January 23, 2018

Participating at wef’s session on ‘Post-Establishment Politics?’ in Davos, Switzerland

Q: Minister, you come from a government that has a very sort of nationalist current to its politics, and at the same time, at least if I perceive it correctly, it’s not rejectionist of international institutions. And, in fact, in some sense is aspirational. India wants to be a part of these institutions. So, two things that are often seen as in opposition in your government that you seem to be trying to reconcile the two?

A: Not at all. In fact, if you look at Indian history, traditionally – and I can go back 5000 years – and today the honourable Prime Minister spoke about it at the plenary. The traditional Indian culture has been very inclusive. It believes that the world is one family, in Sanskrit it’s called Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam. Traditionally, India always believed in an interconnected world, and the basic DNA of an Indian for centuries has been one where he believes that I should respect the rest of the world and so should the rest of the world respect India.

Of course, then we have had years and years of subjugation, the Mughals came in, the British came in. But post independence, if you see the Indian history, it’s been one where we have engaged very well with the rest of the world, initially in the non-aligned movement. After that, post liberalisation, the economy and politics have almost dovetailed and as India opened up its economy, I think diplomacy centered around economics.

And this government today, we have been in government for three and a half years. It’s a government that came in on the back of, as she rightly said, huge aspirations of the people, against corruption, against the old order, the established order, against dynastic politics. And while a lot of the western media, particularly in the United States, has used the word nationalist or Hindu right wing, the reality is this is one government which has never ever differentiated between regions or people.

The essence of this government in Hindi is ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas.’ We take everybody along and we believe the development should be holistic for everybody. And in that sense, I think there is no contradiction in our huge outreach to the rest of the world. Prime Minister Modi today has become quite a bit of a popular leader when it comes to engaging with leaders in the G20, leaders in the UN, almost on every fora. In Paris, during the COP21, he became a central figure around which the final agreement took place. And I think he genuinely believes that this kind of engagement with the rest of the world will be both good for India and India will be able to also contribute to a better world in the future.

Q: If he is right that’s suggestive we are dealing with a problem that’s not gonna be (inaudible), but that’s going to be deeply rooted in our politics for decades to come. Is he right?

A: Well, I think he’s raised a very valid point. With the advent of technology, whether it’s 3D manufacturing, it’s artificial intelligence, the old economic order is in a state of churn, it’s getting disrupted. What we in business would have otherwise called it’s a volatile world, it’s an uncertain world. It’s a very complex situation that we are going through. And there is a lot of ambiguity about what’s going to happen in the future. The youth are uncertain. There are lot of uncertainties about personal security. Some religious groups have started taking centre stage.

Now in this situation, because of this economic uncertainty, I think that impact is being felt on politics also. Brexit in a way was a result of that uncertainty is economic progress across the country or is it centered around London and its thereabouts. In America, the American pride about whether America is now equally powerful and strong as it used to be, or have other countries taken over. So, it was about getting the American pride back in which probably helped Trump get the attention of the people.

So, in that sense, I think across the world the youth today in a 24/7 connected world, breaking news, Politico coming out with very-very new dimensions to what’s happening across the world. Sometimes, the news may not always be the whole truth also. It may be derived news. It may be implicit conjectures being made. And in this interconnected world, actions lead to immediate reactions, there’s hardly any time to verify. Social media outreach has just gone beyond imagination, so whatever we are saying here it could lead to a huge disconnect somewhere in the world, somebody may misunderstand a small statement made here and lead to chaos in some part of the world. And in this kind of a situation, I think political philosophies; the established political philosophies are going to certainly see change.

A: I personally think we are overstating the problem. He certainly will have an impact on the future of the American people, the way the American businesses will work. But, for example, when it comes to, let’s say the Paris Accord, when 194 nations have decided to move forward – I know it’s a powerful nation, I know it’s a large nation. But I don’t think we need to overstate or overhype one person’s individual fancy. Also, it’s a 4-year term; you never know what may happen. He may get re-elected for all you know if the economy does very well and the people feel he is given them the great dream, the American dream.

But I think irrespective when it comes to the challenges that the world is facing, be it terrorism, be it climate change, be it the economic disparities amongst people of the world. You have a set of people who are right up there and you have billions of people living in poverty. I think these are shared concerns of the whole world. These are concerns which are causing a lot of fracture in the world.

After all, all this migration, the refugee problem, the religious problems we are facing in large parts of… some parts of Europe, some parts of Asia, Africa. All of these can be handled when the collective wisdom of the whole world tackles these issues, forums like the World Economic Forum or platforms like this help the whole world engage and come up with a, I think a possible agenda on which we can all counter the negativity of one person’s backing out of WTO or backing out of Paris.

A: I think I am missing one point in this whole conversation. We are forgetting that the people are smart. People know what’s good for them. And when they go out, they do vote, there could be a smart set of people who may be misguided occasionally. But, by and large, my own sense is, and after 30-35 years of public life, I can clearly see that people know what’s good for them. They know what’s bad for them against which they are voting if it’s an anti-incumbency vote. And we in India, for example, have an election every 3 or 4 or 6 months, some state within the Union is getting its Assembly or its local body elections, the national election takes place every 5 years. Then there are very local body elections at the village level or at the small town level, and it gives people a chance to reiterate their thoughts, their demands and also in some sense to give a leg up to what’s happening in the country.

So, in that sense, I think in this whole conversation while it’s very easy for all of us to pontificate about what happened was right or wrong, we are forgetting that it’s the might of the people and the right of the people to choose what they want to do.

A: Well, I personally think people know best. We in India have a very diverse set of people living in different parts of the country – many of them media-dark areas. They don’t even get a newspaper, forget internet or television, many of them uneducated – large numbers of people who may have had very rudimentary education, may not be very well-versed with the ways of the world. But election after election, we have seen them take radical decisions and collective decisions, so we had a serious problem of an emergency imposed on the country – 1975-77, across the country people voted the government out, and the new government that came in when it didn’t deliver within two and a half years, they threw that government out and got the first government back in.

There were huge corruption scandals in the country. The people across the country uniformly fought against that and voted a new government in. So, I think people are wise, people understand what’s good for them. They are aspiring for a lot, aspiring for a better quality of life, and we should trust the voter’s judgment.



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