February 15, 2020

6th India Ideas Conclave 2020

The India Ideas Conclave is an annual flagship event of India Foundation that aims to bring together a luminary gathering of policy makers and public intellectuals from India and abroad to exchange opinions and ideas in a candid and scholarly environment. The 6th India Ideas Conclave was held at Tent City Narmada, Gujarat, in the vicinity of the world’s tallest statue; homage to the iron man of India Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, the Statue of Unity, from February 28 to March 1, 2020. The Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Ltd and the Dialogue of Civilizations Research Institute, Germany, partnered India Foundation in the event which was themed on ‘New India: Turning to Roots, Rising to Heights’. This edition witnessed the participation of more than three hundred delegates and was presided over by sixty-four speakers spread across fourteen sessions.

Inaugural Session:

Shri Shaurya Doval, Member, Board of Governors, India Foundation, delivered the welcome address during which he also enunciated on the theme of the Conclave. Speaking on the occasion, Shri Suresh Prabhu, Member of Parliament, Rajya Sabha gave the example of the COVID-19 Novel Coronavirus, with reference to the changing nature of today’s global order wherein being more interconnected and interdependent not only creates opportunities for all but also poses new and unexpected challenges. He also highlighted issues concerning economic & trade barriers in the WTO and challenges arising due to migration in some parts of the world. Speaking about the importance of the ‘roots’ discourse, he stressed on the need for us to remember ‘where we came from’ and also focus on the direction we need to head; “those who become rootless, sometimes also become ruthless”.

Shri Vijay Rupani, Chief Minister, Gujarat, addressed the congregation via video conference owing to his inability to attend in person due to the ongoing session of the State Assembly. Shri Rupani also welcomed the delegates to Gujarat and said that no other place apart from the Statue of Unity could do justice to the theme of this year’s conclave. He hoped that the deliberations here would give truly new ideas for a vibrant and young New India. Thereafter, the guest of honour, His Excellency Mohamed Nasheed, Speaker, Peoples’ Majlis of Maldives, spoke about the ‘Idea of India’ and the Peoples’ Majlis and the relationship and challenges the two countries share. Calling the Maldives Islands a ‘big ocean state’ whose people live in the Indian Ocean he cited historical reference to underline how India’s safety and security is closely entwined with the Maldives as they occupy the navigable parts of the Indian Ocean. Praising India’s efforts in the island state in 1988, His Excellency admired India for respecting not just the Maldives sovereignty but all of its neighbours who are treated as equals in dialogue and action. Highlighting the common challenges of radical islam, terrorism and climate change, he hoped that together, the conclave can ideate on many of these issues to find sustainable and inclusive solutions.

In the end, the Chief Guest, Dr S. Jaishankar, External Affairs Minister, Government of India, spoke about ideas of nationalism, identity, globalisation, western civilisation and reformed multilateralism. Calling the rise of nationalism a defining characteristic of our times, he highlighted the need for debating fundamental issues of nationhood objectively by ‘thinking people’ against the backdrop of a larger canvas of a dialogue of civilisations, wherein the importance of tradition, culture and faith are seen as key variables in todays’ global affairs. Speaking about a ‘deeply divided western civilisation,’ Dr Jaishankar made a case for going beyond the orthodox limits of civilisation to reach a  new political understanding where the power of ideas and the strength of belief need to be stronger than the prejudices of history. For a reformed multilateral global order, he believed that India can lead the way as it is today “a polity which is demonstrating that the genuine spread of democracy can lead to the discovery of roots, heritage and traditions”.

India Foundation – Swarajya Awards:

The India Foundation – Swarajya Awards were instituted in 2015 with an aim to recognise individuals and institutions doing stellar work in various fields with a special focus on advancing values like an open market, freedom of enterprise, national interest, innovation and celebration of India’s vast cultural heritage. Four awards were instituted encompassing economics, politics, society and culture, each named after stalwarts in these respective fields. The award carry a citation, a specially designed trophy and a cash prize of Rs one lakh. The recipients of this year’s Swarajya Awards were as under:

  • Dr B R Shenoy Award for Economics: Shri N.K. Singh, Chairman, 15th Finance Commission.
  • Dr S P Mukherjee Award for Politics: Shri Sarbanand Sonowal, Chief Minister, Assam.
  • Sree Narayana Guru Award for Social Work: Shri K Parasaran, Former Attorney General.
  • Ustad Bismillah Khan Award for Culture: Shri Bharatbala,

Presentation on Statue of Unity

Shri Rajiv Gupta, Additional Chief Secretary, Government of Gujarat and Managing Director Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Limited briefed the conclave about the vision and execution of the Statue of Unity and the attractions in its vicinity.

