The 5th Young Thinkers Meet– 2016 was organized by India Foundation on 6 – 7 August in Patnitop, Jammu and Kashmir. The meet, whose theme was “Impacting the National Discourse” the Meet was attended by high-level dignitaries including Union Minister of Textiles, Smt. Smriti Irani, senior leaders from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and close to 80 young-intellectuals from diverse educational and professional backgrounds. Various topics including role of academic institutions, mainstream media, social media and literary interventions influencing the national narrative were discussed at length.
Shri Shaurya Doval, Director, India Foundation welcomed the gathering and noted, “The world has always been a battle ground of ideas, and what you think today will manifest in what you do tomorrow.” Mr. Doval also emphasized that the Young Thinkers Meet is a platform for young intellectuals and thinkers to exchange and deliberate on ideas of national importance.
Delivering the keynote address in the session on “Academic Institutions: Controversies, Challenges & the Way Forward”, Smt. Smriti Irani emphasised that in the context of nationalism and national discourse, harmony is not about sticking or agreeing to one idea, but about ideas coming together to form a larger narrative. She highlighted that nationalism is above ideologies and taking sides. The minister cited an example of the #iwearhandloom – “Embrace a weaver, Embrace a heritage” campaign. She said that supported by five crore people across the country, the campaign conveys that simple citizens of the country are coming together and supporting a national cause in their own ways.
Following the address, the Minister engaged in a lively discussion with the delegates on nationalism and its significance in various spheres like universities, in processes like policy-making and its implementation. Appreciating the dialogue, the Minister urged the audience to consider beginning a “Young-Thinkers” journal for continued exchange of ideas.
Shri Dattatreya Hosabale, Sah-Sarakaryavah, RSS moderated the lecture-session on “Nationalism Discourse”. He urged the delegates to note that the debate on nationalism is not only limited to India. He furthered that with intensification of the Brexit debate, political pundits have noted an extreme resurgence of nationalism, globally. Shri Hosabale ji remarked that nationalism could be both cultural and political, and many thinkers around the world have explained it through various ideas and viewpoints.
Especially after World War II, during the era of globalization and the rise of global institutions, international NGOs and multilateral agencies, it has been increasingly agreed that ideas and cultures should be borderless. In this context, Shri Hosabale noted that nationalism has been often incorrectly seen as a movement away from globalisation. Shedding further light on the topic, Shri Hosabale quoted Maharishi Aurobindo, who said that “if you are a true nationalist, you are a true globalist as well”. He urged the delegates to think about how they will present India to the world, and to carefully differentiate between nation, a socio-cultural concept and nation-state, a politico-legal concept.
Shri Ram Madhav, Director, India Foundation and National General Secretary of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) remarked that nationalism existed as an idea even before the Constitution. He remarked that despite various ideas, the nation was one. In this context, Shri Prafulla Ketkar, Editor, Organiser Weekly, moderating the session on Mainstream Media: Issues, Articulation and Personalities, explained that the transformation of media from a service-only purpose during the pre-independence time to a service and business model in the post-independence period has changed many contours of the nationalism debate. He argued that we have to think whether we want to report news on national issues, with some “news-value”.
The discussion allowed delegates to raise various issues related to media, including regulation, use of analytics and data to influence an issue, reaching out to a target audience through creative use of media, and empowering regional and local media by looking beyond Delhi-based electronic media in order to reach a larger and diversified audience. For instance, it was noted that a simple initiative such as Mann Ki Baat has revived the radio across India. Shri Ram Madhav underlined that there are three key factors which are useful for influencing and dominating the national discourse, i.e. confidence and understanding of one’s position in the media space, good articulation of one’s ideas and views, and realising that personalities and icons campaigning for a cause can make a difference.
Day-2 opened with Shri Milind Kamble, Founder Chairman, Dalit Indian Chamber of Commerce & Industry (DICCI) addressing the second lecture session on “Social Integration and Dalits”. Mr. Kamble put forth two important historical contexts for the delegates – the empowerment of the African-Americans in the USA, and the transformation from a mixed economy to a new economy in India in the 1990s.Through the narrative of the African-American movement in the USA, Mr. Kamble stressed that strategic efforts from various spheres, including the government and the civil society resulted in creating circumstances that led America to elect Obama as the first African-American president of the USA in 2009 – just 400 years after the first slaves were brought to the USA from Africa.
