on. We have seen tremendous economic growth from 1991 onwards; our GDP has grown from $275 billion to $3 trillion in 2020. Although 2021 started on a dismal note, we are seeing a revival in economic growth and an uptick in investment.
The economic empowerment has not come without political empowerment. Today, we can say with confidence that after 75 years of Independence, political representation has improved and increased, covering the bottom 40 per cent of the population. During Independence, a mere 3-4 per cent of India’s population could aspire for political representation. In the first two decades, it went up to 20-25 per cent with the abolition of zamindari system. Then came the Mandal Commission and the backward class movement, and with reservation in education and reservation for women in panchayats, along with the massive inflow of resources in rural areas, we are witnessing political empowerment at a level never seen before.
If political empowerment has been experienced by the bottom 40-45 per cent of the society, we can be assured that democracy has taken deep roots in the country. The benefits of such empowerment are then witnessed in multiple areas, including sports—from cricket to Olympics and Paralympics. It is also seen in the increasing number of students from backward and rural areas making it to top educational institutes, including the IITs. Many of them are first-generation learners.
This is a moment of pride for India.
But we must make sure that this political empowerment along with social and economic mobility is pursued to its logical conclusion: a New India where everyone has equal opportunities. We are a large country and it will take time to reach there, but the foundation is solid and we look to the future with great confidence and hope.
The author is Chairman, Aarin Capital Partners. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent the stand of this publication.