Lord Meghnad Desai at DAKLF: Modi is the only leader who can get things done in India

Talking about Indian politics and the entrepreneurial drive or the lack therein, Desai said that India Gujarat has been the most capitalist state of the country
Lord Meghnad Desai spoke at the DAKLF 2020 on December 22 (Pic: Express)
Lord Meghnad Desai spoke at the DAKLF 2020 on December 22 (Pic: Express)

Development is not the priority in Modi 2.0 but the cultural aspects have become more prominent, said Lord Meghnad Desai while speaking at The New Indian Express' Dakshin Literary Festival 2020. Desai has just published his autobiography Rebellious Lord: An Autobiography and was in conversation with senior journalist Kaveree Bamzai and Edex's Chief Reporter Daniel Thimmayya on his life, his lessons and obviously politics.

Talking about Indian politics and the entrepreneurial drive or the lack therein, Desai said that India can be considered a collection of nations much like Europe — and Gujarat has been the most capitalist and successful 'country' in it. "The culture of Gujarat is very economy-oriented. A moneymaker is respected there, which is not the case for the rest of India. Modi was in that culture. RSS wasn't. The notion that BJP is a traders' party is an insult invented by the left. And I believe that Modi has also now been captured by the non-Gujarati forces of the RSS. Now Article 370 and CAA is a priority. Sab ka vikas is not the priority (anymore). But he is still the only leader in India who can get something done in India, but he has to get his focus back on the economy. Arun Jaitley isn't there anymore," he added.

The BJP's record win in 2014 has been the topic of many a debate and Desai agrees there was a gap that the BJP filled in. "Indians were hungry not just for economic progress but for politics and their identity. And I think that is where BJP very patiently dug away. Secularism is not a narrative. BJP has the Hindu narrative which, I think, is not good enough because India is not just a Hindu civilisation. Modern India does not really care about this, they want to be technologically advanced. The Indian government structure is absolutely third grade. The greatest obstacles created in India is the bureaucracy. Even Modi has not been able to defeat it," he added.

People are often confused as to whether he is really a liberal. Desai answered it once and for all. "In India, you come as a package, you are either this or that. You can't have independent thought. If you are left-liberal you have to hate Modi. I don't think people understand that this left-liberalism is very hollow. When it was in power it actually did not do very liberal things," he added. "We do not have liberal thought in India. There is no individualism. You always belong to something. A genuine love for enterprise and money is also missing in India. No one from the RSS to CPM likes private business. They think all businessmen are cheats and all profits come from cheating and the first thing to do is to stop them from prospering. And if you say sentimental things like 'I am a kisan', you have your debt forgiven. The kisan is a businessman. It's the largest private sector is agriculture. These are deeply rooted cultural attitudes and since Mathematics came with the foreigners it has never taken roots because we are very ambivalent about foreigners. We hate them and we are afraid of them. But we won't sign a foreign trade treaty with them because they will come and flood our markets. We have no defence so we have to be Aatmanirbhar. I am always puzzled by the fact that the RSS's ambition is to be jagatguru — not that they want a country where there is no poverty or where everybody is healthy. You don't have one first-rate university in the country. Apart from yoga, where is the need for the world to come to India," he added.

There is no denying that Desai knows more about Marx than most in India and perhaps across the world. But how did he get introduced to his ideas? "When I was growing up in Mumbai, Marx and communists were everywhere. But most people hadn't read Marx. It's only after I went to America that I discovered Marx in a very different way. My Marxism first started by understanding the Vietnam War and the black-white differential among others. When I went to Oxford, I got a more academic perspective. I understood that Marx is very different from Lenin. And I constrict myself to Marx. I was not dragged into the Indian Communist culture which is very very superficial and very poorly read. No Indian (left) party person has ever written a book that is read abroad. Marx has a more positive idea of capitalism and its potential than people now think," he said.

Talking about whether the so-called selling out of the left-liberals helped the BJP come to power in the avatar that they did in 2014, Desai agreed that a lot of it had to do with the left thinking about India in foreign terms. "They did not take caste seriously. They did not take religion seriously in a society that is deeply religious and defines people's identity. And even the Congress, although they had a very religious under-strata, Nehru sidelined it. There was complete alienation and there was an empty space where the BJP moved in," he said.

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