EVENT TRANSCRIPT: DISSECTING THE ELECTION RESULTS: WHAT IS NEXT FOR INDIA?
DATE: 6.00 PM-7.00 PM, 5th JUNE 2019
VENUE: MILLBANK TOWER, 21-24 MILLBANK, WESTMINSTER, SW1P 4RS
SPEAKERS: ARNAB KUMAR, RADHIKA IYER, AND JOHN ELLIOTT
EVENT CHAIR: DR. JOHN HEMMINGS
DR. JOHN HEMMINGS: Good evening ladies and gentleman. My name is John Hemmings. I am the Director of the Asia Studies Centre here at the Henry Jackson Society. You are all most welcome. I am very pleased to have you here, basically, discussing a very, very contentious topic of interest. The world’s largest democracy finally rounds out and finishes off what some say may be one of the most expensive elections. So, we have that political heat mixed with the physical temperature of India this weekend which has been also very hot. So we have a lot of political and temperatures in the room, and we are going to have a wonderful discussion. We have a very interesting group with us today. I’ll just introduce them in order of my sheet here and if you could just see which ones they are. Arnab Kumar comes to use from NITI Aayog, which is essentially a quasi-Indian government organization, but we are very fortunate to have him in the UK at the moment at Oxford where he is doing some fellowship studies and research. If you also note, sitting next to me here is Radhika Iyer, who is NDTV’s Chief Correspondent; someone who has hosted out of England for UK audience for quite a long time. She is overseeing a number of different reports on the Indian election, and I think today will be speaking to some degree about social media. Finally, John Elliott is a Delhi-based journalist and author of “Implosion”, a book that I have on my bookshelf and have promised to read now that he has just signed it for me. He worked for a long time as a journalist for The Financial Time, The Economist and The New Statesman, and has a long and intimate history of India and political India. Perhaps what we could do to move smoothly from this stage to the discussion stage, we will have about ten minutes each from our speakers in which time we will turn it over to you, the audience, to push back, to explore ideas, to ask questions. Certainly no long political speeches please. Disagree without being disagreeable. One of the difficult things about talking about politics is when we all know that we’re going to disagree is to do it in a way that is graceful and allows for learning for all of us. But, having said that I don’t want to over-egg the pudding. Let’s jump right in. If I might, I might start with John and simply move his direction. So John, the floor is yours.
JOHN ELLIOTT: Thank you John very much. It’s nice to be back here for the second of your election sessions, having been here in April discussing the election before it happened. I said I was going to discuss why Rahul Gandhi should go. But, before get around to that, I’m going to have a few moments on what happened in the election and why in a very broad sense. The overwhelming Modi victory means that India has re-elected a strong authoritarian Hindu nationalist government. But, not everybody, by any means, who voted BJP actually want that. Many, especially the young, voted BJP because they saw no alternative. That is why Rahul should go, which I’ll be coming back to it, because there needs to be an alternative, which there isn’t at the moment, not a national one anyway. This undoubtedly a desire, especially among urban voters for the economy to get moving, and Congress was offering no realistic policy. There is also a more evident feeling in urban areas that India needs a Hindu-oriented because for too long Muslims have been pampered, to put it bluntly. I was struck by this when I was in India for three weeks. I was introduced as living there; I lived there for 25 years until a year ago when I came back, but I was back for six weeks during Christmas, and I was back for three weeks after Easter. I was struck when I was there traveling around. I was in Madhya Pradesh and then I was in Pune, which is a centre for Modi worshipers among the business community and then I was in Mumbai and Delhi. I was struck while I was there how often I heard about this line that Congress had given the Muslims too much for too long and it had to stop. These two points about whether the young want to economy to move and why they voted BJP was highlighted by a friend who is a professional. He runs a firm in Delhi and Bombay. He said to me after the results were declared about the views of his largely twenty-five to thirty-year-old staff. He has got a huge office, about four times the size of this, all full of young university graduates working away on their computers the business that the firm does. He said, the general opinion among that age group is that the country needs momentum and the fact that Modi is the only man capable of leading that weighs heavily on any and every discussion in this peer group. I would say that he said they are “vote reluctant” BJP voters. They are reluctant, but they are happy with the results. Alongside that, he also said that Modi’s approach has meant the politics are being much more openly discussed. Now, Indians always discuss politics, it’s like cricket. Arguments about politics go on all the time, but it’s who’s up or who’s down or who’s paid who off or who’s doing whatever with who. It is not so often about policies ad certainly policies based on religion. He then said, “I have colleagues and professional groups were people talk about how Hindus are being treated as minorities in a Hindu state and how that should stop.” This was never a real issue before. It has become an issue which people now talk about openly. It has never been an open issue before; it is now something that people talk about in open bold discussion quite voluntary, which did not happen in the past. That view was sharpened by a Delhi business contact in his fifties, who declares himself as a firm Congress supporter, and who at least somebody in this room knows him, but who identified with that view. He said (and he is seen as his friends as a Congress supporter), “People in general are reacting to Pan-Islamic fundamentalism and feel that Muslims have to be told to follow the national social norms, such as, a uniform civil code, which the BJP is proposing to reduce special concessions for Muslims and other minorities, small family (this endless fear that the Muslims will breed so fast that they’ll overtake the Hindu population, which one hears frequently), and also dress code.” This was an email sent to me by somebody who read my blog who is a friend. We weren’t having a discussion. He said, “John I want you to know that this is what we are feeling.” He added, “The wounds of partition with Pakistan are still not healed fully and Modi has been successful in rubbing salt in these wounds.” Now, I was pretty shattered to get that email before the election. The other email came after the election. As I say, it wasn’t a discussion, but he just felt passionately enough to send me this email and reply to a blog I was writing.
