I had the chance to attend a lunch meeting earlier today with a handful of MPs from India who were in New York as part of the Indo-US Parliamentary Forum. The audience was a largely receptive business-minded one with questions like “what do you think about the future of real estate in India?”
All of the politicians displayed an admirable understanding of what India needs today (except for the gentleman from Jharkand, who spoke somewhat incomprehesibly). For the most part, the storylines were well-rehearsed: India is booming, the world is finally seeing India for what it is, democracy makes things move slow, etc. Throw in a joke or two, and that was enough to elicit the applause from the smallish audience. Two of the MPs however stood out in their characterizations of India, and their aspirations for what she can do and become.
The first was Robert Karshiing, MP from Meghalaya. His hope for an ”India which understands humility” was refreshing. It reminded the others that all the glory of being received by businessmen in the Harvard Club in New York City will not change the fact that a large part of our population remains in poverty, or that health and education are nowhere near adequate. India may have ‘arrived’ for the rest of the world, but she has yet to do so for many of her citizens.
The last one to speak was Congress MP Sachin Pilot (elected to parliament in 2004 at the age of 26). He was intelligent and self-effacing. He understood that his strong belief in helping farmers may strike the audience as populism – and clearly explained why it was not. Towards the end of the meeting, an audience member asked a touchy question: “To what extent is bad governance retarding growth and poverty reduction? and what specific steps do you think Parliament can take to change that over the coming years?”
The others didn’t seem to want to take on the question. The man from Jharkhand looked genuinely perplexed. Pilot asked for the mic, and clearly iterated that he understood precisely what the concern was, and said that, even as a newcomer, he had seen a significant change in the last couple of years – with politicians gradually realizing the importance of finding common ground with regard to how to reduce poverty, and stimulate growth.
“Ultimately,” he said, “We are part of the problem… and hopefully, we can be part of the solution.”
Time will tell.