IT MAY BE TIRED OF LIVING WITH ITS BURDEN OF UNFULFILLED ASPIRATIONS, BUT INDIA CANNOT AFFORD TO LOSE THE WAR ON DESPAIR
India Today Conclave 2014 celebrates the idea of how to win India’s future.
The actor who embodied India’s rage onscreen and the activist who symbolised its outrage on the streets; the icon of the 1970s with the iconoclast of the 2010s. The actor who discovered success by discovering herself and the chief minister who confronted his fears with hard-won fearlessness; the princess and the politician. The Karachi-born writer from Pakistan who finds a new India every time she crosses the border and the London-bred writer from India who went to reclaim half of himself in Pakistan; a chronicler and a cartographer.
Such pretty symmetries, you would say? Not quite. On the eve of a historic election, which is already beset by venomous broadsides and vicious body-shopping, India Today Conclave 2014 was full of jagged edges and rough uppercuts. There was a mining magnate trying to be polite about being halted in his tracks by a deliberately unhelpful government. There was a free market ideologue wondering why the dead hand of the state cannot be buried. There was a professor of economics taking on the government for being asleep at the wheel of growth. There were newly reelected BJP chief ministers who hawked their development agenda and Congress ministers who valiantly talked up a lame duck government’s equally lame record.
The India Today Conclave celebrated the idea of winning. Not the victory of a political party, an ideology, or a person. It celebrated the idea of India, which has to win, no matter who loses in the elections beginning on April 7. The past 10 years of UPA have seen irreversible changes. There has been an average growth of 8 per cent, which has got India accustomed to increasing affluence. There has been an unprecedented empowerment of new social entities, from women to first-time voters. There has been a rise in the decibel level of news and a corresponding decline in the tolerance for corruption in a post-Niira Radia age. And in the vacuum of the little good, and largely bad, has emerged a controversial leader who overshadowed every political debate at the Conclave even in his absence.
The Conclave was the melting pot of these and other new ideas. Not just for this election, but for the next generation. It held a seashell to our ears and asked us to listen to the roar of humanity. It showed us the possibilities of human endurance in the wit of a comedienne with cerebral palsy, the potential of artificial intelligence in a master of robotics, and the limitlessness of liberty in the battle of a whistleblower from the world’s most powerful nation. It also had a foreigner to tell Indians what their biggest embarrassment was—V.S. Naipaul’s pet peeve, defecation in the open for 60 per cent of its population.
In a nation of a million mindsets, it is rare to get agreement on anything. But on a few things there was consensus. India is tired of living with its burden of unfulfilled aspirations. It is weary of forever being on the precipice of a catastrophe. It doesn’t want to sacrifice its freedom at the altar of security. And it wants to choose the kind of society it wants to be. To quote Supreme Court lawyer Harish Salve at the Conclave: Does it have to be a society where everyone lives under the watchful eye of the Big Brother? Where no one will be protected against the midnight knock? Where someone will have the right to eavesdrop on your conversation? Where a dishonest police system can accuse you of terrorism and throw you in jail for 20 years on a confession?
At India Today Conclave 2014, it was resoundingly clear: The world has always been within India’s grasp. All it needs is the will to win it.
(FROM LEFT) RATULPURI, NILADRI KUMAR, RANVEER SINGH AND CHIRAG PASWAN