Together those remarks show how much more people have become ready to declare their views than before. The point that my first contact was talking about, that politics and in-depth politics are actually being discussed as real issues. So, that’s the broad point I wanted to make about what lay behind the election results, which brings me logically to my main point, which is that India needs an alternative. It needs a coherent opposition and it is not getting it at the moment, because of Rahul Gandhi. He will be forty-nine later this month in a couple of weeks. He resigned immediately after the election as everybody in this room, I’m sure, knows. Everybody flocked around him and said, “don’t do it, don’t do it, don’t do it.” His sister Priyanka apparently stormed off across the garden in the building where they were, not speaking to journalists. It was a very unhappy meeting of the top-level Congress working committee, when it took place. But, he should go for two reasons, well three reasons. One is that there needs to be an opposition. One is that the dynasty, being at the top of the party still, is leading to it being mocked, and not just mocked by Modi and the politicians, but being mocked widely. I am amazed at how often people in this country say to me: “How ridiculous for India to have a major opposition party run by a half-Italian” (which he is). It’s an old point, but it’s just not credible that the dynasty should be at the top. But, the main reason, alongside the need for an opposition to the BJP, is that Modi has started a political and social change in the last five years. The old elite, especially in Delhi and echoed in other cities, used to run the place, basically. They ran the place because they were linked with the Gandhi’s. The Gandhi being at the top had a pyramid effect on the elite who ran the system, generally. They had a huge shock when Modi was voted in in 2014. I drew it as a parallel with the shock I remember when the Labour government was thrown out, because I was a reporter here then, and Maggie Thatcher came in. My colleagues in other newspapers (I was on the Financial Times and I was reporting strikes and labour relations) who were older than me; I was quite young then; couldn’t understand how things were going to change, but the government made different decisions. When a strike happened, when some problem arose, the whole way that the government behaved was totally different. One had to stand back and look at it afresh. That was the same sort of shock, except that it was more personable, to what happened in Delhi. So Rahul’s exit would trigger a new change. Am I near on my ten minutes?
DR. JOHN HEMMINGS: You’re getting close
JOHN ELLIOTT: Okay. How quickly will it happen? A friend of mine this morning, a Congress supporter, who I emailed saying that I was about to talk about this, emailed back. She said she thinks it will take a long time, “the wound is too raw still. It would take them sometime to apprehend to enormity of what has happened.” And what has happened is the fact that Rahul is leaving a disaster. There is also no coherent leftist or liberal voice in India, with the decline of the Congress. The Communist Party has collapsed. It’s now only in Kapur. It was in West Bengal. So there’s no alternative leftist voice and something needs to emerge at the top of the opposition. And I am going to stop there.
DR. JOHN HEMMINGS: Excellent. Very well good. Arnab, I turn the floor over to you.
ARNAB KUMAR: Thank you. Thank you very much everyone to be here this evening. Some of you who are not aware of NITI Aayog. NITI Aayog was the Government of India’s strategy and policy making institutions. It is chaired by the Prime Minister himself.
AUDIENCE MEMBER 1: Excuse me. You need the microphone. A little louder please
ARNAB KUMAR: Okay. Thank you. So, it’s the Government of India’s strategy and policy making institution led by the Prime Minister, himself. One important caveat though. I am currently on leave of absence, so this is my personal opinion. Please don’t construe it the Government of India’s opinion. I have to be very very careful about that. When I got to know about this event, the theme that I chose to speak about was: what were the priorities of the government leading into the election and what could be seen as the priorities of the government going forward? I’m not a political commentator like John here, so my understanding of the government and governance is very limited. I’m a (inaudible) to the Government of India. Some of you might not be aware, but the government has been open to getting people from outside to head some of their initiatives. So I was chosen to run one of those missions. I have been in the government for only two years, so if you do not agree with me, you find me totally naive, then please excuse me.
