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Not By Reason Alone

February 24, 2010

It was India’s Republic Day about a month ago on 26th Jan and while this is a public holiday in India, this is not a cultural or religious festival. For symbolic reasons, there are often events held at the Indian High Commission and the media reminds us through marketing gimmicks and editorials that we are a lucky nation to have a constitutional rights as we do and that we are a united nation beyond the regional, linguistic, religious and other differences – a realization that seems to dawn upon the country only twice per year, on Independence Day & Republic Day, after which we go back to our ways of parochial and coalition politics. Alright, that might have been an excessively caustic and cynical take on the occasion, I admit.

In a clever case of good timing, Nand Kishore Singh launched his second book, Not By Reason Alone, on India’s Republic Day, at an LSE Public Event which was packed with students and professionals skiving from work (the session started at 4pm on a work day!). On the panel of eminent personalities were Dr Montek Ahluwalia, Mukesh Ambani, Professor Lord Desai, Shekhar Gupta, Ed Luce, Lord Patten, and Professor Lord Stern, apart from NK Singh himself, of course. In attendance also, were personalities such as Shobhana Bhartia (who opened the discussion), and several other VIP’s. Indeed, what desi event is complete without a truck-load of them?

The event was moderated by Barkha Dutt – any use of ‘moderate’ in the same sentence as her seems like an irony in itself – and, as can be expected, she constantly tried to badger and rile the panelists into giving strong reactionary views on matters large and small. A few snide (but astute) comments were made by a couple of panelists on her tendency to stir up news-worthy stuff where there might be none. All in all, the panelists were mature in their stance and did not launch into pointless diatribes. If anything, the pleasantness of the entire affair was almost diabetes-inducing. The ‘India Shining’ pride was erring on the side of over-optimism and there were only references to all the good that has taken place in India in recent past and little acknowledgement of how much further we have to go before we can deem ourselves to be anywhere in the league of a developed and humane nation.

Most of the Q&As were pre-selected and left no room for hard, squirm-worthy questions. One of the two impromptu questions asked about the corruption levels in Bihar and in a classic case of ‘look-at-the-bright-side’, NK Singh pointed again towards the high levels of growth in the state, eluding completely the original question. The other question was asked by a moron who wanted his 2mins of lime-light and chose to ask a lame question, the answer to which was self-evident to everyone in attendance and elicited a collective groan from the audience.

All in all, it was a nice event with a high ‘feel good’ factor but I suspect I was not the only one who walked out of the auditorium feeling like there needed to be more of an ‘action plan’ and less idealistic rhetoric for things to get off the ground in India, as several people on- and off-stage aspire for them to. Perhaps, an acknowledgement of the fact that India had chanced upon its dizzy growth due to many more factors than just astute planning would create some room for honest evaluation of the work that needs to be done. Not to discount the massive benefit from economic liberalization policies put in place by the Chidambaran-Manmohan camp, but the happy coincidence of a young demographic, skilled IT force during the run up to Y2K, certain capitalistic models which allowed for outsourcing of work and such proved to be a few of the key factors which has brought India to where it is now. Ours was hardly a case of a structured plan for success like in Singapore or Dubai, and admitting this would be the first step to laying down coherent frameworks and plans for times ahead.

This event was telecast live and covered and referred to extensively by the Indian media, especially for the comment Ambani made about Mumbai belonging to everyone and the expected lambasting by Shiv Sena.

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