On another note, Mr. Kamble explained that India’s big-bang economic reforms in 1991 allowed the country to undergo major changes. For example, today, 15% of the people owning Small and Marginal Enterprises (SMEs) belong to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. This is an indication that SMEs, having emerged after the reforms of the 1990s, has played an important role in uplifting the bottom of the pyramid in India. Going forward, Mr. Kamble emphasized that youth would have to play a major role in social integration. He also said that entrepreneurship is a valuable tool and opportunity to achieve greater social integration in our country.
Taking cue from Mr. Kamble’s remarks, the delegates involved themselves in an active discussion and various issues and ideas were explored in the context of Dalits and social integration. It was noted that many stakeholders were giving up reservations voluntarily today, but also that there are certain sections of the society which still require reservations to uplift their livelihoods. Economic status based reservation systems for Dalits and inter-caste marriages were also discussed as potential mediums for greater social integration. In the context of present day Dalit discourse and recent events, it was stressed that no one can take law into their own hands, and such actions must be immediately disowned. Shri Ram Madhav underscored the importance of realising that an individual should be respected irrespective of whoever he/she is.
Shri Amit Malviya, National Head – Informational Technology and Digital Communication, BJP, moderated the session on “Role of Social Media: Construction & Manipulation of Dominant Narratives”. In his remarks, he noted that on social media, anyone could set the agenda, and if one has a powerful idea and is able to present it in a cogent manner, it is possible to make an impact. Mr. Malviya underlined that personalities do not set the agenda anymore. Delegates contributed to the enriching discussion by sharing personal experiences and observations on social media.
Regulation, strategic-restraint and ability to present arguments and highlight issues in a manner that does not discredit anyone were emphasized as important factors that contribute to constructing and manipulating the narrative on social media. Following the discussion, Mr. Malviya informed the audience that from the BJP’s perspective, in the next two years, governance would continue to be the key. He also said that the party would also closely work with many unaffiliated groups and mediums to increase outreach and awareness about issues. Shri Hosabale urged the delegates to realise the digital divide and gender divide present in the social media space.
Delegates also had the opportunity to learn from a brief overview on the current situation in Jammu & Kashmir state, presented by Shri Ramesh Pappa, RSS, Jammu and Kashmir. He explained that J&K consists of 22 districts, with 10 districts in Jammu, 10 districts in Kashmir and two in the Ladakh region. He underscored that even though certain parts in the valley are disturbed, the state is largely peaceful. He highlighted that the present state and central government, and other stakeholders have played a key role in the socio-economic upliftment and integration in the state. Shri Pappa affirmed that the anti-nationalist movement in the state has not been successful due to the consistent efforts of various stakeholders in the state.
Shri Binod Bawri, Director, India Foundation presented a talk on “Data to Wisdom”, and provided food-for-thought to the delegates on understanding how we think. He highlighted that thinking is the process of distilling thoughts and questioning.
The two-day event also saw though-provoking presentations from delegates on various topics, which prompted engaging discussions and exchanges of ideas. The topics for presentations ranged from challenges, controversies and way-forward at academic institutions to the relationship between religion and dharma to “Big History” and the role of pedagogy, social media and film in construction of national narratives. In terms of effective nationalistic intervention in the literary area, delegates engaged in a brief discussion, and noted that an incubator could be created for creative ideas to come forward. It was also underlined that literary areas could also be used as a tool to bring out stories of our real heroes.
The valedictory session was presided over by Shri Ram Madhav and Shri Dattatreya Hosabale. Shri Ram Madhav stated that this event was designed entirely for the participants to think and discuss different issues. He urged participants to be open-minded and receptive to every thought, and strive to think out-of-the-box, which was very essential to address today’s complex issues. While making arguments, he pointed-out that it was important to avoid victimhood, and be confident about one’s thoughts. Shri Ram Madhav reminded all delegates that it was important to co-opt rather than confront those who might disagree with us, as the attitude must be to win-over people by thinking like a leader.
In his concluding remarks, Shri Hosabale remarked that nationalism was not a new thought in our country. All over the world, society after society was trying to find its nationalist roots – historical experience, philosophical view and culture. He urged the thinkers to be open-minded and ready to accept the truth from the other side as well drawing inspiration from Shastrartha – a great heritage which we have.
Shri Shaurya Doval delivered the vote of thanks and urged all delegates to keep one’s mind open and remain positive.
Please use the below link to access the photographs of Young Thinkers Meet 2016: