Nehru ruled India for close to twenty years after independence. People have faulted him for taking India down a socialist, planned economy path called the License Raj, with most industries nationalized and bureaucrats deciding who produced what. Free market liberalization began when Rajiv Gandhi came to power in 1984, bringing in a new generation of bureaucrats. True market reform was forced on India in 1993 when the country almost ran out of foreign reserves, the Prime Minister today, Manmohan Singh was Finance Minister then. Nehru is now recognized for establishing world class institutions that are now bearing fruit: the armed forces research centers, post secondary educational institutes (Indian Institutes of Technology, Indian Institute of Management, All Indian Institute of Medicine), the Indian Space Research Organization, Central Drug Research Institute and the Bhabha Atomic Research Center .
These were institutions of hard power. India has a rich cultural history that was nearly extinguished during British rule. After independence it began to be revived, patronized by the newly wealthy in India and the Indian Diaspora primarily in the UK and US. There were the classical arts and then there was Bollywood cinema. Practically every India, rich or poor, knows the words to all the popular film songs from movies of their generation. In a country as diverse linguistically and economically as India, Bollywood has been as instrumental in keeping the country together as democratic politics. As I have traveled around the world, in Asia, the middle east, Russia, I have been astonished that people have know all the old time Bollywood stars. This is the projection of India’s soft power.
The political class came to power in a time of Gandhian idealism, with the British relatively peacefully extricated from the subcontinent. The political class quickly grabbed most of the reins of power, nationalizing all major industries in the 1950s and 1960s. This power corrupted the political class, enriching themselves to obscene levels and erecting statues of themselves. Fortunately the entrepreneurial middle class is slowly eclipsing the political class and there is a feeling of inevitable reform of the government’s 40 million employees.
The Partition of India and Pakistan was painful and has been a drag on both countries economies and psyches’ since Independence but India has moved on, remaining a secular democracy driven by a free market economy. Pakistan has remained a feudal state, ruled by a tight political class supported by the military. India is coming to the realization that a stable Pakistan is better for India than a breakup of Pakistan. The middle classes of both countries have similar aspirations; the problem is that in Pakistan the political class is dominant and need the “threat” of India to stay in that position.