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The Great India Debate: The Idea Of India Needs To Be Recreated

The debate, organized by BW and The Debating Society Of India, brings together 8 of India’s most powerful and articulate intellects - Hardeep Puri, Dr. Rajiv Kumar, Swapan Dasgupta, Francois Gautier, Mani Shankar Aiyar, Manish Tiwari, Pavan Varma, Retd. Maj. Maroof Raza.


The founding idea of India at independence was as a secular, pluralistic and multicultural entity, all this wrapped in the political idea of Democracy, the economic idea of State Capitalism and the foreign policy of non-alignment. The recent years appear to see a new construct of India emerging, based on the tenets of a move towards Hinduvta, a uniform civil code, a stronger nationalism, and a more muscular foreign policy. The Debate examines whether the time has come for a new idea of India to take root.

Hardeep Singh Puri, Minister of State

We are a 7000-old civilization but only 70 year old nation and a young democracy. The idea of India as a constitution and parliamentary democracy is only applicable to 1 per cent of our civilizational history. Therefore to mix one up with the other and talk about an ultimate idea of India is perhaps missing the basic point. For 250 years here of which around 190 has at the hands of the British , conceptual framework was alien to our people who have shaped the idea of India. First by the British and then by the agents of colonialism that they left behind. We have become a derivative culture rather than a culture that is ruled by its own civilization of people. It is not a question of just recreating the idea of India. It’s more appropriately about reclaiming the idea of India that was supressed but thankfully not obliterated. The 2030 Sustainable Agenda that UN adopted resonates with the civilisation of India – and this is the reflection of work done by Mahatma Gandhi and Deen Dayal Upadhya and others. Then how did we get this inferiority complex ? Today, Most of us are a product of English education and that perhaps explains the complex some have. This idea of India of a poor, rural insecure nation needs to be recreated - the Idea that we must pursue should the one that unleashes the power of our past. That is needs to recreated.

Dr. Rajiv Kumar, Vice Chairperson, Niti Ayog

We still feel the need to debate in English!
The idea of India has undergone many changes.
It has to do with the embarrassment or the inferiority when we don’t speak in English.
Why can’t we not speak in English?
I saw this in Oxford. At one level, one felt embarrassed at not being able to speak in English.
Then I saw other native speakers, speaking in their respective languages. I then felt liberated
Today, our youth, our young entrepreneurs, don’t think about this. They don’t suffer from this inferiority complex. They want to communicate.
India has changed inherently, fundamentally.
And, thank God for this!
Our points of references have been --  if you didn’t publish in foreign journals, you are no good. This has changed.
That doesn’t matter to our youth today.
Foreign models of economic growth, central planning, etc – there’s been a fundamental change in all this. India has changed. Central planning, socialism don’t figure in that.
We are perhaps one country that has undertaken triple transitions -- social, political, economic, simultaneously.
Today, we have a system where a Dalit woman leader has been the head of a large Indian state for as many as five times.
Except for a few aberrations, caste is out of society, and discourse.
Today, we have a true federal democracy at work, here.
Economic transition is well on its way.
Our per capita income today is 1928 dollars, -- more than twelve times when we started the journey during Independence.
We are no longer in queues for grants and aids.
Let me give you two recent examples:
PWC has come out with a Top 10 economies’ list. India figures on the fifth position, in that 2050 figure. There’s a similar OECD prediction.
Going forward, We will be the third largest economy.
We, so-called Hindus, are the most tolerant community in the world, and 33 crores of Gods were created, probably one for each one.
The idea of India has fundamentally changed, and so must we change.

Swapan Dasgupta, Member of Parliament

I will go back to my empire not to Nehru. For everything that is true about India the opposite is equally true. But I want to say one thing that this idea of India which you are fixated with and you think is subverted since 2014, why is it in singular? Why is there one idea of India with a billion people? This shows a mental regimentation of a person who believes about the idea of India.

But if we ask a question, an Indian is one who has an Indian passport. And I am not talking about invasions. The idea of India can be captured in the constitution. But what is the constitution? It’s a rule book. It tells us how we conduct our public life. It is important to conduct our life. But is it so fragile a commodity that it has to be written in one book. That it is singular and this has to be challenged. People who have fixated themselves to govern the country and say India must be preserved. It is a spiritual country.

Life began with the constitution. We call Mahatma Gandhi as the father of nation and he was spiritual guide. But the nation precedes it. Why do you want to reduce India to one idea, one family, one party and preferably one book?

So my idea is that life didn’t began in 1947. It encompasses a great deal of inheritance, some of it is positive, some of it is negative. India is not a dogma, or monolithic, India is not a book which has to be amended, it is an experience and a totality.


