Lord Meghnad Desai is a British economist and parliamentarian sitting in the House of Lords. He has been awarded the Padma Bhushan, the third highest civilian award in the Republic of India, in 2008. Lord Desai, an author of several books on Indian paradigm, is known for his fierce views on various controversies on economics, history and anything else which catches his attention.
In an exclusive interview, he spoke to Ujjawal Krishnam.
You are well known for your works in economic sciences, but it is quite a curious connexion to see you penning cosmopolitan opinions. Please tell us how did this all begin?
Growing up in India, I never thought narrow specialisation had to be my fate.
What according to you is political correctness? How does it apply to Indian political climate?
Equal respect for all human beings regardless of age, race, gender, caste or creed. This battle has always been there.
You are an academician; what factors, according to you, are degrading quality of education in India? Your comment on the rat race compassing Indian education system.
I have never worked in India except once long ago as a visiting academic. Government interference, desire to widen access than to improve quality and rampant private speculation to secure and hoard land under an excuse of starting an educational institution and the Simple idea that education is a degree, a piece of paper. The exams are a test of memory than of analytical ability. Except for science, engineering and mathematics, Indian education is worthless.
“Academic research needs money — Rockefeller was a robber baron once but we take his money,” you once remarked as Saif Gaddafi, son of the Libyan leader, had granted the LSE a £1.5 million grant through the Gaddafi International Charity and Development Foundation. Should institutions entertain fundings from the fascist forces?
My involvement with Saif Gaddafi was as an examiner for his Ph.D. Thesis which we judged as requiring revision . He made the revision and got the degree. I was not involved with his donation to LSE.
Your attempt to connect what I had said about Rockefeller which I stand by and the Gaddafi episode is disgraceful.
What should India do to make the democratic processes more transparent?
I believe India’s democracy is one of the best despite its flaws. I deal with this in my Raisina Model.
Many critics are claiming that Institutions in India are being saffronised, free flow of ideas are being constrained and students are being jailed for raising slogans against rigid governance; diktats to not let professors of central universities speak— have been legitimised by the statutory body. How do you see this whole scenario?
This is a hysterical reaction. Universities in India have been politically manipulated for ever. When Congress was hegemonic some issues were never allowed to be researched e.g. Emergency or Corruption, The CPM destroyed Presidency— a College in Kolkata, the oldest modern educational institution in India and no one complained. The saffron people are the new elite so they can do their damage . As long as education is publicly funded, it will be subject to political interference.
What according to you is nationalism? Your comment on JNU sedition row controversy involving emerging young politicians like Kanhaiya Kumar?
The two parts of the question are not connected. I have discussed nationalism in Politicshick in a global context. I do not take Kanhaiya seriously. He is just like many student leaders I have known who are in the news for a while and then vanish. I hope he does not but don’t think he will last.
In today’s INDIA, with the communal divide being fomented at the highest levels, what sort of campaigns and imagery could work to defeat proto-fascist forces? How should, in your view, progressive forces align together to defeat crony capitalism? Is this possible at present?
The Idea of proto- fascism etc is premature. India is a vibrant democracy ; no fascist country it ever was. Only during Indira Gandhi’s emergency was India Fascist but that did not last long. The only way to defeat the forces you don’t like is to vote against them
Demonetisation carried out by Modi government has been analysed as an utter failure by economists, do you see any political gain for BJP by virtue of these hectic decisions?
I do not think it was a failure as I myself had advocated it in 2004 in a speech at the RBI. It could have been better implemented if new currency had been printed in time. I wrote many columns in my Indian Express perch Out of My Mind at the time.
Hindufication of political mandate is a new dynamics in India. Congress has released ‘Ram-Narmada-Goumutra’ manifesto for Madhya Pradesh polls. How did you observe this new strategy of the grand old party?
What is general possibility of democratic dictator encased by majoritarian line?
There is no danger of democratic dictatorship in India. We had Indira Gandhi who became one. Since her defeat in 1977 no one has tried it. No one will.
You have keenly observed two distinct socio-political segments: Indian as well as British. How do you differentiate between them? As far as Indian dimension is concerned, we took seven decades after independence to decriminalise colonial section 377 whereas Britain decriminalised homosexuality long back and Queen expressed regret for the loss of Alan Turing too. Your view please.
Too complicated to answer.
Hundreds of thousands of farmers are on roads protesting against the government today, many reports on agricultural reforms are yet to be implemented. Agrarian crisis is deepening. When, according to you, will India become a truly socialist country?
I hope India never becomes a socialist economy. It would be a disaster of untold proportion. The faux socialism of the first forty years is responsible for agrarian distress as I have argued. It produced highly Capital Soviet type industry, did not create enough jobs to take farmers off land and into good factory jobs. China abandoned socialism as an economic strategy. India also has but not as vigorously as China. I discuss the same in The Raisina Model.
What is your opinion about ‘Urban Naxal’- the new term in Indian politics? When will this biggest internal threat to the nation stand completely annihilated in pure sense?
I can’t vouch for very stupidity.
You keenly observe Indian union budget; this year you called ‘headlines’ and ‘votes’ as two planks of the budget. What according to you should be a pragmatic budget for India?
Again a question which would require several pages. In short, budgets should be balanced, tax should be progressive and expenditure which would be growth friendly and welfare enhancing.
You are a British parliamentarian, what is your your comment on Indian parliamentarians who waste many discussion sessions by quarrelling for hours in the parliament. Do you see Indian Upper House in the form which once was envisioned by founding fathers of the nation? Once it housed prominent thinkers, now it is solely meant for the backdoor extravaganza to induce those who lose general elections in the ministries. Your opinion?
I wouldn’t like to comment.
Your message for youngsters on whose shoulders stand the future of nation and the world in broader perspective.
Older people should never presume to give messages to younger people. We are the past. They are the future. One can only hope they will not repeat the mistakes we made.