India Today - - INSIDE - By Kaveree Bamzai Con­clave por­traits by Ro­hit Chawla To tweet on this ar­ti­cle, use #Con­clave14

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.


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