The Inside Story with Mani Shankar Aiyar

L-R Bunty Chand, Executive Director, Asia Society India Centre, Sunil Mehta, Board Member, Asia Society India Centre & Mani Shankar Aiyar, Member of Parliament

MUMBAI, July 23, 2013 — The world is watching India, the largest democracy on the planet, as it gears up for the election scheduled for early 2014. More than ever, issues of national leadership, candidacy, direction of policy and the faltering dynamism of India’s economy are under the spotlight as the country prepares for this momentous election. In order to poignantly explore this historical crossroads, Asia Society India Centre hosted a private roundtable discussion as part of its BASIC (Breakfast at Asia Society India Centre) series with notable Parliamentarian Mani Shankar Aiyar.

Aiyar, who was the former Petroleum & Gas Minister and has spent 26 years in various diplomatic postings around the world with the Indian Foreign Service, shared his impassioned views about the state of Indian affairs. The audience engaged in a broad-ranging discussion, beginning with an overview of some of the concerns of the upcoming elections in regards to the government and economy. Aiyar commented on what he believes is the single most important issue which the nation must face: the unity and integrity of India. Aiyar warned that the danger’s infringing upon this unification included communal forces and mindset which had recently made headlines. Aiyar instead encouraged building upon the strengths which India has inherited to grow into a formidable power that has the interests of the entire population in mind.

The discussion subsequently steered towards the nation’s growth and development. Aiyar pointed out that economists and officials must look beyond solely analyzing the Gross Domestic Product which can be misleading, and rather focus on endeavours such as alleviation of poverty and a reassurance of food security to judge the health of the nation. He noted that the barometers of growth are often set by international benchmarks and there should be resounding support to start measuring success internally. This was part of Aiyar’s broader suggestion to look inwards for advancement.

Aiyar went on to analyze India’s domestic and global foreign policy. While comparing and contrasting India’s footing today with the vision of hope which great leaders like Gandhi held for the country, Aiyar gave the example that the poorest Indians lack a sense of ownership of their own lives. The poor are riddled with difficulties in everyday life, ranging from education to sanitation, health and infrastructure. Against this backdrop, India’s heralded growth and development story is darkened by its vast inequality.

Finally Aiyar discussed a topic near and dear to his heart, the state of Indian and Pakistani relations. He suggested that engaging in dialogue is the best way to progress the relationship forward, and that both governments were responsible for taking a lead in doing so.

A collaborative report by Isha Gulati, Intern, Asia Society India Centre, Freya Birdie, Programme Officer, Asia Society India Centre and Mayanka Singh Nongpiur, Programme Assistant, Asia Society India Centre.