You have to understand what was at stake when India was going through election in 2019. In 2030 India will be 83 years young. For some of you in this room, 83 holds a very important significance: we won the World Cup in that year. Take away the sentimental aspect, and think about what will happen in 2030 when India turns 83 years young. We will have about the largest population in the world. We will be about a 46 trillion economy, we could easily surpass the US. Our population, the average age will be about 31, still the youngest country in the world. Compare that to China which will be about 40 years. The US will be about 42 years. There are several things at stake here. When you look at the governance perspective and a policy perspective, the biggest factor that you will see a lot of people discussing is continuity and momentum, as John mentioned. I think those were the two themes that have come up very significantly. A lot of you would have tracked the markets and seen how the markets behaved post first exit polls and post the actual results. How many were surprised by the actual number that the current government got (around 352)? A lot of you were not surprised. I only saw a few hands. If you were following the regular media about six months ago, people would have given the government about 250 seats. I was one of the people who were actually said the party itself would get 300 seats. As political commentators, as members of the civil service society, we have been getting some of our predictions terribly wrong. We have seen that happen here in this country. We have seen that happen in America. So, coming back to the theme of what was at stake here. The most important thing that was at stake here was the voices of the people that are not heard and are not captured through these opinions polls, through this popular sentiment of what’s happening in the country. The priority that I have seen in the past two to two-and-a-half years of my work at the government is trying to go and address this. One important aspect of this, so of you will agree, is financial inclusion. A lot of us in this room will never have to fear that situations, but for somebody who is at the bottom of the pyramid, financial inclusion is a very, very important aspect. We went on an expedition of having bank accounts to everybody in the country. At this point in time we have about 80% of adult population in India that has a bank account. It is an incredible feat. A lot of you will question; a lot of you have already questioned, what’s the advantage of having a zero-balance account? What purpose does it achieve? Think of it from a perspective of a household maid, who arguably would get about 3,000 to 5,000 rupees a month and would not have a bank account to show a regular source of income. Now, with the addition of specialised credit companies, she can actually show that constant stream of income and the companies clear the credit products specialised for her. That’s the power of creating infrastructural institution that helps people at the larger scale. Similarly, if you look at the way we have gone about rupay cards, it’s another simple example but there’s very less transaction cost when it comes to (inaudible). You’d be very surprised about rupay, which is a very good example of ‘Made in India,’ has actually captured about 50% of the market. These are phenomenal examples.
Similarly, in terms of if you look at one of the biggest challenges that India has is access, availability and affordability of quality healthcare. We actually do not have that. I can throw the numbers of how poorly we fare compared to the global average, in terms of number of doctors, nurses and hospitals. How do we solve for that? And, most importantly, people going to private institutions, spending about 70% of all healthcare expenditure in India happens through private institutions. 63% of which is actually out of pocket expenditure. How do we solve for that? We have a scheme in India which is Ayushman Bharat. It is a phenomenal scheme. We are insuring about 500 million people, 40% of India’s population. They don’t have to pay anything. All their medical expenses are covered. This includes preexisting conditions. Where else will you see that? So, the last five years, (and I would like to have questions that check my optimism because I’m an eternal optimist) in terms of numbers and themes that I have thrown at you, the kind of infrastructure-building that has happened in the country needed a continuity, needed a momentum, and that is what through this mandate the current government has got. This is extremely important. You have seen the jumps and (inaudible) doing business. For several years we were banned for how difficult it was to start a business in the country. In the last two years, we have jumped 53 places. We are still 77th. There is still a long way to go. The target is to get in the top 50, but we are there. This is probably the best time to have your own startup in India. We have raised several billion. I mean you have seen 15-20 unicorns being created in the last two years. If you exclude China and America, India is the place with the largest unicorns in the world. Specifically, if you look at the fintech sector in the last three years, there was 6-8 billion of investment. Several companies, several stories, and several successful stories, like Wal-Mart taking an interest in Flipkart with a 16 billion evaluation, which could show that the startup ecosystem has matured. The idea for the next several years (inaudible) is there. It is actually built on some of these infrastructural aspects of governance, whether it be GST, whether it be the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, and making sure that we become a country of job-creators rather than becoming a country of job-seekers. When I actually decided to come back to India it was because I got a fantastic opportunity to setup too innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem in the country.
Some of you will have heard of a mission called Atal Innovation Mission. We started working at the grassroots level, at the ecosystem level. We said if India has to generate a lot of employment in 10-15 years from now, where do we start? Do we have that in out DNA to starting a company rather than working for somebody else? We said we would start with school students. So we went to schools class 6 to class 12. We said we are going to put something like a tinkering lab here. This is a safe space. There is no fear of failure. What you do hear is not graded. There is no annual exam, just go an express yourself. And people have come up with great, phenomenal examples of using technology to solve challenges and issues in their neighbourhood. This is the kind of interventions that we keep needing for India to grow at a 7+ GDP growth, which we all aspire India to. This is how we have been thinking of. In terms of very, very short-term priority. Some of you would have read that all ministries were given the task of preparing a 100-day plan. It is in the newspapers. Several of us have prepared that and it’s been actioned upon. Particularly, in my area of expertise which is emerging technologies, we have been in the thick of action. We have understood artificial intelligence and related technologies can solve some of the biggest challenges we have in healthcare, education, agriculture, rapid immersion (as our country is seeing), and mobility. We are very, very committed to it. We came out with a strategy which was very well received in June of last year. In probably a couple of months from now you will see a very, very ambitious program including expenditure being announced by the government, which will make some of you very proud. Thank you.
DR. JOHN HEMMINGS: Wonderfully on time, actually. Thank you. Radhika, the floor is yours.
RADHIKA IYER: Thank you. I just wanted contribute to what John said about Rahul Gandhi going because there’s this other; the only other person who is probably more popular than Narenda Modi in India now is this man called Rajinikanth who is a very popular actor down south. He said that the senior leaders of the Congress Party haven’t worked hard enough, so maybe it’s time to think about them and their role and whether they need to exist in the opposition or in the Congress Party. But, I am remind of that because everybody in India would have seen headlines that said, “Modi 2.0 Has Begun”. That’s based on this film that Rajinikanth did where he plays a robot.
AUDIENCE MEMBER 1: A little louder please.
RADHIKA IYER: Yes, can you hear me now? Better? So on the 23rd of May a celebration broke out here in London’s Piccadilly Circus, even as firecrackers were contributing to Delhi’s pollution levels. Here the Indian Diaspora is just so very active, also very contributing in nature to whatever happens in India, including funding for much of the politics and the political campaigns that happens. I happened to wake up at about 2 o’clock that morning because I just couldn’t sleep. It was Counting Day, the 23rd of May. The only other time that I was up that early was in 2016 when Leonardo was nominated as ‘Best Actor’ at the Oscar’s and I swore to God that I wouldn’t see it if he didn’t win it. Anyway, so I wonder after this marathon seven-phase election that we’ve had, whether the dust has actually settled now. Or, is it the calm before the storm? Because look at the situation. The BJP is back with Modi, more power than it had in 2014. We have a party boss who is Amit Shah who is now the Home Minister of the Country. And, we have an opposition which is nearly non-existent, which is as ineffective as it can be. So it’s a very precarious situation that India is in, particularly for democracy.
But, because we are talking about democracy, we can’t but touch about the fact that this has been a grand election. Everything about India is so grand, isn’t it? This election has been, as every election, the grandest event in the world. Some 900 million people are eligible to cast their vote in this election. 543 constituencies would send a member to the Lok Sabha, so very, very grand, very, very big indeed. Just as much as it was a test for the Election Commission of India, which conducted the elections about how fair it is and about how well organised it is, this a test for the social media as well, for tech companies such as Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube, and Google and so on. This is because of the hot and cold that they’ve had with India, because of the kind of controversies that we saw. Because his medium reached out to so many people at once, the impact was huge and the accountability was almost zero. We did see politicians campaigning in the most modern way as thought of, by tweeting or firing tweeting at each other, as opposed to the conventional methods of campaigning. But I want to rewind a little bit to 2014, and if Arnab threw numbers at you, I’m going to throw some serious numbers at you because this will give you an idea of just how much of an influence the entire loosely labeled social media category has been on these elections. In 2014, World Media reported that the impending election in 2014 was perhaps the first social media election in India. At that time, India had 200 million internet users. In 2019, the number of internet users jumped from 648 million people. So that’s the kind of internet penetration that had happened in India over years. Of the 648 million people, 80% of the people are the ones that access the internet through their mobile phones. Thanks to (inaudible) and many such policies people in India have forgotten how to switch of mobile data on their phone because it’s dirt cheap. Now, the number of users for most social media platforms in India is within top ten of the world. Facebook and WhatsApp find India as their greatest, biggest market, as opposed to anywhere else in the world. That is giving you an idea of the explosion of social media on to Indian mobile users, which is 80% of the 640 and that is 80% of the 900 million people who are eligible to vote. Of all these mediums, Twitter is often seen as the political medium. I was curating; I was on a project where I was streamlining content for Twitter over the last several months, in the lead up to the election and just after the election. What I noticed was that this is a different form of campaigning. What happens is you see something that’s trending. Now in the world of democracy and in the world where we are all trying to make our opinion, make our voice heard, this is another style of campaigning. So somebody creates a trend. It can be anything. I can be ‘#ModiHiAayega’ which mean ‘Modi only will come’. It could be ‘#Chokidarchorhai’ which was the opposition’s slogan. So when this trend begins everybody who is participating is meant to use a particular word or a person’s name or a political party’s name to contribute and to keep the trend alive. That’s how the algorithm recognises it and that becomes a trend. A trend becomes an image. An image becomes an opinion. And an opinion often turns into a vote, directly or indirectly. Much unlike what used to happen several years ago. I’ve covered about three general elections, much less than John has. Not to say that you’re very old, it’s just to say that I’m very young. Even if you’ve grown up in India, I remember as a child just before the election there used to be these loud speakers in your neighbourhood and empty trucks would carry tons of people to the nearest rally point. Food packets were distributed to the people in the scorching heat of summer. For some reason, just every election is during summer. I don’t know why.
AUDIENCE MEMBER 2: School holidays?