Francois Gautier, Writer & Journalist

I feel privileged to have come to India. Most westerners come here to give something to India but India has given me lot. In a lot of ways, I feel that India is not where it should be. Indians often don’t look at themselves the way they should. There is a deep ancient knowledge in this country which has touched me. There is a spirituality in this country that is universal in nature – that shows that the world is one family. God manifests himself/herself in different ways using different scriptures. Education that is given to India today is just a copy of the West. Actually worse in a lot of ways. Westerners are given the knowledge of the pranayama today, they are learning to how to breathe. This knowledge exists in India for long. God has many faces that is known to India for long. People are not tapping the ancient knowledge that the country has. I wish education teaches students who Kalidasa is just like it does who Shakespeare is. Isn’t it? I went to Pondicherry and visited Sri Aurobindo Ashram. That taught me that In India there are generations of spirituality. That’s very important for its people to acknowledge .

Mani Shankar Aiyar, Former Diplomat & Union Minister

I am debating here today as a Nehruvian and not a congressite. 

We are not talking about recreating India but, if the idea needs to be recreated?

Expressing concern about a worrying trend that has almost challenged the very moral and social fabric of India.

The alternative idea that is being propagated today is being imposed since 2014 is the idea that was initiated by Savarkar. 

The idea that an Indian is only the one whose pitrabhumi is Indian. 

In addition to this, the second idea being floated around is that there are two nations- the hindu and others.

I am Indian for being a part of the world. I do not think you are obliged to accept Nehru’s idea but, the idea of India is absorbing and assimilating. The story of India is the story of being open.

It is absolutely rubbish to say that we have only aped the west. The west has also learnt from us. We are no slaves of anyone.

Manish Tiwari, Former Union Minister

My thanks to the organizers for trying to resuscitate the tradition of debate which is unfortunately getting slowly and gradually extinct in this nation. Without going into antiquity like Mr Gautiere did, let me get back to 1947. Out of the blood stained partition, in Punjabi we have a particular word, its not called batwaara, its called bujaara, which stands for devastation. There were born two countries, a pluralistic, inclusive, progressive India and Islamic Pakistan. 7 decades later despite all the stresses and strains, the idea of India still survives, even if it doesn’t thrive. And Pakistan without an idea, or whatever idea they think they have, unfortunately has been completely lost. A country born in the name of religion in 1947, split in the name of chauvinism in 1971, and is going through a million implosions as we speak. I think that is the greatest tribute to the founding founders of India, who made the right and wise choice of trying to craft the ancient civilization by drawing upon its strengths of inclusiveness, by drawing upon the strength of pluralism, by drawing upon the continuum of history, without really trying to segregate it or break it up, into one religion, one denomination against the other. And 7 decades later, nothing terrible seems to be played out of it. The founding fathers then decided to give a practical shape to the idea of India. And that practical shape came in the form of the Indian constitution, a document, which despite a 101 amendments, 122 texts to be amended, has become the ground norm, and the guiding beacon for Indians. It’s strength lies in its diversity, in its ability to really encompass, and bring within its fold, a million diverse contradictions which could have completely and absolutely driven India apart in the past 7 decades. And therefore, if you were to really look at the legal and constitutional idea of India today, the legal and constitutional idea of India lies in the Indian constitution. The Indian constitution is the idea. And there are 4 concepts and a couple of doctrines. Sovereignty, democracy, secularism, socialism, separational forms, federalism, and fundamental rights. And these when they are taken together, really represent the idea of India. We the people, the sovereign, it represents as to who we really are. And over this journey of 7 decades, there have been challenges. Secessionism, regional demands, sub-national aspirations, and the constitution has been flexible to be able to encompass, to be able to accommodate, all these diverse demands and still unify India and keep marching from strength to strength. But unfortunately in the seventh decade, some people have lost the battle for the idea of India, who thought that in 1947 India had a partition on religious lines, it should have gone to its logical conclusion, feel that on the thinnest majority, which a popular government or a majority government in India have ever enjoyed, they have got the license to rewrite the fundamental compact which underpins the Indian state. And therefore, in the name of love-jihad, in the name of the cow, in the name of beef vigilantism, in the name of ghar wapsi, every kind of negative manifestation, has been unleashed in order to de-facto the country into a majoritarian ethos. And the casualty has been social cohesion. The casualty has been economic progress, because one thing, which the zealots of, or the people attempting to rewrite the idea of India, have not understood, is that social cohesion and economic progress do not go hand in hand. Money is the biggest coward, it goes to the safest coward. So if you’re looking for economic development, it cannot be at the cost of social cohesion. So ladies and gentlemen, let’s leave the idea of India alone, let’s not try and recreate the idea of India, and lets consolidate what we have and build on it.

