“Will we be remembered for how many mosques or temples or gurdwaras our generation has added,” former President APJ Abdul Kalam, who was appointed to the top post by the then BJP-led NDA government, had asked during his Independence Day speech in 2003.
Kalam was paying tribute to the first Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, who had proclaimed scientific research institutes, steel plants, power plants, dams and industries as ‘Temples of Modern India’ soon after the country became independent after two centuries of plunder, neglect and exploitation under the British rule.
Now imagine where the country would have been, had Nehru acted like Modi. “You want mandir or masjid,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi—who keeps parroting that Congress has done nothing for the country—had asked in a public rally during the Gujarat Assembly election campaign.
In the heat of the moment, the master of monologues often forgets the words of his party’s first Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee: “In the past fifty years, we have made a lot of progress. No one can deny that. On the election eve, while asking for votes, while strongly attacking the policies of the government, I had a lot of material to slam the previous governments. On all occasions, I reiterated that I don’t belong to such people who would demean the achievements of past fifty years. It would amount to discrediting the ‘Purushartha’ (humanness) of the country. It would be an injustice to the farmer, worker and the common man. It won’t be a nice gesture!”
But Vajpayee perhaps had no idea that a day will come when his junior party colleague would gleefully do the same. And he won’t even think twice before blurting it out on foreign soil. “Till last year. Indians were ashamed of admitting they were from India. They said ‘humne kya paap kiya ke hum Hindustan me paida huwe?’ (What sins have we committed that we are born in Hindustan),” the globetrotting Prime Minister had said in S Korea in May 2015.
Now fast forward to February 8, 2019. Prime Minister Modi again accused the Congress party of doing nothing for the people over the decades it has ruled the country. “When we talk of a new India, we talk of hope,” he said, launching his latest offensive against the grand old party.
“There are two periods in time as far as India is concerned: BC and AD. BC stands for ‘Before Congress’, when nothing happened, and AD for ‘After Dynasty’, when everything happened.”
However, when Modi took over as Prime Minister, India was already the world’s third-largest economy. But thankfully, the Congress prime ministers, under whom India rapidly developed, never made creation of Kabristaan (graveyard) and Shamshaan (cremation ground) election issues.
One after the other, they devotedly scripted the success stories of modern India, a sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic republic as they strived to secure justice, liberty and equality for its citizens.
Jawaharlal Nehru. Term: August 15, 1947 to May 27, 1964
Independent India’s first Prime Minister envisioned modern India. Unlike Modi, Nehru didn’t re-inaugurate projects or rename welfare schemes when he became the Prime Minister.
In one of his speeches in 1953, the most charismatic Indian politician ever, had proclaimed: “Modern economy is symbolised by the jet plane and atomic energy. The world moves very rapidly today, and even the techniques you considered advanced are out of date before you catch up with them. I am all for the latest techniques; let there be no mistake about it.”
Nehru initiated the Five-Year Plan process with the establishment of the Planning Commission in March 1950 to achieve his aims. The Election commission of India was set up in 1950 and almost two years later, the first general elections were held.
Next year, Indian Airlines was set up. In 1954, Department of Atomic Energy was established. The following year HEC-2m, India’s first computer, laid the foundation of digital revolution in Kolkata. IIT Bombay was established in 1958. Rourkela Steel Plant was established in Odisha in 1959. The same year, government established Doordarshan so that PM Modi could tell the nation his “Mann Ki Baat”.
Bal Narendra was hardly 12 when Nehru, along with Vikram Sarabhai, laid the foundation of Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), in 1962. On September 24, 2014, Modi exclaimed in awe at the launch of Mangalyaan: “History has been created today. We have achieved the near impossible.” The history has its roots in the Nehruvian times. Again Modi clapped in awe, in 2017, when he saw the launch of 104 satellites on board a single rocket from the spaceport of Sriharikota.
In 1963, Nehru dedicated Bhakra Nangal Dam, the lifeline of northern India, to the country.
Sucheta Kriplani became India's first woman Chief Minister, serving as the head of the Uttar Pradesh government, in 1963.
China may have duped Nehru but he was not obliviate towards national security and defence needs. The first Indian jet trainer HJT-16 took flight in 1964. The Border Security Force was formed next year.
Even though a pacifist, he never hesitated in using force. While he compelled India’s princely states to become part of the Indian Union, Nehru had got Goa liberated from Portuguese rule. Instead of chest beating, and glorification of wars, he went on to found the Non Aligned Movement with Yugoslavia's then President Josip Broz Tito and Egypt’s second President Gamal Abdel Nasser.
While Modi’s government is striving hard for India’s admission to the Nuclear Suppliers Group, an elite club of 48 countries, Atomic Energy Establishment, Trombay, was established on January 3, 1954.
Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley underwent a kidney transplant operation at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences or AIIMS that was established in 1956. Jaitley was hardly six years old then.
Lal Bahadur Shastri. Term: June 9, 1964 to January 11, 1966
In “A Life of Truth in Politics”, his biographer CP Srivastava recalls that Shastri’s slight build was often mistaken for a lack of ability, but really concealed a very sharp mind.
Though Shastri continued with Nehru’s policy of non-alignment, he built closer relations with the Soviet Union and expanded the defence budget.
Under his leadership, India repulsed the Pakistani invasion of 1965. This great little man coined the iconic slogan, “Jai Jawan! Jai Kisan!” and dwarfed the arrogant Ayub Khan. It was during the five-month-long war that he inspired the country to become self reliant in every sector.
“We would prefer to live in poverty for as long as necessary but we shall not allow our freedom to be subverted,” the great leader had urged the country during the war.
In early January, Modi added Jai Anusandhan to it after former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee's Jai Vigyan in the Pokaran-II tests in 1998.
The Sirima-Shastri Pact that got Indian workers in Ceylon citizenship rights. He also ensured repatriation of Indians from Burma.
The senior leader of the Indian National Congress and Nehruvian-socialist promoted the Green Revolution with the then agriculture minister C Subramaniam. He founded the Food Corporation of India under the Food Corporation's Act 1964 and subsequently the National Agricultural Products Board Act.
He is also credited for White Revolution. Shastri supported the Amul milk co-operative, Gujarat, and set up the National Dairy Development Board.
Indira Gandhi. Term I : January 24, 1966 to March 24, 1977. Term II : January 14, 1980 to October 31, 1984
Modi was 24-years-old when India under the leadership of Indira Gandhi became the world’s sixth nuclear power after the US, Soviet Union, Britain, France and China. It was almost four years before Modi would become regional organiser of the RSS overseeing its activities in Surat and Vadodara.
INS Arihant, the submarine was sanctioned using secret funds in the late 1970s by then PM Indira Gandhi after India conducted its first nuclear test. In August 2016, Prime Minister Modi inducted the submarine into the Navy.
It’s before everyone how PM Modi and his party have been milking Surgical Strike for political mileage. But the first and the only woman Prime Minister of India had dismembered Pakistan and changed the map of the subcontinent. She never turned it into an election tamasha or used jingoism for political mileage.
Built by ISRO, the first Indian satellite was launched in 1975. Indira herself named it after the prominent Indian astronomer and mathematician of the 5th century, Aryabhatta.
Satellite Instructional Television Experiment was conducted in 1975 to make available informational TV programmes to rural India.
In 1976, minimum age for marriage was raised to 21 years for men and 18 year for women. However, Narendra Modi had already got married by that time.
For the promotion of astronomy education, the Nehru Planetarium was inaugurated in New Delhi on the grounds of the Teen Murti Bhavan in 1977.
In a major achievement in healthcare sector, Small Pox was eradicated in 1980. India launched its first telecom satellite APPLE in 1981.
Giving major boost to farm sector, National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development was set up in 1982.
In a significant geo-political achievement, the first Indian expedition to Antarctica, the Indian Antarctic Programme, landed on the ice continent on January 9, 1982. Next year, Dakshin Gangotri base was constructed.
In 1984, Rakesh Sharma became the first Indian to go to space.
And in a big bang reform in banking sector, Indira Gandhi nationalised 14 banks in 1969 and then another six in 1980. Bank nationalisation saw a huge expansion of branches into the hinterland drawing money into the banking system. It also paved the way for schemes like Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana that PM Modi launched in August 2014.
Rajiv Gandhi. Term: October 31, 1984 to December 2, 1989
The Rajiv Gandhi era saw India’s modernisation, economic liberalisation, democratic decentralisation and evolution of cooperative federalism and massive technological advancement.
In his words, “India having missed the Industrial Revolution cannot afford to miss the Computer Revolution.”
In 1985, India became the seventh country in the world to possess a fast breeder nuclear reactor.
In 1986, Rajiv Gandhi announced a national education policy to modernise and expand higher education programmes across India. Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalayas were established across the country. In 1988, India launched Asia’s first remote sensing satellite IRS-1A.
Rajiv Gandhi, along with his Public Information Infrastructure and Innovations Advisor Sam Pitroda, is credited with bringing in telecommunications boom to India. However, a head start in software exports was brought in through a policy introduced by his mother weeks before her assassination.
Under his government, in 1986, the Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited and Videsh Sanchar Network Limited were set up.
His government presented the 52nd Amendment to the Constitution in 1985 for anti defection laws to prevent horse trading in Parliament.
His visit to China in 1988 broke ice in bilateral relations which were deep frozen for 26 years.
Steps taken by him gave Panchayati Raj system in India a major boost. Decentralisation of power that became guiding spirit behind the enactment of 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act in 1991 accorded constitutional status to the Panchayati Raj Institutions.