RADHIKA IYER: Yes, school holidays, making it even more difficult for people like us reporting in the scorching heat. People were distributing food packets and invariably the politician who was meant to give a speech there would be hours late, and people just waited and waited for hours just to listen to him. Because, that possibly was the only time in five years that they got to see the politician face-to-face. Door-to-door campaigning, again, was another very popular style of campaigning, which still continues but much less. Where again possibly the only chance where people or the voter got to meet their MP. Unlike here where we have their surgeries, there it was possibly the only time when they could ask their questions, make an appeal, and make complaints. Nevertheless, not discounting the fact that it is a very difficult life for a politician. It always has been. I remember meeting Shashi Tharoor who first contested in 2009 from Thiruvananthapuram in Kerala. I was hosting the show called “Follow the Leader” on NDTV and I got on to that campaign (inaudible). I could see him bruised. His arms were bruised. His white cotton kurta was revealing blood from the bruises of his waist. He was bending over iron rods to shake hands with people, to say “Namaste”, and it’s not just him. This is hard work for all politicians across, just in the lead up to elections because it’s hot, it’s a lot of people to cover, it’s a lot of people to touch base with. So it’s very hard work. When I was curating this election I saw that people were firing tweets at each other. That was their political campaign. With 280 characters in a tweet, they got to say whatever they wanted to say. Aside from its usefulness of issuing a message through digital memes or posters or WhatsApp forwards, it was indispensable, this tool of communication. One couldn’t just ignore it. It’s also very different from print or TV isn’t it, because unlike print or TV which is one-way communication to a voter, through social media politicians realise that it could be two-way communication with the voter. It could mean almost immediate responses from the voter. Which also meant that flack was being received as soon as something was spoken. With anonymity, voters and many other users got away with derogatory remarks, with abuse of language. What I also noticed was a great sense of suspension of civility and responsibility in the nature of conversation that was happening between either politician-to-politician or politician-to-voter or voter-to-voter and so on. So these were the patterns. Let’s look at some facts because I was researching and I was looking through a few surveys from IRIS knowledge and the Internet Mobile Association who say that Narendra Modi is the third most followed leader, after Donald Trump and the Pope, in the world. Users like Arvind Kejriwal and Raul Gandhi and many others are quite active on multiple forums to the point where Arvind Kejriwal and Raul Gandhi were actually trying to form an alliance on Twitter, which was amusing because eventually they lost all seven seats in Delhi and BJP won it.
My three point concern would be having seen these patterns and having realised that social media is something that has become almost indispensable. Fake news and misinformation is one serious concern for India and I’m curious to see what the Ministry of Information would do to engage with companies like Facebook, Twitter and others to try and build a wall to prevent the flow of misinformation. Unemployment, again, is a very big challenge and I’d be keen to see whether India being the youngest country in the world, the youth, their minds, their energy is being engaged and used to convert into tangible GDP, which is at the moment quite dismal. Having people like Nirmala Sitharaman for finance, having people like Dr. Jaishankar for external affairs is very welcome, but you have an amateur who is handling Home Ministry, which again is quite debatable, but that’s something makes it even more important. In a country that is multicultural, multi-faith, it’s really crucial to have an opposition and that’s something that’s lacking in India. Lastly, I can clearly conclude that people have voted not for the MP in their region, not for a political party, not for an issue, not for a manifesto, but for Narendra Modi. A lot rides on his name, and so, well I anticipate some good news when it comes to industry and economy, I’m also hoping that there are not regressive incidents that we see of perhaps an woman being attacked because she was wearing short clothes, maybe because a section of people or a fringe group thought that it was as against cultural. Because nationalism is what India fought this election on? And, possibly imposing a Hindi language onto some regions which don’t understand Hindi or relate to it at all, or a Muslim man being beaten up because he ate beef. These are some of the things that I would like to flag. On that note, actually Happy Eid Mubarak. Thank you.
DR. JOHN HEMMINGS: Thank you very much. Three wonderful explorations, understandings, investigations into what has become one of the world’s most expensive elections. I was just looking this up and apparently the Indian election, mind you there was a much larger population, outspent the 2016 US election by 2.2 billion dollars. So, democracy is expensive. Now is out moment of democracy as the audience gets to feedback in our own kind of surgery here, so if I might ask that you keep your comments relatively short or your questions relatively short. Please just mention who you are and also we get through quicker if people address their question to one person, but if you say “the panel” and each person has to say their perspective on the question, we could be here all day on a single question. So let’s just do one person, one question. And, please don’t do the “and I have a six part question.” Please, Sir, number one.
AUDIENCE MEMBER 2: Quick question. 43% of the elected MPs have a criminal conviction, many of them very serious ones like murder, rape or to include terrorism as well. And, female representation is only about 14% in Parliament and neither of those figures have really changed in the last four or five elections. Does it matter for the Indian electorate that there are too few women in Parliament? Does it matter that nearly half of the elected MPs have serious convictions? That question to either John or Radhika.
RADHIKA IYER: Does criminal record for an MP candidate matter to a voter? Apparently not because Sadhvi Pragya won. She is accused of terror, but she won. Which is sad. It is sad that it doesn’t matter to the voter. Whether there is concern about fewer women in the Parliament, I think there is serious concern because there was a lot of debate about how the previous Modi cabinet had six women ministers and now that has come down to three. But, the good news is that the portfolios is given to these three women are big portfolios so it’s at least being taken seriously that a women is capable of handling such large portfolios. It’s a bit of a mixed back there.
