Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Non-stop insights about India

Renowned journalist, Mark Tully, in his book, 'Non Stop India', talks about the changes, or lack of it, in India, and why having a superpower ambition is the wrong one for the country

Photo: Mark Tully with TV personality Karan Thapar at the release of 'Non-stop India' in New Delhi

By Shevlin Sebastian

Famed BBC reporter Mark Tully laughs when asked whether he enjoys the post-BBC period more, or his 30-year career as a journalist. Tully retired from the BBC in June, 1994. “When I left the BBC, I told myself the one thing I was really looking forward to, was that, on an evening, I can open a bottle of beer and know that nobody is going to ring me up and order me to do something,” says Tully, while on a brief visit to Kochi. “They might ask me, but I could always say, 'Get lost.'”

He admits that his post-retirement career has been fulfilling: giving talks, hosting the 'Something Understood' programme on BBC Radio 4, which has one million listeners, as well as writing books. His latest, 'Non-Stop India', is an update on what is happening in the country.

“In the government, nothing has changed in the past fifty years,” he says. “If you look at the attitude of the government servant, the word, 'servant' does not come into it. He does not have an attitude of, 'How may I help you, Sir?' Instead, it is a barked, 'What do you want?' There is a lot of arrogance. Treating people like muck. Deliberately making things complicated, to encourage corruption.”

In fact, in the rural areas, the bureaucrat is a more hated figure than the politician. “The poor know that they can boot out the politician every five years,” says Tully. “But the bureaucrat will sit on his seat for 30 years, whether he performs or not.”

And contrary to what we all think, the economic growth has not spread all over the country. “At the way things are going, I am not sure there are enough jobs for everybody,” says Tully. “When people talk about the 'demographic advantage' -- of having such a young population -- I have a fear that this advantage could become a disaster, and lead to violence.”

So this ambition of India wanting to become the next superpower, along with China, is it an illusion?

“Imagine what Mahatma Gandhi would have said if any Indian expressed a desire to become a citizen of a superpower,” says Tully. “He would have been appalled by that. India should aspire to be a country where everyone can enjoy a decent standard of living, education, and health. It should be a nation which should live by its ancient principles. Instead, India is borrowing all its ideas from the West.”

But the West, unfortunately, is in creative and economic decline. “You are right,” says Tully. “People in Europe and America need to remember that civilisations rise and fall. They will be overtaken by other nations.”

But what upsets Tully is the rampant materialism in Europe. “People believe that only material things bring happiness, but that is not true,” he says. “In Britain, there is now a widespread belief that religion is dangerous and bad. Something hugely important is lost when a nation adopts such an attitude.”

So, the veteran broadcaster feels happy when he comes to Kerala. “It has a deeply multi-religious culture, which is wonderful to see,” he says. “In North India, it is much less so. India is also full of talented Malayalis, but, unfortunately, none of them stay in Kerala. I am told trade unionism is still hampering the state's economic growth.”

(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram)