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Old ideas for a new India

SASTRA Deemed to be University presented its ‘thought shower for a hot summer’ on the topic ‘New ideas for a new India.’ Disappointingly both new India and New ideas were missing.

The invitation listed SDU – asthana vidwan, S Gurumurthy, distinguished research professor of legal anthropology at SDU, Dr Bibek Debroy, Chairman, Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Committee and Madhu Kishwar, Editor, Manushi. Rajiv Chandrasekhar, Member, Rajya Sabha was a no-show. The joint organiser, The Hindu, fielded publisher N Ravi as the moderator.
The networking tea and the Music Academy attracted good attendance on a Saturday evening. The Chennai middle-class, over-fed with agitations of some kind or the other, was expectant to hear something different and new.
I have been admiring Dean-SDU, S Vaidhyasubramaniam, for his initiatives and interest in presenting leaders from different sectors on pressing economic, legal and social issues. Disappointingly, the recent event provided a damp squib. The speakers trod the beaten path conveniently pointing to India’s ideas-rich past with little for the
new India.

Such rhetoric flourish!

Scholar on the itihaas Bibek Debroy made his familiar references to Ramayana and rambled on the preamble to the constitution, to its
basic structure that was ‘saved by the majority ruling by a single judge’. He asked in his stentorian voice with a rhetoric flourish: “is the constitution something cast in stone?” On the new idea, this member of the Niti Aayog left it to Lord Sri Ram.
Madhu Kishwar again delved deep into history on how India spearheaded gender equality. She went even far behind to the times of Rig Veda “which mentioned 30 women scholars. While the western women were writing with ‘hidden’ identities even a century ago, how women in Europe fought for ‘right to vote,’ it came without an ugly fight for Indian women,” she cooed. While these are matters of some pride, she was silent on the poor participation of women in Indian workforce, of a little over 20 per cent against 40 per cent globally, nor to the daily dose of atrocities against women highlighted by media.
Gurumurthy is an over-worked man, especially after his taking charge as Editor-Thuglak, 16 months ago. The myriad consultations and advisories, travels and columns for English newspapers, TV interviews and public addresses, should have left him little time to prepare for another topic. So he repeated his familiar rhetoric on India leading the world economy in the 10th to 14th centuries; of her having a better way of living in the 16th and 17th centuries compared to now, et al. And there were the usual media and intellect baiting: “there is an India undiscovered by intellectuals. Unless you know that India what is the idea you will generate for that India?” So no new ideas, please. Om Shanti. Shanti. Shanti.

The new Newtonian

If someone thought that at least the moderator would remember the topic, there was more disappointment. Ravi was content to speak about the prowess of Indians in several fields: “we can justifiably and take pride of the high growth rates in the recent period that has made Indian economy third or fourth largest in terms of per capita income, literacy and life expectancy,” he said.
So the lesson one learned from the learned speakers was on the law of conservation of ideas. Perhaps one can have a new Newtonian definition that ideas can neither be created nor destroyed, that these are aplenty in the past, that it has limited value for time or context.
Such a beautiful event deserved much more extensive publicity not provided in the news columns of even the joint sponsor: The Hindu was content to present a short, quick scrappy report in the city edition of the next day. The resource-full SDU splashed a full page colour advertisement a few days later on the ‘new ideas.’ I am still struggling to find one.- SV

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