JOHN ELLIOTT: Can I just briefly? I’m not sure if Sitharaman the Finance Minister is competent. That’s not a sexist content. It’s a comment on whether she’s a capable minister. Your question, not the women part, the criminal part, suggests that you regard (inaudible). I was going to tell everybody that India is beating South Africa by six wickets in the World Cup. Your question refers that you regard the Indian election system as a clean, fair operation. It’s not. It’s dirty democracy. It’s brilliantly effective. I challenge anybody to point to another country where democracy works so brilliantly. But the brilliance of its success does not mean that it’s clean. It’s incredibly dirty. The Prime Minister himself led the ‘dirt’ even of the eve of the election, when old canvasing had been banned, pushing the Election Commission to allow him to go and pretend to be a monk or something and sit in the cave for a media event that was blasted all over the country.
AUDIENCE MEMBER 3: Now that’s a very biased view.
DR. JOHN HEMMINGS: He does have the next question John and you are rather overtaking that one question. Can you please just make your final remark?
JOHN ELLIOTT: Okay. The election system is dirty.
DR. JOHN HEMMINGS: But it’s a big effective one. Thank you. Sir, you were first and I believe you were second next to you.
AUDIENCE MEMBER 4: My question is to Ms. Radhika. I pointed out very correctly to the concern of fake news on social media and specifically on Facebook and Twitter, but what about media houses? What are they doing now to filter some fake news because a lot of media houses in (inaudible) or certain polices that they don’t approve of. They kind of conduct their own views.
DR. JOHN HEMMINGS: Perfect. I think your question is beautifully encapsulated. Just tell us who you are.
AUDIENCE MEMBER 4: (inaudible) I work for a telecom company here.
RI: So I think there are a lot of measures but in place by several media companies to try and keep the autonomy as well as keep a gate, which presents misinformation and fake news from coming into mainstream news reporting. Often today it’s very challenging because often what appears on social media becomes a peg to become a potential news story for print or television, which is again very precarious. But I think this brings us back to the point where in a country where the opposition is literally as ineffective as can be, with the ruling party being even more powerful than it was, the media should be given complete autonomy to be able to disseminate news as they would like to, whether or not they be judged. That becomes really crucial because for the media to be able to play a kind of watchdog in the most unbiased, uninterrupted way is true democracy. I think is we start form there than I think electively, as citizens, as media people, as government, as the opposition, we could contain this war against misinformation.
DR. JOHN HEMMINGS: I’m going to take two of the questions because I’d like to go to some women as well and we definitely have a women here who has been waiting very patiently. So I’ll take your question and your question, both of you have been quit patient. If you’ll pleas introduce yourselves…
PHILIP: My question was, it’s a related question, and it relates to Arnab’s point about all the great things that have been happening and we would expect to continue. It relates to also continuation of democracy and how you see these institutions that would normally be seen as protecting democracy. Four pillars, if you look at media, judiciary, I don’t remember the other two, but given the other institutions and whether those have been undermined or there’s a risk of them being undermined. So for instance, in terms of the press, there was something about the press commission being able to investigate a newspaper for fake news, but not look at social media. So again, a distinction between printed or visual media. So I guess it’s a question on protecting the four pillars I guess.
DR. JOHN HEMMINGS: …And a very good question in terms of technology and democracy. I think one we often question here. And now, sir, please tell us who you are as well.
AUDIENCE MEMBER 5: No question. Three very brief comments for three different points. Very brief. One, (inaudible) observers making mistake that Modi and his party are nationalists. Who reelected them? The people of India. They become nationalists because Congress Party was following British colonial policy of creating (inaudible) bank to rule over majority (inaudible). Two, no one has ever mentioned the very large number of Muslim women now work for BJP. The Congress Party was supporting the extremist Muslim position that Muslim mean can divorce Muslim women by just saying three times: “Talaq. Talaq. Talaq.” Nothing. No provision. The women became destitute and some had to prostitute. That is the very reason why he got more votes this time than last time. When it comes to people saying what will happen to the economy, yesterday World Bank in New York mentioned that India will remain the fastest economic growth about 7.5% for the next three years.
DR. JOHN HEMMINGS: Thank you very much. So we had one question and a statement. The question I suppose, you are getting hit quite a bit on technology on media. Would you like to have a swing at that again?
RADHIKA IYER: Sorry, the question was…
PHILIP: Forecasting I guess.
RADHIKA IYER: Oh yes. That’s quite an interesting point because we have Editors Guild in India which oversees content on print and television, but it still doesn’t have the purview over social media. The owners of accuracy and being fair and so on and so forth on whether is being published on social media, is on the company itself, on the technology company itself. So I don’t know if there are likely to be changes, but that’s exactly why I raise this concern about how the government now is going to engage with such tech companies because they have become as important, if not more as print and television.
