The tragedy is that during better times, like
the early part of the last decade, not enough
was done to find a solution for Kashmir. The
Center starts searching for progress in
Kashmir only after the flare-up and violence.
Second, the institutions of the State are failing to keep pace with rapid social changes taking place in India. There are not enough
judges, the investigative agencies’ capacity to
prosecute the corrupt is much too slow and
much too feeble.
What are India’s unifying forces?
It’s not just some unifying force. It’s just the
way in which this country works. It’s not that
you have a choice about it… For example, you
can’t have any other country’s passport and be
an Indian. If you are Pakistani, you can also
hold a British passport. So, it may be forced
identity as an Indian here, but that’s a consequence for social cohesion across the country.
Today’s Indians are accused of lacking a
sense of history. What’s your view?
Who accuses Indians of not having a sense of
history? I have written about the way in which
history used to be taught in Indian schools.
Now, it is taught in a much better and more
inspiring way. In addition to that, the people
of India have an abiding interest in history.
Okay, the version of history may not be accurate, but people are thinking about it and talking about ideas and you have films, which
often have historical quality.
I think history is important in India. It’s
always debated and discussed. One of the purposes of this book was to try to entertain
younger Indian readers by showing historical
figures in a different light.
One of the most debated topics in India today is the terrorism of some Hindus groups. Have Hindus or Hinduism
I am not convinced by the idea of Hindu terrorism, which
is the phrase used now. Rahul Gandhi commented on it, I think we read it in Wikleaks. I
think it is true that Hindu extremists can
commit acts of terror, but I don’t think that it
is an overarching ideology.
Say, for example, somebody from the Hindu
community plants a bomb to attack a community. That for me is a form of violent politics. It
is about violent opposition between particular
groups. It is different from, for example, sending a boatload of people to Mumbai to attack
as it happened on 26/11. As far as I know,
there has never been a boatload of
RSS pracharaks (volunters) arriving in
Karachi, going to the main mosque and shooting dozens of people. If that would happen
that would be Hindu terrorism. So far, the violence practiced by people on the fringes of Hindu political
groups is something qualitatively different. It’s a very
After 1992 ( when the Babri Masjid was demolished) are
Hindus changing? Do they have a deeper saffron color?
I don’t think the Hindutva movement is the same as it
was in the 1990s. You should see the reaction of L K Advani
or (Gujarat) Chief Minister Narendra Modi to the recent
Ayodhya court judgment. Politically, Modi realizes that it is
not going to take him anywhere. The ability to mobilize
large numbers of people over the issue of knocking down
the mosque is much less now. It is less politically effective
now. At the political level the main interest is in having
good governance. Modi is being re-elected in Gujarat
because he has got the power-supply lines and is running
an efficient administration. He is not re-elected because of
the killings in Gujarat in 2002.
Nitish Kumar in Bihar was also re-elected due to good
For Patrick French the great thing about Hinduism is that materialism is incorporated into religion
SANJAY SAWANT/REDIFF. COM
You have written about the differences of North and
South India. Is the idea of the Indian nation and that unifying moral force taking shape properly?
I think so. Of course, it is easy to say that my only identity
is that of a Malayali or Bengali, but when you go
to different parts of India you see people speaking different languages, following different traditions and eating different food, but clearly
they have a unified identity. That is partly
because of the historical strand going back
thousands of years, but it is also because the
vision of the new nation the founding fathers
had in 1947 meant that first and foremost you
are Indian and that is your identity and everything else is secondary.
It was the propaganda in school and that
exists to this day. It is very effective propaganda
and it has been very beneficial because if you see
other countries — for example, modern Britain
At one place you have said that Hinduism is the unifying
force of India.
I am talking about the past… I was mentioning Amartya
Sen’s talk in the book. Clearly, Hinduism has been the unifying force in the creation of a pan-Indian identity. That is
one of the aspects of its future. I am not suggesting that the
sense of Indianness is exclusive to Hindus. The point that
(Maulana Mehboob) Madani made is important. He says
we didn’t leave our country… We will live in India that is
our country, that’s the best place in the world. I agree with
At the end of this century what will India look like? A
Hindu India or will the Islamic influence prevail? A secular India? Or a Westernized India?
I can’t project that far, but I don’t think India will be
Westernized. Very few rich people may be Westernized,
(even) as they happen to have a Mercedes.
Yeah... inside the Mercedes they have a Ganesha.
Absolutely! That’s the point. I think lots of changes in last
few decades are driven internally inside India. I don’t think
it has come from globalization or liberalization. It is taking
indigenous shape. The future of India depends on the
inclusion of 300 million poor people in the forward movement. At the moment one-fourth of the people are largely
excluded from the benefits of Indian progress. Unless they
are incorporated in the movement for progress, India will
have a social problem.
There are fears expressed about India becoming a ‘Hindu
India.’ But I met Madani; he makes a point. He says a new
generation of younger and educated Muslims have different ambitions than what their parents had or their grandparents had. Indian Muslims will push forward themselves
through ambition and education. At the moment, the
dynamism that you see in India extends to every community. I have no doubt about it.
Aravind Adiga’s review of your book in The Guardian is
quite scathing. Please comment.
My book is about how I see things... for example, the
structure of the extended family and how it works in India
or about the attitude of people. I see it (more) clearly now
than I would have done 20 years ago when I came to India
as a student... The point about the Adiga review is that he
wrote The White Tiger, which is a book that is full of clichés.
It has a lead character who is meant to be a driver, but he
speaks in the voice of a grumpy (nonresident Indian) NRI
journalist! And the book is full of factual inaccuracies. In
any case, what Adiga has to say is of little importance to me.
In fact, some people have engaged the families about whom
I have written in the book. That is more significant and
You have written a book on Tibet ( Tibet: A Personal
Historyofa Lost Land). You have been to China. How do
you see Chinese and Indians handling their country’s 9 percent growth?
Both China and India have their traditional savings and