Is Shashi Tharoor’s speech real and relevant?
A recent speech by Shashi Tharoor is a feel good speech and I would say Chicken Soup for the Indian Soul. Sure, it’s bound to arouse a certain amount of cynicism because of well, a certain amount of hype. Despite that it’s a speech that can fill one’s heart with hope. It’s not as if Tharoor has lied about anything. He has just give us a sugar coated pill, and it’s a pill that we all need to take once in a while.
Tharoor, the Indian Minister of State for External Affairs, is clever enough to admit that India has a long long way to go when it comes to economic development and acknowledges that unless India’s vast human capital is underdeveloped, as long as India is “superpoor”, it cannot call itself a super power.
The speech focuses on how much India has developed, and he talks of telecommunications. I could not help but relate to his anecdotes of 20 years ago when one had to wait for years to get a telephone connection and the times when one had to place a “trunk call” if one had to call someone from out of town. A trunk call which could take hours to arrive and what you did in the meanwhile was hang around waiting for it. Unless one placed an expensive “lightening call” which took half an hour! I remember that I grew up during the time when telegrams were the order of the day and one of things which made my parents happy was when they could book a telegram on the phone! Well, as Shashi Tharoor mentions, those days are long gone. Today even the working classes in India own telephones. Something that has greatly aided them in their business activities.
But it is not this which Tharoor really talked about. He talks about India’s soft power and mentions how India has put itself on the world map because of this. He talks of India’s soft power in terms of its music, its movies, its cuisine and disciplines like Yoga, Ayurveda which have spread all across the world. And also about India’s people, the scientists and doctors to mathematicians and software gurus who have made the world over sit up and take notice of India. Tharoor also talks of India’s rich heritage of 23 languages, innumerable scripts, its diverse culture and religions.
He emphasizes India’s democratic traditions and openness which go back hundreds of years. “India has been an open society since millenia,” he says. All this, Tharoor feels, has made a difference. The image of India as a land of fakirs and snake charmers is gone. The richness and diversity of India’s story “rests on a fundamental platform of political pluralism”.
He feels India is one-up on the United States, which had a President of another race for the first time in its history when it elected Barack Obama. India on the other hand has had diverse leaders, from all backgrounds and religions. Ofcourse it’s not as simple as he makes it sound, but it’s good to hear. What is true is that India is a diverse plural democracy. I am more sceptical when he says that India is a place where we ” don’t have to agree, just agree where to disagree” or when he says that the people of India have “learnt to survive without consensus.” But if the key word is “survive” I guess he is right. We are surviving without consensus, but we do have a long way to go.
At the end of it all, we need to remember that India is being respected more than earlier because we are now a “market” and have some amount of economic power. That is what a commentator of this blog had pointed out to me once. This is what he said:
From an every day perspective your culture traditions etc will matter to a man on the street more as your economy grows and with that how you touch western lives. Notice how Japanese culture went from being joked about in the 1950s to being respected by the average man on the street in the early 90s as their economy caught up with the west. India too has in concert with its economic progress increased its image greatly from a land of maharajas and snake-charmers to well.. something better.