Nehruvian Consensus Can’t be the Only Idea of India
The India Ideas Conclave held in Goa in December 2014 showcased how the right wing’s equal and strong claim to narrating the country’s past, shaping its present and charting a path for its future
The phrase “Idea of India” was first used by Rabindranath Tagore in a letter to CF Andrews in 1921, writing that “the idea of India is against the intense consciousness of the separateness of one’s own people from others, which inevitably leads to ceaseless conflicts”. He was talking about India’s relation with the world and her role in helping individuals attain salvation.
However, since Sunil Khilani wrote a book by the same title, the phrase “Idea of India” has become synonymous with “Nehruvian idea of India” and over the last decade, the phrase has been quoted out of context and repeatedly used to contest the rise of Narendra Modi in national politics. Incidentally, the same ‘against Idea of India’ boilerplate arguments were used when the first NDA government under Atal Bihari Vajpayee was formed (Notice the use of the singular “Idea” in the phrase to suggest that any other alternative except the one propounded by the ruling Congress was anti-national).
At this watershed moment in independent India’s history when the first non-Congress government has absolute majority in the Lower House, time has come to reimagine the idea of India and free it from the shackles of ‘the Nehruvian consensus’. The India Ideas Conclave held in Goa 19-21 December in collaboration with the state government, was the first step towards creating the intellectual infrastructure for right-wing thinkers to engage on important public policy issues and create space for an alternative narrative of the India Story free from the prejudices of the left intelligentsia. The timing was perfect because it coincided with the results of the Jammu & Kashmir election that saw the BJP’s strongest ever performance in the state with a Muslim majority. A BJP-led government in the state will go a long way towards demolishing the myth that the party is against minorities — a key pillar of the “Idea of India” propaganda.
The India Ideas Conclave identified Deen Dayal Upadhyaya’s philosophy of integral humanism as the key theme. The conclave held a series of dynamic panel discussions and seminars on various sub-themes, punctuated with keynote lectures by thought leaders from around the world. The event brought together 70 thinkers, ministers and politicians from across the world, to address a select group of over 400 participants include eminent academics, global CEOs, renowned scientists, technologists, senior political thinkers and practitioners and media luminaries. Over two days, there was a free flow of intellectual discussion on economics, governance, ideas of development, spirituality and dialogue between civilisations.
Representing the Union government were senior ministers Manohar Parrikar, Suresh Prabhu, Sushma Swaraj, Nirmala Seetharaman, Piyush Goyal, and Jayant Sinha. Spiritual leader Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, who was also the chairman of the organising committee, gave the opening keynote which set the tone for the entire conference. He focussed on the need to revisit and learn from ancient India’s wisdom on the path to the country’s transformation.
One of the most intense panel discussions was moderated by Suresh Prabhu. It saw four heavyweights — Arvind Panagriya, Lord Meghnad Desai, Subramanian Swamy and Vallabh Bhansali — discuss the topic “Reforms for the Welfare of the Last Man”. Suggestions ranged from using thorium to generate nuclear power to creating a regulatory environment that encourages start-ups in India. The discussion on nature of economic reforms was later continued in a panel headed by Jayant Sinha on innovation and entrepreneurship in which the participants highlighted the need to drastically improve the ease of doing business in India.
Another session on energy security that included Minister of State with Independent Charge for Power, Coal and New & Renewable Energy Goyal and Sumant Sinha shared ideas on the reforms needed for the growth of power sector and the role of non-renewable sources of energy especially solar power in providing energy security for India. Panel discussions on “Gender Imperative” and “New Politics and New Media” completed the set of debates analysing domestic issues facing contemporary India. Both the panels concluded that the general elections of 2014 had demolished several long-standing assumptions about Indian society and polity and provided a unique opportunity to reshape the contours of the debate on feminism in India and the role of media in a democracy.
Apart from economic reforms needed for material prosperity of the country, the other major idea discussed in the conference was the central importance of our civilisation-linked heritage in restoring the spiritual well-being of the nation. In a session titled “From the Past to the Present & Future”, Amish Tripathi debunked the Aryan Invasion theory and David Frawley suggested the creation of a new ‘rishi order’ (order of sages) for the modern world in which the rishi would use the tools of technology for a higher idealism and self-transcendence.
Similar panel discussions were organised on the topics “Where East Meets West” and “Learning to Lead” in which Professor Dinesh Singh spoke about the high quality of mathematics in ancient India. The session “Religion — Tolerance and Terror’ saw a frank discussion on the misuse of religious precepts by terrorist organisations around the world and how to prevent the extremists from monopolising the interpretation of religious texts. In another plenary on “Culture & Nation”, Dr Lokesh Chandra (President of ICCR) emphasised the idea that culture is the core and civilisation is the shell.
The final set of discussions revolved around India’s position in the global order with panel topics such as “Democracy in 21st century”, “World for India” and “Enduring Peace in South Asia”. These discussions witnessed active participation of several diplomats and foreign delegates including former Turkish Presidential candidate and Secretary General of OIC Ekmeleddin Mehmet İhsanoğlu, Rudolphus Franciscus Marie ‘Ruud’ Lubbers (former Prime Minister, Netherlands), Lobsang Sangay (Sikyong, Central Tibetan Administration, Dharamshala), Dr Abdelsalam al-Majali (former Prime Minister, Jordan) and Alojz ‘Lojze’ Peterle (former Prime Minister, Slovenia) among other luminaries. Sangay’s speech stood out for his emphasis that solving the Tibet issue was crucial to maintaining enduring peace in south Asia.
The conference was the first platform where the country’s social right and economic right came together to brainstorm an alternative “Idea of India”, which synthesised useful suggestions from all sources — India’s ancient past, our neighbours, international best practises in human development, intellectuals, domain experts and our spiritual gurus — to create a uniquely Indian worldview that is free from the intellectual stranglehold of the exclusively Western ideas of the country’s leftwing intellectuals and Marxist historians. This conclave was just the first edition of what promises to be an annual event to create a credible and vibrant centre-right ecosystem.