PV Narasimha Rao. Term: June 21, 1991 to May 16, 1996
Hailed as the Father of Indian Economic Reforms, he appointed Dr Manmohan Singh as his Finance Minister to usher historic economic transition through liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation in the country and saved the country from economic collapse.
He introduced SEBI Act of 1992 and started the National Stock Exchange as a computer-based trading system. The 1998 Pokhran Nuclear tests could not have taken place but for Rao who had energised the nuclear security and ballistic missiles programme during his tenure.
Kerala became the first state to achieve total literacy under his rule.
After the 1993 Bombay bombing, he personally visited the city. Having seen evidence of Pakistani involvement, he ordered the intelligence community to invite the intelligence agencies of the US, UK and other west European countries to send their counter-terrorism experts to Bombay to examine the facts for themselves. He did not invite a Pakistani team as PM Modi did by inviting a Pakistani team to Pathankot Air Force Base in connection with probe into the January 2, 2016 terror attack targeting the strategic installation.
In 1993, the International Monetary Fund ranked India as 6th largest economy in the world. In 1995, India got the membership of the World Trade Organisation.
VSNL launched internet services for people in the same year. What would have happened to the political fortunes of Narendra Modi, had there been no internet. Many political observers believe that he became Prime Minister riding social media wave.
For want of internet and social media, PM Modi would never have become the third most followed person on Twitter globally and No. 1 world leader on both Facebook and Instagram. Ironically, Congress stalwarts remain all-time favourite targets of the BJP’s cyber warriors.
Dr. Manmohan Singh. Term: May 22, 2004 to May 26, 2014
India’s economy grew in double digits twice during the United Progressive Alliance government under his stewardship. It was 10.23 per cent in 2007-08 and 10.78 per cent in 2010-11, according to back series calculations by a committee appointed by the National Statistical Commission.
It was under his stewardship that the successful launch of the Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft, India's first unmanned scientific mission to the moon, became a milestone in India's space programme. Subsequently, his government gave the nod to Chandrayaan-II and made first formal announcement of the country’s Mars mission, another huge step in the area of science and technology.
While the BJP had opposed the Indo-US nuclear deal tooth and nail but when Narendra Modi became PM, he hailed the “landmark” civil nuclear deal between the world’s largest and oldest democracies.
Under PM Singh, Nathula Pass, closed since the Sino-Indian War, was reopened for trade after 44 years.
The National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, 2005, later renamed as the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, was introduced, aiming to guarantee the “right to work” to address rural distress.
Even though Prime Minister Modi in 2015 describe the flagship job guarantee programme as a “living monument” of the failure of the previous UPA regime, yet it figured majorly in Arun Jaitley’s Budget as he gave it one of its biggest allocations ever this year.
In 2007, Indian space scientists have successfully brought back to earth an orbiting satellite in the first of its kind mission aimed at demonstrating spacecraft recovery technology capability.
The same year, Pratibha Patil was sworn in as India's first woman President of the country. In June 2009, Meira Kumar made history in the Lok Sabha. She was unanimously elected its Speaker and became the first woman to occupy one of the highest constitutional posts.
Punita Arora became the first woman Lieutenant General of Indian Armed Forces.
India set a world record by successfully sending 10 satellites into orbit in a single launch in 2008. INS Arihant was launched on July 26, 2009 by the then PM Singh and in August 2013, the submarine’s atomic reactor was activated.
In the face of scathing criticism from the BJP, the government launched the 2011 biometric Census, the largest in the world. In the same year, Vivek Express replaced Himsagar Express (Jammu Tawi to Kanyakumari) as India’s longest train service.
His government brought several other progressive legislations like Right to Information 2005, Right to Education Act, 2009, National Food Security Act, 2013.
Under his government, India launched its first Intercontinental Ballistic Missile, Agni V, in 2012. Next year, INS Vikrant, the first aircraft carrier built in India was launched. With the launch of Mars Orbiter Mission, Mangalyaan, India became the first nation to reach Mars orbit in its first attempt in 2013.
Significantly, in 2014, World Health Organisation declared India Polio free.
Cut to May 26, 2014. A self-proclaimed “tea vendor” was sworn in as 15th Prime Minister of the country. How did this miracle happen? If the previous governments had not preserved and protected democracy, would it have been possible?
Modi must raise his head and look around at India’s immediate neighbouring countries such as Pakistan, China, Bhutan, Nepal, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Maldives and even beyond. Democracy could not take root in these countries as deep as it has taken in India. This is arguably the biggest feat that India has achieved in the past “70” years.
Here is a slideshow of images of the Congress Prime Ministers:
(These are just glimpses of Congress prime ministers’ contributions towards nation building as accommodating all is not possible for the paucity of space)