Keynote Address by Shri Anand Mahindra:

Shri Anand Mahindra, Chairman, Mahindra Group delivered the keynote address. He spoke about the story of India and innovation. He began by pointing out how, while the West has been perceiving the rabbit as a timid animal, India has drawn inspiration from it and written stories about its courage in its ancient collection of fables – the Panchatantra. He drew everyone’s attention to the story of the rabbit, in which it uses the power of the brain instead of brawn to get ahead. “The story of the rabbit”  said Mr. Mahindra, “is the story of India”. He observed how India, like the rabbit, continues to use very frugal resources to get ahead, and this ability to do more with less is India’s unique strength. To drive his point home, he shared stories of some of India’s lesser known innovators, like the ‘Jooton ka hospital,’ a cobbler-kiosk by the roadside, which marketed itself as a shoe hospital, making Mr. Mahindra name him the master of marketing on Twitter. He spoke about various student projects followed by the ₹1 toothbrush, an idea that was initially rejected by most ‘experts’, following which  the innovator had taken it up as a challenge and stuck bristles onto a velcro, successfully making the cheapest toothbrush of India, and probably the world. He told the gathering that innovation was very much alive in India and urged investors to be constantly on the lookout for such innovations. He pointed at how cost-cum-competence was a great thing and India had it.

After sharing an inspiring and optimistic outlook of India and its people, Mr. Mahindra followed it with hard hitting statistics – like why India ranked a distant 52 on the Global Innovation Index and why it was not being recognised as an innovator, while China managed to constantly be in the top 20? According to him, the reason was the Jugad attitude, an Indian term for quick fix. He told the audience that Jugad was just not enough as it was making India complacent. Jugad, he felt, although being a wonderful skill, was ultimately about compromise and constrained resources and …“It cannot lead us to the quantum innovation skill that India needs”.

Mr. Mahindra then proceeded to answer the question – what is holding us back? He spoke of two invisible handcuffs – first, the fear of failure and second, the comfort zone. While fear of failure does not hold people in rich countries back, as for them, it is just another chapter in life, it holds people in India back, as failure is difficult here; it has large socio-economic implications. While speaking about the comfort zone, he shared the story of an Indian footwear brand, Mochi, and questioned its complacence of not going international and becoming the world’s next Gucci. As per Mahindra, Indians need to aim high enough and get out of their comfort zone. To prove he was walking the talk, Mr. Mahindra shared the story of Scorpio, a car that Mahindra & Mahindra manufactured in 2002 at an estimated R&D cost of ₹600 crore. It was a big gamble and Mr. Mahindra would have lost his job if the project failed. For this, he was also forced to use Indian engineers as Ford refused to share their human resource (40 engineers), which he said turned out to be a blessing in disguise as they managed to considerably reduce the cost. He also spoke of Battista, an all-electric sports car that can do 0-100 kmph in 2 seconds, which will cost $2 million and be drivable this year.

This was followed by an interesting thought about trying to achieve the ‘lowest cost per unit of innovation’ instead of ‘lowest cost per unit’. Talking about the need for our products to not just be great, but disruptive; to dream big and make it big, and move from impossible to unstoppable.

He narrated the story of how, after travelling to two different countries for the surgery of his daughter, the doctor who could actually solve the problem was found in Mumbai, right next to his office. He concluded by urging Indian investors to seek and provide support to indigenous innovation.

