When I was invited to participate at the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration on April 13 and 14, I felt really upbeat about meeting the young people who had passed one of the toughest exams in India and would be the administrators of 21st century India.
In just two days, over several books and stimulating discussions, it became clear that these young people were idealistic and dedicated and eager to learn more from us, the older generation. Whether it was literature or the economy or security concerns or India at 70, they listened, they questioned and debated.
Lord Meghnad Desai spoke succinctly about how the very idea of the Right Wing has been propagated by the Left Wing. He could not have said it better. In a panel on Populism, Democracy and Rule of Law, he was candid about the past problems in Indian democracy such as the fascination with a family name.
His new book, The Raisina Model, which he spoke to me about, explores democracy in India and how it was in 1989 that India got its own Raisina Model of democracy from the Westminster one that it was following. The glue of India was democracy more than secularism. Desai was particularly critical of the Nehruvian model of state- led Licence Raj and the fact that it did not provide enough jobs and eradicate poverty.
General Ian Cardozo, a veteran who lost a leg in the 1971 war, spoke of how soldiers in the Indian Army were more motivated than the Pakistani Army because their officers led from the front and saw to the welfare of their men. This is not the case with the Pakistani Army. He told the IAS interns that they should never let go of their idealism and let power corrupt them. It was important to have a sense of humility when serving the people.
Sanjeev Sanyal, the author of The Land of Seven Rivers and Ocean of Churn that describes an ancient Indian civilisation where trade and culture flourished, and a time when Indian thought, religion and kingdoms were spread across South-east Asia, had his audience riveted by details of Hindu dynasties outside India. Something our history books don’t teach us. On another panel on Indian economy, he said the first 45 years of independent India were an absolute disaster because the Indian economy then grew by only two to three per cent per annum. He blamed this on the socialist model and the centralised Five-Year Plans.
One of the best and most popular events of the two-day Lit Fest featured Usha Uthup who sang in the evening and had the audience enthralled by her music and singing in 23 different languages! By the end, the panellists as well the IAS interns and professors were dancing in the aisle and singing along with her. I would consider her one of the top performers in India today. The way she connects instantly with her audience, no matter who they are, is magical.
Usha was very much a part of the literary sessions. When the Partition of India came up and the distress of the Punjabis was being discussed, she asked, “Why do we never discuss how much the Sindhis were affected? They don’t even have a patch of India they can call their own!” The truth of this is undeniable. True, the largest number of people crossed the border in Punjab, but the loss to the Sindhi community of an Indian homeland to call their own is something that hardly comes up.
The Academy is in Mussoorie, and from the well-manicured lawns one gets a glimpse of the mighty Himalayan range of Uttarkhand. It is a stunningly beautiful place and very well-maintained. Kudos to Upma Chaudhary, the Director of the Academy, who seems to have a hands-on approach and dedication to aesthetics, cleanliness and super efficiency.
My IAS intern assistant, Riya Kejriwal, an extremely bright and helpful young lady, made sure that I was taken care of and guided around the campus. She told me about the time Prime Minister Narendra Modi had visited their academy over two days and they interacted with him personally in batches of 20 interns at a time.
It had clearly meant a lot to them. The panellists came away with a sense of being part of a very special event. We were able to interact closely with the young people of India and get to know more about their opinions, their dreams and their sense of what they wanted India to achieve.