The Nelson Mandela Centre for Peace and Conflict Resolution, Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI) under the M K Gandhi Chair Lecture Series organized a public lecture on the topic “India: Transitional Puzzles and Pains” by author and editor B.G. Verghese at Dayar-e Mir Taqi Mir on Thursday, April 11, 2013.
Verghese, a senior journalist, discussed a wide range of issues confronting India on various fronts and said that things that worried him included “the feeling of pessimism and gloom”.
Problems that have led to rising anger in the country are slow growth, a fractured democracy, corruption, deprivation, wide-ranging disparity, problem of federalism, a weakened centre, rising communalism, endemic discrimination against Dalits, tribals, minorities and especially Muslims and women. While Gandhi had given stress to fraternity, it is our “lack of interest in fraternity” that has led to problem, said he. Part of the problem that India has is the “reflection of freedoms that we have”. The author believed that democracy cannot succeed overnight. The Western democracy has developed over hundreds and hundreds of years. While speaking about the strong reasons for democracy to flourish, he said that the Preamble of the Constitution was made instrumental for change rather than the “outcome of change” and the whole idea of transforming democracy was put “through elections”.
Verghese, the Ramon Magsaysay award winner and former editor of the Indian Express, emphasized the need to adopt a positive approach and take credit for good things rather than just harping on the negative. China’s development was at the cost of 30 million deaths but “who talks about that?”, asked he and added that the Indian democracy and example was the touchstone for the entire world. He said that the relevance of India was in charting a way for itself and for others. He did not rule out the changes which had occurred due to huge demographic changes in the country and said that India was 1/6th of mankind and therefore “whatever happens here matters everywhere”. He also hinted towards better utilization of the country’s human recourses which could be translated into quality and also talked about the need for creation of jobs for the growing population. The author expressed his angst with the “nostalgia” feeling and said when agriculture does not provide the farmer his livelihood, the poor kisan runs away from the land which offers him nothing.
Verghese urged to “build new infrastructures so that they give new centres” and raised the issue of poor health, education and other public facilities. The author was critical of the growing culture of expensive education controlled by the 5 Star wallas. He came down on the government’s anti-poor policy where thousands of the homeless poor people pay at least 1000 rupees a month to sleep over a space of the size of a Maruti 800, whereas thousands of “SUVs” and expensive cars that occupy larger space are parked free on roads and different market places in the capital.
The former Hindustan Times editor spoke about the need for small and medium enterprises to cater to the growing need for employment and said that this is where the Gandhian model of “small is beautiful” comes. He said that people were migrating to cities not because of development but because of lack of development. He termed “secular” as the “small part” in the larger idea of fraternity which is in the Constitution. He criticized the government for giving subsidy rather than providing facilities for Haj which is the duty of every state. He took exception to politics of language like terming Urdu as a Muslim language. Urdu is a wonderful, rich Indian language, he said.
He talked about the need for regional cooperation and promoting decentralization but not to push federalism to the extremes. He asked to interpret the Gandhian values in modern terms and said that Gandhi was a great teacher and he had seminal ideas which are still worthy of following up but we have “frozen Gandhi in time”.
Prof. Sujit Dutta, who holds the M K Gandhi Chair at the Nelson Mandela Centre coordinated the programme and presented a brief note on Verghese. The lecture was attended by a good number of students and research scholars. Dr. Kaushikee and some other staff of the Nelson Mandela Centre were also present.