Presentations I – The “RootsDiscourse:

The first presentation in this session was given by Shri N.K.Singh, Chairman, 15th Finance Commission of India. Shri Singh, spoke about the economic growth story of India; from the era of colonisation to the early years of planning where socialist ideas drove economic development leading to over regulation and the financial crisis of 1991. Praising India’s efforts in lifting millions out of poverty, he stressed on the importance of macroeconomic stability and the need to harness entrepreneurial talent and innovation. “When you marry entrepreneurship with innovation, there is a quantum change in total factor productivity”. Shri Singh also pushed for long pending reforms in the sectors of health, education and agriculture which he deemed essential for India to catapult itself into becoming a leading market driven 21st century economic powerhouse. Following this, Shri Swapan Dasgupta, Member of  Parliament, Rajya Sabha, spoke about the idea and importance of roots in politics. “The future of nationalism is closely linked  with the sanatan dharma in India”. Taking cue from the story of Bengal and his experience in the state he called for a need to move out of our safe zones and attempt to build a future that is connected to a civilisation’s roots but also devoid of the belief that the past was in some ways better than the present. The next speaker, Shri Adnan Sami, through his life’s story narrated his journey to becoming one of the most popular musician-composers and his relationship with India coming from Pakistan and eventually choosing to become an Indian citizen. Praising India’s diversity and cultural inclusivity he called on the conclave to celebrate India’s unique ‘soul’ that originates from its deep rooted civilisational history. Comparing Western civilisation to India’s, he summed up his brief address with the following words: “technology is a great gift from the west, but soul is greater; and India is making the world realise that with its reinvented national pride”. Next, Shri Arnab Goswami, Editor, Republic TV, spoke about the ‘Indian story’ in context of global media networks. He made a case for India to be confident of its own narrative without seeking endorsement or approval  from the West. The aim of neo-colonial media in his opinion is to make themselves feel entitled by coercive cultural imposition. He stressed on the need for India to be self critical of its choices and not be lost in an echo of rhetoric. Shri Goswami appealed to the Indian sentiment to not be affected by the prejudice of the West. “Looking for external validation, for the longest time we have allowed their misconception to precipitate and mark our conviction in the Indian story. The Indian story is strong”. He also spoke about the need to build our own media networks and reach a larger audience through regional channels and networks. Following his  address, Ms Smita Prakash, Editor in Chief, ANI, gave a media perspective on the theme of the India Ideas Conclave through religious, political, social and literary fronts. Ms Prakash spoke about the importance of a collective narrative that has defined the Indian ethos and the need for us to “while not completely shun negative news but also give more on-air time to the successes of our diverse and brilliant nation”. The last speaker in this session was Shri Sanjay Paswan, Member of Legislative Council of Bihar. Shri Paswan in his address celebrated the Indian ethos by talking about the revival and rejuvenation of the philosophical roots of Bharat. He also touched upon issues related to caste and equal opportunities for all using modern technological solutions.

Moonlight Session I – ‘Right Discourse’ & The Youth:

This session was moderated by Shri Prafulla Ketkar, Editor, Organiser. The following were  on the panel for  this discussion: Shri Anand Ranganathan, Author and Associate Professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University; Ms. Neha Joshi, National Media Co-In-Charge, Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha; Ms. Rami Desai, Author and Columnist; Ms. Shubhrastha, Author and Columnist; Ms. Vandana Mishra, Assistant Professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University and Shri Abhinav Prakash, Assistant Professor, Delhi University. The panel deliberated on various issues at the centre of the political discourse surrounding the youth, particularly in premier universities of the country. Popular narratives, new mediums and contemporary youth icons dominated these discussions.

Breakfast Session I – Social Media and its role in Narrative Setting:

This session was moderated by Ms. Smita Barooah, Columnist and Blogger. The panel consisted of: Shri Hitesh Shankar, Editor, Panchjanya; Ms. Padmaja Joshi, News Editor, Times Now; Shri Abhijit Iyer-Mitra, Senior Fellow, IPCS and Columnist; Shri Rahul Roushan, Chief Executive Officer, OpIndia and Ms. Shivani Gupta, Associate Editor, Republic TV. Over breakfast, the panel and delegates discussed various facets of the use of social media, ideas of regulation, authenticity of social media narratives and its impact on the discourse and populace.

