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About This Special Issue

Published : Aug 09, 1997 00:00 IST

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THIS Special Issue of Frontline is not meant to add to any hype or sentimentalisation about what fifty years of Independence signify in the life of India. India is, after all, an ancient and resilient civilisation whose definitions, identities, territorial boundaries and fortunes have varied tremendously over history and which has been through a great deal. The First Fifty Years did not start out with the intention of being either upbeat or downbeat, that is, 'positive' or 'negative' in any preconceived way.

This Special Issue is not about the freedom struggle. Nor does it seek to be a comprehensive review of events in India following Independence. There are many things related to the experience of winning Independence and consolidating it that are not touched upon here.

Frontline invited Indians of eminence to write about developments over the last fifty years in the fields in which they have made distinguished contributions. Naturally, most of those approached were Indian nationals who lived and worked in India. But "Indians" we understood to be a broad term encompassing persons of Indian origin even if not of Indian nationality (Salman Rushdie, Aijaz Ahmad) and persons of non-Indian origin who have made India their home (Laurie Baker). Without contributions from these two categories, our Special Issue would have been less representative and poorer. Of the latter category, the most conspicuous omission was Mother Teresa; although we were tempted to try and interview her, we decided not to trouble the Mother considering the state of her health. Likewise, the schedule and timing of the presidential elections did not make it possible for us to get a written contribution or interview from India's new President, K.R. Narayanan, a distinguished intellectual and public figure whose social origins as much as ascent, against the odds, to the highest office in the land in the fiftieth year of Independence tell their own poignant story.

Our contributors were carefully chosen, with objective criteria guiding the choice. If our original choice was for some reason unable to contribute, we very rarely resorted to substitution. The list had several persons who, in orientation and approach, were close to our editorial thinking; it also included those who offered a different, or even contrary, judgment or perspective.

The contributions were to be short and accessible; they were to offer a sense, an appraisal or perhaps just an impression of the qualitative; the contributors were invited to look at processes and trends rather than events; but the scope of the piece was essentially left to each contributor to decide.

We believe readers will agree that the response from some of the most distinguished Indians anyone can think of has been insightful, rich, diverse and truly rewarding. Although most of the articles are short, the lengths do vary. In form too there is a lack of uniformity: there are written contributions, contributions that are essentially 'as told to' an interviewer or interlocutor, and contributions that respond to specific questions.

This Special Issue covers politics from different parts of the ideological spectrum; economics; history; foreign policy; agriculture; industry; defence; the judiciary; the civil service; the press; nuclear energy; space; medicine; social change; literature; art; music; theatre; film; architecture; the Common Man (as seen through a cartoonist's eye); and publishing. It looks at mass deprivation and poverty over fifty years - the defining realities of India - choosing in fact to highlight on the Cover this central failure of independent India, in terms of what India's first and indisputably greatest Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, defined in the most important speech of his life as "the service of India".

What is not covered in this Special Issue includes the pure sciences; education; sports; the management movement; infrastructure; public health; radio and television; and so on. Subsequent issues of Frontline in this golden jubilee year will run articles on these areas. We also have in mind a series on how the common people of India have fared: this will feature voices which are rarely heard in journalism.

The photographs in this issue are drawn from a variety of sources, notable among them being the archives of The Hindu, the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library and the T.T.K. Memorial Library. We believe this visual material to be unusual and even historic, contributing independent value to this issue.

This Special Issue on The First Fifty Years is essentially the brainchild of Deputy Editor V.K. Ramachandran. But team work has been decisive: Frontline's editorial desk, artists and picture library staff have, over several weeks, planned for and shaped this offering, adding real value to its content. Our special thanks go to our distinguished contributors who live in various parts of India and abroad. Their collective response, which has met a fairly demanding deadline, shows this theme has touched a sympathetic and powerful chord.

N. Ram Editor, Frontline

(This story was published in the print edition of Frontline magazine dated Aug 09, 1997.)

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