DR. JOHN HEMMINGS: So, Madam, you were waiting very patiently. Then I will go to these two ladies afterword and then we will reopen to the men.
SARAH ROSE: I support an organization devoted to ending chronic assistant hunger, and hunger is still very great in India. They have found that the status of women is lowest as hunger is greatest. Do you know that some years ago the India government made a law in the village councils, one-third of the membership had to be women? This was unheard of. It was all men. Women had no experience, no confidence, and they were giving their votes to male villages by proxy. The Hunger Project stepped in and set up education for those women, so they could take their place and act productively in the village councils. Once they got involved things started happening. Corruption was ruled out, one women was killed for exposing corruption, and her daughter took her place. They had done so well that they were starting to be voted in over and above the quota. This is the growth of democracy in India in the very important areas.
DR. JOHN HEMMINGS: Thank you. So, statement. Madam.
AUDIENCE MEMBER 6: So it’s a question for perhaps John. BJP has won in spite of the in spites. When we say that we mean there were things. There were lots of things which were against BJP for this economy, the way things were growing in the country. Even the GST not being fully implemented even though it had got passed, there were things that were stacked up against BJP and Modi. But, the results of the election show that there was a complete (inaudible). Is it time for us to maybe just pinpoint and solve the supremely successful things that he did, which actually got him the vote? How did he manage to get this sweep? Psychologically? Economically? Was there big financial funding backing him? You know he probably got more ads in Facebook and through WhatsApp than perhaps any of the other companies. Was there a sort of serious business nexus there? Or, was he simply just very much lying to people because of his decisive leadership?
JOHN ELLIOTT: Yes, huge funding and huge funding from business. I don’t have the figures with me but the amount of money that the Tata Group gave him was colossal, much increased on what it was before. Companies who do that want something in return and after the session I will tell you what I think Tata wants if you ask me. Huge funding, he didn’t achieve anywhere near as much as he claims to have achieved, even those things which did well didn’t do as well as they claimed and as our friend NITI Aayog claims. (Inaudible) Everything was over-egged. The achievements weren’t there. The reason he got the voting, the decision, was because as you said, people voted for Modi because they believe he will deliver. They forgave him for what he didn’t deliver, and there wasn’t any alternative.
DR. JOHN HEMMINGS: Interesting questions, and I don’t know that we can really resolve that in any meaningful way.
JOHN ELLIOTT: Oh and by the way, he undermines institutions, he doesn’t protect them, so don’t hope.
DR. JOHN HEMMINGS: Right. More for afterward in the hallway. This lady here was very patiently waiting.
AUDIENCE MEMBER 7: I don’t agree with you; I’m so sorry, on the press situation. (Inaudible) I don’t think the (inaudible) is working. It is an utter failure and that is because all the news channels, the politicians are ambassadors for all those channels, so what has happened in India is an absolute blurring of the lines between democracy, media, and politics. That was the first point. The second point, again I don’t agree with you about the Editor’s Guild Association in India because I stayed in (inaudible) for about 18 months. I’m a journalist as well and I went down to the press association on (inaudible) road. I don’t know if you know that. I was really shocked because it’s not a (inaudible) body like we have here. In fact, all the broadcasting and everything gets done from that spot. And they wanted to close it down because it’s not (inaudible). So these were some of the things that I noticed over there. The second thing is…
DR. JOHN HEMMINGS: I think you already did a second thing. To be honest I am trying to keep…We have only got four minutes, but you can come up and approach them peacefully after the end here. So I’m afraid, all of those who have their hands up, my apologies, but we are just going to reach the last two and then we will go back to our lovely speakers who will respond to whatever points they wish to. So, it was this lady here and this gentleman in the yellow vest.
AUDIENCE MEMBER 8 FROM INDIA GAZETTE LONDON: I do have a question for Arnab. While we say that we have amazing numbers coming from central government and planning commission. There is a question that comes to my heart and I bring back the event of demonetisation which was a surprise for every one of us. On the fact that did it bring up a question about drying up funds for other parties for this election? If that is, how strongly is planning and planning commission influenced by BJP in power for the next years to come.
ARNAB KUMAR: Okay so that’s a very loaded question. I mean look, I have been in the government for two years. I came from private sector. I haven’t seen anything political influencing my line of work. That’s all I can tell you.
DR. JOHN HEMMINGS: Okay, great. Sir.
AUDIENCE MEMBER 9: Actually the question is for John and Radhika. You mentioned that nobody (inaudible) about the majority of (inaudible) places in the government. But, I was in India during the elections. (Inaudible) I expected in because if you have been watching only NDTV, you would (inaudible). If you have been seeing all the media, you arrive at about three-hundred. One other reason actually was, nobody mentioned about it except just one comment, that Ayushman Bharat was a major success. Whenever I went Ayushman Bharat was in the (inaudible) in the hospital also. Thinking just about Modicare. A lot of the people have taken benefit from it. At least about 20% of the population.
DR. JOHN HEMMINGS: So brilliant. A nice statement. Maybe Arnab you want to respond to that during your summary.