Special Session – Shri Ram Janmabhoomi: The Future Vision:

Here, Shri Bhupendra Yadav, National General Secretary, Bharatiya Janata Party and Shri Krishna Gopal, Joint General Secretary, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh gave their views on the future of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement following the Supreme Court’s recent landmark judgement on the same. First, Mr. Yadav in his speech shared the story of Ram Janmabhoomi which he said is an unforgettable story of a society struggling to re-attain its culture by peaceful means. The purpose, he said, of the demolition of the original temple by the then Mughal ruler was to replace the indigenous culture in order to attain and maintain power. With a series of historical and legal facts, he built his case for the movement. He emphasised on how no political force has the capability to eradicate any culture. He ended his speech by establishing his points on why he thinks that Lord Ram is a hero, for he was someone who possessed true cultural values, that is the promotion of humanity, respect for all, a value based society, equality, and a society where dharma is given prime importance.

Shri Krishna Gopal stated that the Ramjanmabhoomi dispute wasn’t a fight for just a temple. He spoke about how the country has witnessed a long drawn history of foreign invasions and highlighted the prime factors which had driven the fight for preserving our culture. “The wrongs of the past had to be undone after independence”. He spoke of the Bharat that fights back cultural repression and survives through its spiritual roots despite its diversity. He called Ayodhya a Centre of assimilation and stated some examples. The 5 tirthankars of jains were born in Ayodhya; there are ample examples to show that Buddhism also somewhere has significant connections with Ayodhya and so do the Sikhs. He pointed that Lord Ram connects North with South and East to West and that he is beloved to all Indians. “The spirituality of India is its uniting force and Ayodhya is a unifying force in that regard”. He ended by saying that Ayodhya will prosper in the coming years and it will become a guiding force of spiritual wisdom in today’s world order.

Special Session in collaboration with the Dialogue of Civilizations Research Institute, (DOCRI), Berlin

Keynote Address by Shri Ravi Shankar Prasad:

The Union Minister for Law and Justice started his address by explaining his understanding of the theme of the conference and its importance in present times. He shared his idea of how one can become a conservative and said that it is not unusual to identify oneself as a conservative. He also criticised the Marxist ideology by saying that Marxism has the fundamentals of haves and haves not. “Where freedom did not exist, this ideology has produced some counter arguments”. He shared his views on how ideologies are based on labels and focuses on who is left and who is right. He also explained how communist nations were impacted by these ideologies and the events surrounding the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989 and disintegration of the USSR in 1991. “The leftist idea came from western democracy and society, but the world did not have resources to support this idea”. Speaking of the Indian experience, he stated that “rights cannot exist without duties”. The virtual world should be used to deal with the issues of the real world and find solutions that are “Yuganukul and Samayanukul”. Quoting Mahatma Gandhi, he said that “there is enough for everyone’s need, not for everyone’s greed”. He concluded his address by saying that our responsibility is to ensure unity in diversity, love and respect for all.

Panel Discussion I – Rise of the Indian Conservative:

The panel discussion took place with the insightful views, ideas and experiences shared by Mr. Uday Mahurkar, Author and deputy editor, India Today and Mr. Raghavan Jagannathan, Editorial Director, Swarajya. This session was moderated by Maj. Gen. Dhruv Katoch, Director, India Foundation.

Mr. Raghavan Jagannathan shared the view that conservative values are important for persistence  of family values, maintaining law and order, social order, nationalism, patriotism, and respect for individual institutes. Conservatism is about thoughtful change, which is to keep what is good in the past and build on that. It is about evolution and not revolution. In India, revolutions have not been very successful. Only revolutions that are successful in India are spiritual. Mr. Jagannathan quoted Ramjanmabhoomi, ST-SC movement, Mandal movement as examples. Mr.Jagannathan in his address stated that understanding the context is important. i.e. the left did not understand the importance of caste in Indian context. Conservatism will be rising again as we are connecting with our roots. “We have 5000 years of heritage and we should be proud of that. We should be identifying our own roots”.

