FROM THE EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
As we stand at the cusp of the next General Elections, it is once again time to celebrate the qualities that make democracy the most vibrant political system in the world. These qualities are freedom of speech and expression, and the ability of leaders with different ideologies to debate in full public view. Over the last 13 years, the India Today Conclave has provided a platform for the free and fair exchange of ideas between social thinkers, intellectuals and politicians you would not normally find on the same stage. The Conclave has emerged as the premier festival of thoughts, ideas and solutions in this part of the world. It has become a forum that encourages dialogue, seeks answers from those in power, and questions those who are promising change.
The country has been in a state of suspended animation for too long. My sense is that there is a deep yearning amongst the people of India to realise its immense potential. Their aspirations are straining at the leash. They want more capital, more energy, more education, more opportunity, transparent and corruption-free governance, and above all, decisive and honest leadership. With elections round the corner and with all this on the minds of everyone, quite appropriately, we chose Winning as the overarching theme of the 13th India Today Conclave.
Over two days, the Conclave hosted 49 speakers including internationally renowned scientists, activists, economists, entrepreneurs, industrialists, intellectuals, actors and authors. The programme featured 16 top politicians from across regions and from all major parties. Inevitably, just as in the electoral campaign, the political discussions centred around Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi. Is Gujarat’s economic progress for real? Can its model of development work across India? Can Modi be absolved of the 2002 riots? How democratic will he be? These are some of the main questions that were hotly debated in the political sessions.
Every year, there are what I call ‘Conclave Moments’. One came with our gala dinner speaker Arvind Kejriwal, the instant political phenomenon and leader of AAP. He had spent a good hour fulminating against Modi and Congress. During the audience Q&A, a guest got up and said that even if she accepted that the two other parties were no good, would Kejriwal be willing to say he’d be prime minister if she voted for his party? A flummoxed Kejriwal, much to my surprise, said after much prodding: “There are 121 crore people in India, we will have a leader… I am not in the PM race.” Not exactly an answer to get you votes.
Besides politics, the Conclave always has a dose of India’s other passion: Bollywood. This year had its crème de la crème. The Conclave featured the legendary actor Amitabh Bachchan, the hit-producing hero Salman Khan, and showcased woman power in the form of the blockbuster express Deepika Padukone and the supremely talented Kalki Koechlin. The Conclave created a huge buzz in the virtual world by registering 500 million Twitter impressions with the hashtag #Conclave14.
But it was Salman and a foreigner who created another ‘Conclave Moment’. We had a session on Temples vs Toilets for which we had invited Jack Sim, an ebullient Singaporean who is president of the World Toilet Organisation. He has made it his life’s mission to improve sanitation by building toilets in homes. I felt ashamed that a foreigner had to remind us that 60 per cent Indians defecate in the open. At the end of Salman’s session, a spontaneous effort to raise money for toilets ended with him offering to donate money for 100 toilets and raising money for 600 more from the audience. A good precedent of attaching a cause to the Conclave. Also a grim reminder to whoever comes to power in May that these are the fundamental problems which have to be solved if India is to progress.
OUR APRIL 2013 CONCLAVE COVER