The Challenge Of Development


The concept of development gained importance after the second half of the twentieth century. This was the time when a large number of countries in Asia and Africa gained political independence. Most were impoverished and their populations had a low standard of living. Education, health and other facilities were poor. They were often described as ‘underdeveloped’ or ‘developing’. The comparison was with the richer countries in Western Europe and the United States.

In the 1950s and 1960s when most countries of Asia and Africa had achieved independence from colonial rule, the most urgent task in front of them was to solve the pressing problems of poverty, malnourishment, unemployment, illiteracy and the lack of basic amenities that a majority of their populations faced. They argued that the reason why they were backward was because under colonial rule their resources had been used not for their own benefit but for the benefit of their colonial masters. With Independence, they could reorganise their resources in the best possible manner to serve their national interests. Therefore it was now possible for them to formulate such policies which would allow them to overcome their backwardness and move towards achieving the standards of their former colonial masters. This provided the impetus for these countries to undertake development projects.

The concept of development has undergone many changes over the years –

  • In the initial years the focus was on catching up with the west in terms of economic growth and modernisation of societies.
  • Developing countries adopted goals like faster economic growth through industrialisation, modernisation of agriculture and extending and modernising education.
  • It was believed at the time that the state was the only agency capable of initiating this kind of social and economic change.
  • Many countries embarked upon ambitious projects of development, often with the help of loans and aid from the developed countries.

In India a series of Five Year Plans for development were made starting from the 1950s, and these included a number of mega projects such as the Bhakra Nangal Dam, setting up steel plants in different parts of the country, mining, fertilizer production and improving agricultural techniques.

It was hoped that a multi-pronged strategy would have an impact on the economy and significantly increase the wealth of the country. It was also hoped that the emerging prosperity would gradually ‘trickle down’ to the poorest sections of society and help to reduce inequality. A great deal of faith was placed in adopting the latest discoveries of science and state of the art technologies. New educational institutions like the Indian Institutes of Technology were set up and collaboration with advanced countries in order to have access to their knowledge became a top priority. It was believed that the process of development would make the society more modern and forward looking and set it on the path of growth.

However, the model of development adopted by India and other countries has come under a great deal of criticism over the years and this has led to some rethinking about the goals and processes of development today.

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Bibliography : NCERT – Political Theory

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