Interview

'Indian democracy has improved since globalisation' - Meghnad Desai

Indian-born British Economist Lord Meghnad Desai held globalisation 'good', and indicated it had improved Indian democracy, in a candid interview with The Hindu Centre's M.R.Venkatesh, on the sidelines of one of his sessions at the seventh Jaipur Literature Festival.


Ever candid, and unafraid to be irreverent in questioning ideas and received opinions, Desai continues to be happily defiant in his just-released new book, 'Who Wrote the Bhagavad Gita? – A Secular Inquiry into a Sacred Text', described as a humanist critique of the Gita.

A recipient of the Padma Bhushan and a member of the British House of Lords, the distinguished Emeritus Professor of Economics at the London School of Economics spoke on several issues, even as scores of young autograph seekers swarmed around him. Excerpts from the interview with M.R.Venkatesh:



As we approach the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, do you feel Indian democracy is maturing as a coalitional polity or getting more vulnerable and fragmented? type=box-article;; position=right;; articleid=5630633;;

I think there are two separate questions there. You see democracy maturing (in India). Whether a matured democracy is measured by a coalition government or a single party government, is irrelevant. You know most European countries have coalition governments. So, having a coalition government is not a sign of immaturity. Democracy, when it is confident, will throw up any result which reflects the diversity of opinion among the people. Because we have a first-past-the-post system, coalitions are even more difficult to achieve and that shows that there is no single agreement about political ideology in the country. And that’s a healthy sign.

Will the Congress’s strategy of not naming its Prime Ministerial candidate and keeping Rahul Gandhi as its poll campaign chief help to contain the surge of the BJP under Narendra Modi?

No, No..Nobody wants you to do anything (laughs)

Is technology and economic globalisation today posing a greater threat to democracies, particularly South Asian democracies, than in the past?

No, no. Globalisation is good. Indian democracy has improved since globalisation.

But does not the kind of universal snooping that some countries resort to (as borne out by the Snowden episode) pose a threat to democracy?

It doesn’t matter. What has it got to do with South Asia? They are snooping on everybody!

Nonetheless, technology is creating uniformity across cultures under the forces of globalisation.

I don’t think so. A lot of people make this argument. But if you go to New York for instance, you get every type of global food which you did not get before and all of us can enjoy each of these different foods, thanks to globalisation. Today, all cultures are within reach and there is no uniformity at all. Again, take Slum Dog Millionaire for example. It is an amazing film, perhaps the best film made out of India after Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi. That kind of spread of knowledge of other cultures has happened only because of globalisation. Democracy has been growing, if anything. Look at the Arab Spring offensive…. Again, what was stopping democracy in central Asia? Not capitalism, but the [erstwhile] Soviet Union. Earlier, only a few people were travelling around the world, which is not the case now… Again, there are a number of democratic countries in Africa now.

Social networking is seen as a democracy enhancer. But its intrusive nature can also reportedly lead to terrible tragedies.

Good things and bad things come together.

But what about the seamy side of social networking?

You see, everything has a seamy side. Nothing is all good or all bad. It’s part of a package. Religion has a seamy side, power has a seamy side.

A section in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) favours abolition of all direct and indirect taxes for a single banking transaction tax . Do you think it is feasible?

They [the BJP] have abandoned the proposal. No, it is not feasible and they have abandoned it.

Do events like the Jaipur Literature Festival enable a more constructive channelling of energies of the youth or is it elitist?

No, No. It is one of the many things which are good. Just enjoy it, don’t expect big things out of it.

What is your take on the coming elections? Who do you think has a good chance of forming the government at the centre?

The Indian voter will decide.

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