Mr. Uday Mahurkar focused his speech on the rise of the ‘awakened Hindu’. He said that there is a rise of conservative media platforms and it is prevalent when Rajnath Singh is receiving Rafale fighter jets with writing Om on it, and also the kind of response being received to the books of the Author, Mr. Amish Tripathi, or our prime minister doing Ganga Aarti. He also shared some learning from the book ‘The Delhi Sultanate’ about the Mughals. He said that in his opinion, no Mughal invader can be called secular as per the current standards today. He said that people are debating whether Veer Savarkar led the division of India. He urged people to read the book by Veer Savarkar – ‘Hindu Rashtra Manifesto,’ wherein he has written about the rights and freedom of the minorities. Towards the end of his speech, he said that India is an inclusive nation. “India is the only country which promised a multigenerational system to all castes living in the country. We still need to go a long way to achieve that”.

Panel Discussion II – Conservatism and the Global Experience

The CEO and Executive Board Chairman of the Dialogue of Civilization Research Institute (DOCRI), Mr. Jean-Christophe Bas addressed the conclave on ‘Conservatism and the Global Experience’ and said, “The perspective of DOCRI is to bring together the West & the rest of the world for a new world order. Globalisation succeeds when it puts together humans, civilisations & cultures.” He further added that we need to invent a new model of cooperation. “The old world order is gone but the new world order has not yet emerged”. Expressing his happiness, he stated that this Conclave gives us a compass for turning to roots & rising to heights. He further stated that “the biggest mistake is to believe that roots & heights are correlative.” In his opinion, shared views and goals are essential for a new world order. “The world is at crossroads again, in 2020, it is the 75th anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing and formation of the UN; we have achieved a lot with the cooperation of civilisations in these 75 years”. He concluded with “the voice of India is absolutely indispensable in this world of global cooperation.”

Prof. Rajiv Srinivasan, Adjunct Faculty of IIM Bangalore in his address stated that “there is a Tsunami in the rise of the Right and the conservative”. The rise of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, President Trump & Brexit are a few examples that show that the Left is losing power. “Conservatives understand compassion, fairness, desire to fight oppression, group loyalty, and respect of authority, but the Left does not see them all (quoting a British Dictionary)”. According to him, the new Left in the US that is gender neutral and environment friendly, matches with Indian conservatism. Moreover, India is modern despite its centuries old cultural heritage.

Editor of Open magazine Mr. S. Prasannarajan in his address stated that “there are many prefixes & suffixes in conservatism. It is an anglo-form idea. Conservatism is actually a reaction. In Europe, it was a reaction against the European Union. It is liberty for the higher order but also a limitation for the lower order”. In his opinion, European conservatism is all about tradition and culture whereas American conservatism is about change and imagination. “Conservatism today is a preservation of permanent change”.

Plenary Session I – New Roadmap for New UTs:

This session was moderated by Shri Aditya Raj Kaul, Editor, Strategic Affairs & Internal Security, BTVI. On the panel were, Shri Jamyang Tsering Namgyal, Member of Parliament, Lok Sabha; Shri Ravinder Raina, State President, BJP Jammu and Kashmir; Shri Junaid Mattoo, Mayor, Srinagar; Shri David Devadas, Author and Columnist and Ms. Aarti Tikoo Singh, Foreign & Strategic Affairs Editor, IANS.

Visit to Statue of Unity and Laser Show. The delegates were taken on a formal visit to the Statue of Liberty.

Moonlight Session II – New Narratives & Transformative Ideas:

This session saw the participation of Shri Sudhanshu Mani, Fellow, Institute of Mechanical Engineers, London; Filmmaker Akanksha Damini Joshi; Shri Deep Halder, Journalist and Author; Shri Shobhit Mathur, Dean, Rashtram School of Public Leadership; Ms. Malini Bhattacharjee, Assistant Professor, Azim Premji University and Shri Hindol Sengupta, Author and Vice President, Strategic Investment Research Unit, Invest India. All the distinguished speakers, in their respective addresses, put forth their vision for understanding and creating new narratives and transformative ideas that align with the ideals of a unified, culturally indigenious and yet a modern India. Some of the topics that were discussed in this session  included: traditions as therapy for a substance addicted world, Nationalism for liberals, indigenous epistemology, the history of India that is hidden from Indians and reimagining & recreating institutions like Takshila and Nalanda.