ARNAB KUMAR: Sure.
DR. JOHN HEMMINGS: So maybe a minute each or a minute and a half each. John, we’ll start with you.
JOHN ELLIOTT: The health insurance thing was amazing. It hasn’t achieved much yet, but everybody believes it’s going to. The fact that he could go out and he could say, that Modi could say that it was going to happen, did inspire votes undoubtedly. Without any disrespect to Arnab, who I do respect as being independent on contract in the government. NITI Aayog is highly politically biased. It’s an in affect a part-time PR firm for the government. And (inaudible) who is a good friend of mine, who I frequently argue with on platforms and places, in Modi’s best spokesman and is a rumor that he is going to be transferred to the Prime Minister’s office. Having said all that, I do believe that Modi wants to create an India that he can be proud of and that means diving through the positive changes that India needs. I believed that when he went into power and people who read me said, “You’re pro-Modi. Why are you pro-Modi?” Well I wasn’t. I just thought he could achieve. And now that he has erected I am going back to that point. I have finished up being negative. All the things that I have been saying are my view at the end of the last government, He has now been elected. He has now got a fresh chance to achieve things. Let’s see if he can achieve things. Let’s see if he has learned how to delegate. Let’s see if he has learned how to inspire people. Let’s see if he’s learned how to lead, which he didn’t know how to do when he was the Prime Minister for the last five years. He’s got a really good Foreign Minister who will be tough and good and effective with China and with Pakistan. He’s got a good Home Minister in Amit Shah, who will run a coherent Home Ministry. He’s got a Finance Minister who sadly did not do well when she was Commerce Minister, did not shine quickly when she was Defence Minister. I can’t think why on earth she’s got the job. But, I am optimistic. I think one has to be optimistic and believe that he wants to achieve and India of which he can be proud. I hope he has learned to lead a government that achieves it.
DR. JOHN HEMMINGS: Arnab the floor is yours, Sir.
ARNAB KUMAR: Thank you. Thanks, John. Thanks for actually describing my job. Anyways, for me, from a personal perspective and from a larger country perspective, what see is that we have seated several infrastructure projects across sectors in the past several years? That is going to be the focus going forward. That is the mandate we have been entrusted with. One of the point that Radhika mentioned was that have 600 million people who are sing internet. What we do not have is the next 500 million people using internet. That will only happen if we focus on building vernacular language infrastructure. One of the projects that I have been mandated to work on is building a natural language processing infrastructure for the country. If we are successful in doing that then we can extend whatever startups, health companies, etc. are doing into regional languages. If you take the top eight languages in the country you’ll reach one billion people. The next five hundred, trust me, are all vernacular. Radhika also mentioned about the likes of Twitter, WhatsApp, what will surprise you is that there’s a political chair that does all the vernacular content and it has more following than Twitter in India. So, the future is in that part of the country. It’s rural-based. It’s vernacular-based. It’s a combination between the people that have and the people that do not have, yet. The focus for us is to build an ecosystem and infrastructure, which actually caters to everybody.
RADHIKA IYER: Thank you. You’re right. Twitter is spoken of very often, but it only has 30-50 million users and dwarfed by companies like Facebook and WhatsApp and Chair Chat and Snapchat and so on. But, given this explosion of internet that we have seen, the penetration that we have seen, and more that’s likely to come with telecom becoming that much mote cheap in the country, I think it’s very, very crucial for this government to understand that the people have voted with great levels of more for one man called Narendra Modi. Not necessarily because they endorse his agenda or his party’ agenda of nationalism, but maybe because they believe he is a good administrator. He has proved that several times and he could use those skills to get India to a better position that it already is and also, simply because they couldn’t have really voted for anyone else because of the lack of alternative in this election. So it’s now more than ever that there needs to be that level of humility that the BJP and the ruling party should keep to make sure that more voices are heard and more, not necessarily populists, but polices which boost the economy and the industry is brought into place. For the lady there who has had a bad experience with Press Club of (inaudible), I’m really sorry. I was a member and I quit because of some politics within there itself, but Press Club of India or press clubs in cities don’t report to Editor’s Guild. Editor’s Guild is an independent party. And Sir, NDTV did not do an exit poll, so if you’re getting 250, it’s not from NDTV. Thank you.
JOHN ELLIOTT: You do the poll of polls.
RADHIKA IYER: Yes, we do the poll of polls. We didn’t do an exit poll and that’s part of misinformation, which we need to tackle.
DR. JOHN HEMMINGS: Very nicely circled there. I think we could reasonably talk all evening. I found it a very convivial and enjoyable evening, despite, of course, the differences of opinion and different political views that we all have, but that’s part of the game. It’s part of the parcel of having a debate and engagement in civil society that is civil. With all that said and done, I will just make one announcement. We do have a launch of a report on Hong Kong, marking Tiananmen Square, as well, on the 10th of June in Parliament, so please come to that. We have a number of other events that I can’t remember at the moment, but of course you are always welcome to them. Let’s put out hands together and say thank you to our wonderful speakers.