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'Our founding fathers gave us passports to their ideals. Let us live up to them in the next fifty'

Isn't history the reason for our general animosity towards foreigners and our desire for self-reliance?

Shashi Tharoor History sometimes teaches us the wrong lessons. Because of colonialism and the East India Company, which came to trade but stayed on to rule, we became suspicious of every foreigner with a briefcase. But there were also opportunities we could have gained from foreigners, as elsewhere in Asia. Foreign investment could have created jobs, reduced poverty.

The purpose of any governmental policy should be to ensure the well being of the people. India's economic policies haven't quite done that: 40% of the population linger just above destitution, below a poverty line that has been drawn just this side of the funeral pyre. Other Asian countries like China, Korea, Malaysia, have managed to improve themselves through the judicious use of foreign investment.

If India's rules hadn't been so self-righteous, perhaps ordinary Indians would have been better off. But on the other hand, one must acknowledge that the government has done whatever it has in the face of innumerable challenges.

Granta editor Ian Jack contends that no nation has ever simultaneously done the following: grow its economy rapidly, distribute its wealth equitably, and function as a democracy. India is attempting to do all three.

That is not particularly good history. The US itself is a good counter-example, although over a much longer period, and though it is true that Blacks were excluded from democracy. Over perhaps a hundred and twenty years the US has pulled off all three. Other examples might exist, for example, Germany and Japan after the Second World War. But the comment does define the scale of the challenge. Which of the three would you rather suspend?

All three are interdependent. India has embarked on a course towards all three now: previously, growth was held to be unimportant, now we see we need it to build a future.

In the economic race, India seems to be falling far behind others such as China.

China has done remarkably well, attracting 40% of all the private sector investment in the world today, much of it from the Chinese diaspora, though also from its many fans among multinationals. India is also beginning to benefit from its diaspora: Indian Americans are beginning to matter in American, even though some are sectarian as well. It is an effective community, of greater significance than immigrants from comparable countries.

You seem to place much significance on what you call the 'Malayali Miracle' -- the fact that they have succeeded in creating a relatively equitable society.

Kerala Miracle Malayalis have been outward-looking for a long time. For example, there is a Nair-san restaurant on the Ginza in Tokyo; there is a profusion of Malayalis around India, as clerical or professional workers, employed by MNCs and Indian business houses. Keralites emigrate for work. But more interestingly, Kerala is an example of what a diverse society can achieve.

There is little correlation between background and power. Various groups -- many religions and castes-- live in comparative harmony. In Kerala, none of the things that have been serious disabilities in the rest of the country seem to matter: being a woman, being of low caste, being poor, and so on.

The celebrated "Eurocommunism", in fact, worked earlier as Kerala's Indo- Communism; literacy, education, better wages, a greater consciousness of workers' rights. Of course, Kerala is not perfect, but they have done a pretty good job.

You seem to be inclined to favour greater decentralisation. Isn't there a danger that could break up the country?

There is much to be said for "de-centering Delhi"; it is a refreshing change for India already, with the regional parties in the UF government, to see the national capital in the hands of those whose roots are in the distant soil and not in the federal ministries.

At the same time, there is little risk of fragmentation because of the continuing role of the national civil services, the "steel frame" of the government. Though regionalist decentralisation could be dangerous, the devolution of power -- accepting that answers to every question in Dharwar are not necessarily found in Delhi -- can strengthen democracy rather than dilute it.

In a sentence, what is your vision for the future of India? How do you see the debates you have described working out?

Indian farmers The future of India lies in the hands of Indians. I believe they will sustain an India open to the contention of ideas and interests within it, unafraid of the prowess or the products of the outside world, wedded to the pluralism that is India's greatest strength, and determined to liberate and fulfill the creative energies of its people. Such an India can make the 21st century her own.

Any closing thoughts to your readers?

I hope what I have to say echoes many of their own thoughts. I believe strongly that the kind of society India has tried to create in the last fifty years -- pluralist, democratic, all- inclusive and adaptable -- is well worth celebrating. Our nationalism is not one of language, or race, or blood; our founding fathers gave passports to their ideals. Let us try to live up to them in the next fifty.

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