Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Indian Right Wing is brimming with Ideas, Aatish Taseer however needs new Ideas

The following article was written for MyInd Makers. Pasting it here for reference: 

Tavleen Singh was one of the speakers invited to share her views on the “Nature of Nationalist Narrative”, in one of the panel discussions at the recently concluded India Ideas conclave in Goa. She ended her short speech with something like this – ‘We do not want the kind of nationalism that killed Rohith Vemula’. The audience let out a big gasp. I was shocked too – Is that actually Tavleen Singh who is making a factually inaccurate statement like this? Later she reasserted that ‘Rohith Vemula committed suicide because a letter was written to the HRD ministry that he was anti-national’. This time, the audience shouted a big NO. Some were even aghast that she is making such a nonsensical statement. What I heard was just so unbelievable that I was tempted to walk up to the stage and read out salient points of these two articles, where a lot of facts about Rohith Vemula’s suicide were presented.
Columnist Aatish Taseer wrote a devastating column in New York times yesterday – “Does India’s Right Wing have any ideas” while discussing this very conclave. I don’t know how much of the above event impacted his understanding of what happened at the conclave, but his article has missed out on so many actual ideas that were discussed at the conclave that I can’t help but ask myself if he and I were really present at the same event.
There was a session on “Defense at 70” where Boeing India's President, Dr. Pratyush Kumar was one of the speakers. He delivered an excellent presentation that explained the current procurement process and how private players and PSUs can come together to make it even more robust. He also talked about how their Nagpur plant is playing a key role in the Make in India initiative and much more. A few of us tweeted, as he spoke. Members of the audience asked him about the role of Robotics and also about their experience with the Nagpur plant. For many in the audience, it was a learning experience that we will never forget. Gen. V.P. Malik was another distinguished speaker, who again bought to the fore the problems faced by the soldier behind the gun, aptly highlighting the apathy of successive governments.
Then there was a session on “Governance at 70”. I thought this will be a very generic and rhetorical session where speakers will bore us with some lofty and abstract talk. The next 90 minutes however, turned out to be yet another learning experience for the audience. Himanta Biswa Sarma (Minister of Education, Health and Finance, Assam) mentioned that he had read in the papers about an uproar in Karnataka politics, this was regarding some controversy surrounding a 2000 crore rupee steel flyover. He was aghast at that amount, because with 2000 crore rupees, there is a huge list of things he could accomplish in the entire state of Assam for an entire year. He also highlighted how finance ministers of the North East were wary of bringing up their losses due to GST in the council meeting – because their losses were very small compared to others, but were significant for their states.  His point was governance will be a failure if equal parity is not achieved between all states in India.
The Chairman of Prasar Bharati, gave a witty and detailed presentation of Reforms that are needed to be done in the Parliament. The entire deck was showing us what the problem is and how to mitigate it. Jay Panda, the very popular BJD MP from Odisha spoke about the (at times, unreasonable) expectations that people of a constituency have from an MP. It is because of these things, the MP might not get time to focus on actual law making. He also spoke about the privilege motion served on him by the Rajya Sabha, for recommending to amend the powers of the Rajya Sabha. There was a healthy debate between him and Rajeev Chandrashekhar who is also a Member of Parliament in the Rajya Sabha.
And this is not something I am making up now. After the session, I wrote this on twitter – “Fascinating, fascinating session on governance at #IndiaIdeas2016. Became big fans of @PandaJay and @himantabiswa. What clarity!
In a session named “India Global at 70”, Ambassador James Tien who is the “Trade representative of Taiwan to India” regaled us with many stories on how India and Taiwan have evolved their friendship. He also told us how his Hindi has evolved from “acha” to “aapke desh mein rehna mujhe acha lagta hai”!
There was a session on “Education at 70”, where the Vice-Chancellor of JNU was also present and spoke about employability skills of the graduating students. I also spoke to him briefly after the session on this topic, to get a better understanding of where we are failing on that front. Mohandas Pai was more eloquent on the problems being faced and the solutions he is offering at the moment.
A session on “Dissent at 70” set the house on fire. Roopa Ganguly told us how dissent is crushed in today’s West Bengal and how no media dares to highlight this blatant fact. Swapan Dasgupta chaired the session and was amused (as the rest of us were) that people are freely using the word “emergency” to describe some of their grievances.
Shekhar Gupta was also a member on the panel. He waxed eloquently on how all arguments have to be based on facts (One look at his twitter timeline and you will know how much credence he gives to his own statement!). In his speech, he was making some apple to oranges comparison on how he criticizes all governments; members of the audience later questioned him on his selective outrage and disregard to facts.

Vivek Agnihotri  was next to set the house on fire, with an excellent speech (that has now become viral!). This session was important because it needed to be highlighted how the main stream media is playing an active role (perhaps more active than pre-2014) in setting up a blatantly false narrative in our country.
By the way, Aatish Taseer was also a speaker at this session. I didn’t know who he was, so I asked the gentleman sitting next to me. He told me that he is a writer and is also Tavleen Singh’s son. I do not remember anything that he spoke that day. But from what he wrote in New York Times, I gather that he is also one of those who wishes to propagate this false narrative.
There were many other distinguished speakers sharing their ideas and experiences. Sajjad Lone spoke about the unrest in Kashmir;  Arun Poorie spoke about the reforms needed in governance and how he is not happy with the Modi government for failing to unleash enough reforms that a 282 member strong party should do (Little surprise there!). The writer Taslima Nasreen made a poignant speech about her experiences; Arnab Goswami spoke about how he is going to dissent and disrupt the existing Lutyen’s media structure – in his words – “What is that cannot be done from MG Road, Bengaluru that can be done from Noida?”.
A panel discussion on “Evolution, Impact and Role of Social Media” also was hugely popular. The Hindu’s journalist Nistula Hebbar sought to argue that all that is wrong in the main stream media cannot be attributed to her publication – The Hindu, because it is the most awesome paper! I couldn’t get a chance to counter this with facts about The Hindu (online because she blocked me; in the conclave because there were just too many hands raised for questions ).
The Prime Miniter of Tibet, Mr. Lobsang Sangay, the Honorable Sikyong of Tibet, was another find of the season for me. His wit, knowledge and oratorical skills were appreciated by the entire audience. I can go on and on. I can write about the multitude of ideas that were discussed. I can write about the multitude of guests that were invited but suffice it by repeating what Kanchan Gupta told the audience - in the early 90s, petitions were submitted by his fraternity to stop commissioning him and Swapan Dasgupta to write in newspapers. The “Right Wing's" battle with the “establishment” has been a long one, and it will take many more conclaves like this; many more articles like this to be at par. 


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