Inda Today Conclave 2005History has made it a habit to be the uninvited guest at INDIA TODAY Conclaves. September 11 changed the world and it also postponed our first Conclave, from October 2001 to January 2002 in a post-Taliban world.The spirit of the times-or, perhaps, the fear of the times-gave,Inda Today Conclave 2005History has made it a habit to be the uninvited guest at INDIA TODAY Conclaves. September 11 changed the world and it also postponed our first Conclave, from October 2001 to January 2002 in a post-Taliban world.The spirit of the times-or, perhaps, the fear of the times-gave our theme, “Opportunities and Threats”. The second Conclave on “India Tomorrow: Global Giant or Pygmy?” was held on the eve of the Iraq war, the second phase of the war on terror that interfered with our first Conclave.Addressing the second Conclave, US President Bill Clinton struck the right note when he said, “The world cannot afford India to be a pygmy. You have to be a giant and the right kind of giant.” That ambition was reflected in the theme of last year’s Conclave, “Building an Indian Century”. It was held on the eve of the Indian general elections, an ideal backdrop to idealism on a grand scale.India has undergone a makeover since then. There is a new government in Delhi. The afterglow of elections extends beyond India-into America, Afghanistan and Iraq. History was there once again on the front bench of our Conclave this year. The theme was a logical progression of last year’s. When we argued on the project of an Indian century, there emerged varying ideas, varying perceptions of India.So our theme this year was “India Tomorrow: Perception versus Reality”. Is there a clash between the two? Or is it that Indian reality is too multidimensional to be strait jacketed by the earnest and the curious? Or is it the gap between our potential and our mindset? What explains the profusion of perceptions is the dynamics of being India, the nation as a permanent astonishment. It is in the continuous process of reinvention or self-renewal. India is in the beholder’s eye but only for a while. One blink and you are into another perception. Take the most obvious: of freedom and democracy. India is Asia’s most evolved-and still evolving-civil society. However, the perception is India’s freedom is not proportional to progress, as in the US or Europe. The volume is not matched by virtues. After all, the overwhelming Asian story of the past two decades is how less democracy meant more prosperity. We are still the victim of the tyranny of comparison. We are told, “Look at China, and look where India is.”And our speakers looked deep into the heart and mind of India. Columbia Professor Jagdish Bhagwati saw a “country of snake charmers” becoming a “country of charmers”. Writer William Dalrymple explained “how India of the imagination is taking shape in the diaspora which exports chutney fied culture from the West to the East”. For Pascal Lamy, director, Notre Europe, “India is the reason we talk of an Asian Century.” For Hillary Clinton, New York Senator and one of the most remarkable women of our times, “the India Miracle will be the one that is the choice of those who still feel oppressed or deserted by their own governance or by the larger community”.Bollywood legend Amitabh Bachchan pointed out how our cinema, more than 100 years old, was so young and lively, “shaking a leg at the disco, speeding down the highways of romance, hanging out at sports bars and even pausing awhile at the edge to reflect upon reality”. Nobel laureate Sir Vidia Naipaul said that “the country is better informed about itself than at any time in its history”. He said it represented an “enormous intellectual advance”. The kind which allows perception and reality to coexist in politics, marketplace, culture.India is where space-age technology cohabits with gasping water taps. It is where modernity is not a repudiation of tradition. It survives in the chaos of contradictions rather well. There is an India of the mind and an India of the senses. There is an India of history and an India of memory. India is larger than the sum total of the perceptions of India. The Conclave was an attempt to see the life of the future in the heartbeats of the present, to engage with India, to redeem an India trapped between perceptions and reality.advertisementIt did not-and could not-completely change views matured in history and civilisation. But it did update them. All for the better.