Breakfast Session II – Media and its role in Narrative Setting:

The breakfast session took place with the insightful views, ideas and discussion with Kumar Shakti Shekhar, News Editor, Times of India online, Priya Sahgal, Senior Executive Editor, News X, Shweta Singh, Senior Executive Editor, Aaj Tak, Prabhas Jha, Editor Hindustan Times Digital and Liz Mathew, Senior Editor in Indian Express. The session was moderated by Swadesh Singh, Assistant Professor- University of Delhi.

Sharing their views on the subject, Sweta Singh said that being objective is important, but at the same time it is also true that someone’s truth is another one’s lie. Liz Mathew was of the view that setting the narrative is a part of the media’s duty and that the journalist’s narrative should always be public interest. While the media should not set narrative about what people think, but should surely guide about what you should think about. Prabhash Jha said that Internet media demands taking a stand as only facts are not getting attention. Priya Sahgal shared the difficulty of setting the narrative in current times, where anyone with a cell phone becomes a reporter! On the above views, Mr. Kumar Shakti Shekhar also emphasised that the media is now exercising its retrains, by taking a stand on what to show and what not to, what story to cover and what not to. “Media has become more patient, vigilant and responsible”.

Plenary Session II – India & its Citizens:

This session was moderated by Shri Kanchan Gupta, Chairman, Raja Rammohun Roy Library Foundation. First, Shri K J Alphons, Member of Parliament, delivered the keynote address. On the panel were, Shri Keshab Mahanta, Cabinet Minister, Government of Assam; Shri Rajdeep Roy, Member of Parliament, Lok Sabha; Shri Karma Paljor, Editor-in-Chief, East Mojo and Shri A Suryaprakash, Trustee, India Foundation and Vice-Chairman, Executive Council, Nehru Memorial Museum & Library. All the panelists thereafter gave their views on the subject.

Presentations II – Rethinking Governance & Public Institutions:

Addressing the delegates at 6th India Idea Conclave, Mr. Baijayant Jay Panda, National Vice President of Bharatiya Janata Party said, “To the west we have Pakistan which denies to look back to their roots from where they come from where as in the East we have countries of undivided India which take pride in their origin & ethos. This topic, he said, “enables us to look back to our governance history.” He further added that, “our governance structures are rooted in the 90s of European culture but we haven’t updated it for a long period of time as that of other colonial countries.” He brought to notice that, “due to Aadhar’s application in governance, nearly 80 million fake beneficiaries have been wiped out after the Modi government took charge and urged that, “we need to turn back to our roots but simultaneously we need to adopt modern approach and technology to improve our governance.”

The principal economic advisor, Ministry of Finance, Government of India, Mr. Sanjeev Sanyal said, “…due to lack of intellectual lens of approach we have a line of thought that India is a poor country. We need to bring other lenses of thinking and uproot this default line of thinking. We need to understand the approach of other countries who have been uplifted from poor status.” He further added that, “India was a rich country as we had a large network of international trade from East to West, this influence is still there because it had the roots of Indian ways of thinking.” He also enlightened the delegates about four pillars of governance – Dandaniti (Law & Enforcement) , Varta (Economic Reforms), Trai (Cultural Roots) , Anvikshiki (Philosophical connect).

Mr. Jayprakash Narayan, Founder, Foundation for Democratic Reforms, said that Sardar Patel set a benchmark in the world as never before in the world where over 550 territories having very large diversities, were unified in a very short period of time. He further said, “we have to compare our potential and Global standards. Politics is to solve the problems but in our country it has emerged as the biggest problem. Ethical and rational politics is beneficial. Honesty and survival in politics is no longer related to each other in today’s political scenario. Today it’s perpetual Election ‘Bazar’.” Concluding his address on a positive note, he said, “This unprecedented mandate for the second time to Prime Minister Modi invites transformation as per the global standards. The Nation does not just transform just by a Prime Minister or his cabinet but largely by empowering our community and empowering local governance.”

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