Pavan Varma, Former Member of Parliament

The subject before us is whether the Idea of India needs to be recreated? And, I want to put this point that we may be a young republic but we are an ancient civilization. We have a five thousand year old history which has fructified through many twists and turns into the creation of a nation but the past, the present and the future are continued and when you speak of recreation of something which has such a lineage and pedigree, I think you need to remind yourself what has that journey been? I am genuinely perplexed by the proponents of this motion because what they are saying is that the need to recreate, and when India what it has been in many respects in the past, it was my sages who said three to four thousand years ago that there is one truth, the wise people call it by different names. It was my sages and sears who said that for the broad minded and the broad hearted, the whole world is a family.
It was my peers in the past who said, “Let good thoughts come from all directions.” That pluralism, that sense of inclusivity, that embrace of even those with whom you disagree, through the instrument of shastras, of debate, of reason, of discussion, the ability to agree and disagree, this has been my tradition and this is my idea of India and that idea could have many ideas, and yet it is a part of one idea which is called, the civilizational journey and are we true to that? And, do we need to change that? That is the question before us.
Through many invasions we created a civilization, which had antiquity, which had continuity, which had diversity, which had peaks of refinement, and which had a simulation, the ability to absorb and create within you an India which has all the elements that they think now need to be recreated, I do not confine myself to one family, one politic, one leader, I confine myself to one nation and civilization and I want to ask you, if that is the case, what are we seeking to recreate? Do we now need to recreate that idea of India where my sages said that the truth can be many, the wise people call it different names.
By a kind of religious chauvinism that allows a person in Rajasthan, and I say this with anguish not politics to hack a person of other religion to death, and to burn him while he is still alive and videotape it and for one part of that organization to carry out a jhanki and picturising that as a part of a ram navmi procession, this is not mine, I don’t want to recreate it , I want to be what my elders have given to me as a legacy, do I want that India where with all that I have inherited, with all that I need to do, but many things that I need to change, perhaps there are corrections to be made, perhaps the appeasement of minorities as merely a vote bank politics needs to change, perhaps our mimicry of the west needs to change, perhaps our going back to our languages and our civilizational ethos needs to be strengthened, but all of these are corrections, they are not recreations, we must understand that difference.
By denying, by negativity, and what do you replace it with? An ultra-nationalism whose principal aim is that if you disagree with me, you are an anti-national, the entire tradition of shastras which is the creation of India is denied by the negation. Why do you have that ultra-nationalism? Because you either stifle defence or you deflect attention from their issue. Every time an issue is raised, my credentials are questioned, my bona fides are questioned. I am willing for correction but I am not willing to endorse your idea of recreation.
My country and my civilization have had a 5,000 year old journey, and they have assimilated within themselves the idea of a nation and a civilization that is far more resilient to your transitory attempts for short term political gains to create the image that the whole of India needs to be recreated, but Its very idea needs to be created.

Maroof Raza, Consultant & Strategic Affairs Advisor, Times Now

Earlier speaker talked in hindi to communicate it as a change but then we have indian currency with multiple language and that is where we are proud of it. Recreation is important but you can't depend on any one ideology .

We don't need to borrow ideas from west be it a post or a pre 1947 india, it  can't be the approach we should chose. It can't be denied that it wasn't only the massacre in invasions, we have learnt a lot with them . Invasion has also taught us a lot, we have infact learnt many things from invasion in a way that there were cultural transformation , this may be reason why Francois is here talking about grasping power of our society .
India can't be modelled on western or an alien ideology it can't be modelled on western paradigms .

We live in a different trajectory all together, therefore I don't find any need of recreating India, it's already there it's an essential part. Majoritarian narrative can't be thrusted on every one in the nation it's pluralist and societal fabric is intact and that's the essence.

Even a good narrative can't be imposed or chosen , doesn't matter if it leads to touch a trillion dollar figure my earlier friend spoke about. People in power struggling with past ideas and ideology but let me remind them , it's not only last five years where we have improved because the fundamental remain unchanged from years.

Idea of India is  a mix of pluralism and history that has taught us continuously. Be it any dimensions , for me an Idea of recreating India is an India where being Indian remain in core.


 Moderator- Sonia Singh, Editorial Director & President, NDTV Ethics Committee

The moderator opened the debate for the audience with a show of hands following which the team in favour of the motion won through a majority audience support.

If you have a view about the topic, feel free to write in the comments section below. 

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