Grappling with change

Grappling with change

The eighth India Today Conclave provided a fertile setting for cross-pollination of ideas and thoughts.

The theme of change resonated through the halls of Delhi’s Taj Palace hotel as India Today held the eighth edition of the India Today Conclave on March 6-7. A starstudded line-up of speakers starting with His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who delivered the inaugural keynote address filled with the concepts of peace and brotherhood, and ending with former President of Pakistan General Pervez Musharraf made the two-day affair a memorable one for the delegates as well as for those who watched it on television or the Internet.

Politics and the lack of political freedom grabbed the headlines. Musharraf’s assertion that he was a man of peace had the audience startled. The Dalai Lama’s pleas for a peaceful dialogue seemed to have passed above Chinese heads. And former Chess champion Garry Kasparov’s talk on the lack of political freedom in Putin’s Russia surprised few. The first evening saw three of the rising young stars in Indian state politics—Omar Abdullah, Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Shivraj Singh Chouhan, Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh and Ashok Chavan, Chief Minister of Maharashtra—speaking about the challenges of leadership and change and what they were doing to change polity in their states. But politics was not the only theme that was challenged by change.

On the second morning, an extremely invigorating session on religion captivated the audience with noted author Irshad Manji, political ideologue S. Gurumurthy, Jamaat-i-Islami Hind General Secretary Maulana Mehmood Madani and senior journalist and author M.J. Akbar debating the challenges posed by the increasing religious violence in the world. Madani truly captured the sentiment of the audience when he talked about waging a “Jihad against Jihad” as well as against those who had misappropriated the term “Jihad”. Later, Madani got an ovation from the assembled audience watching Musharraf at the Gala Dinner when he challenged the former military leader’s assertion that Muslims are marginalised in India.

The agenda for the conclave was set on the very first morning when India Today Group Editor-in-Chief Aroon Purie, delivering the welcome address, said: “Change is born out of the passions and impatience of man. In its extreme, it is called revolution, which leads to liberation or tyranny, progress or mass graves. In modern times too, a few extraordinary leaders have turned historic changes into opportunities of freedom and national renewal. Today, the sweep of change in politics, economy, science, and most frighteningly, in religious radicalism, is a challenge as well as an opportunity.”

Stephen J. Dubner, Journalist/Author
Often, the triggers that create change are not big, complex or unfolding ideas, but simple ones. Instead of spending $300 million to change people’s behaviour to prevent global warming—like Al Gore is trying to do— maybe spending $200 million on injecting the upper atmosphere with sulphur dioxide is simpler and easier.”

The precarious state of the global economy also got its share of the limelight when the noted “Professor Doom”, a name that seems more apt in a cheesy comic book than on a heavy-built economist, addressed Roubini dashed the hopes of those who expected an early recovery. Though some of the audience, such as Genpact’s Pramod Bhasin, endorsed Roubini’s views as “common sense”, Tarun Das, Chief Mentor, Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), who chaired the session, seemed mortified at some of Roubini’s assertions but hoped that things would not get as bad as the Professor of Economics at New York University’s Stern School of Business was making it out to be.

The guest list was as impressive as the speakers. On the first morning, Kumar Mangalam Birla, Chairman, Aditya Birla Group, solemnly listened to the words of wisdom from the Dalai Lama, and later told BT he thought the conclave was a great opportunity for people to “open their minds”. But Birla also said that he expects a recovery in the economic scenario sooner rather than later.

Also in attendance was Union Petroleum Minister Murli Deora who heard his Cabinet colleague, Finance and Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee, talk about how the government can be, and indeed is, a facilitator of change. Bharti Enterprises Chairman Sunil Mittal, Moser Baer Chairman Deepak Puri and Hero Honda Managing Director Pawan Kant Munjal were also seen in the cavernous halls of the summit mingling with fellow industrialists and delegates. Thus, it was only natural to take the theme of the conclave over to business. In a highly entertaining session chaired by Infosys Chairman Nandan Nilekani, Stephen J. Dubner, co-author of the bestseller Freakonomics held forth with his witty anecdotes that highlighted how change can make a massive difference to life. Along with Dubner, architect Gerald Allan spoke of the need and drive for sustainable change and founder of China-India Institute Haiyan Wang talked about how the two Asian giants will drive global change in the future.


Haiyan Wang, Founder, China India Institute
I believe that India and China are actually walking handin-hand. The momentum of change that is driving both nations unfolds many similar developments in economy and society which are beautiful in their symmetry. We must therefore think in terms of India and China and not India or China.”

Daniel Glaser, Acting Assistant Secretary (Terrorist Financing), Department of the Treasury, USA

Often, the triggers that create change are not big, complex or unfolding ideas, but simple ones. Instead of spending $300 million to change people’s behaviour to prevent global warming—like Al Gore is trying to do— maybe spending $200 million on injecting the upper atmosphere with sulphur dioxide is simpler and easier.”

However, like with all past India Today Conclaves, there was also a glamour element. It started with Priyanka Chopra, Farhan Akhtar, Abhinav Bindra, Jitin Prasada, Prashant Ruia taking the stage in a highly entertaining back-and-forth on how the youth can drive change. But the true show-stealers were Bollywood superstars Shah Rukh Khan and Karan Johar, for whom no topic was out of bounds, from religion to the success of Slumdog Millionaire and the failure of India’s film industry to depict poverty. His left arm might have been in a sling, but that didn’t stop the “King” of Bollywood, who not only entertained the crowd but also managed to lighten up the audience by cracking jokes at the expense of India Today editors.

All in all, the eighth India Today Conclave might have been held in, as Purie described, the “worst of times” given the global economic and geo-political environment, but the Conclave itself highlighted the resoluteness of the human spirit and the fact that when ideas are exchanged, maybe something good might come of it. President Musharraf might have stolen the show, but the eighth India Today Conclave will be remembered for much, much more!


“People should be able to see bubbles in good times”

Nouriel Roubini, Professor of Economics and International Business at the Stern School of Business, New York University, is among the few that predicted the global meltdown and the ensuing recession. He spoke with BT’s Puja Mehra about its implications. Excerpts:

Has the market failed?
The losses of banks are so great that new capital is required for recapitalising them. Since the private sector doesn’t have any, the governments are providing it. The markets need incentives right now. Central banks are lenders of the last resort, but right now they have become the first lenders because banks are not lending. Finance ministries around the world have become the first spenders. Governments have to take over banks, clean them up and then they will sell them back to the private sector, which will have to find the capital to buy them. This is all a temporary phase.

Will this crisis produce a new economic theory?
Economic theory hasn’t failed; economists, policy makers, credit agencies and Wall Street failed to predict the crises. No new economic theory is needed. Some are saying this is a black swan event at the extreme far tail of the distribution. I say it’s a white swan event. People should be able to see bubbles in good times.

The amount of nonsense people are willing to believe in good times is amazing. Asset bubbles should not occur more often than once in hundred years. Even now, we’re reacting rather than pre-empting. When will the crisis end? Around 2011, if correct policies are adopted.

What policy steps would you suggest, especially to prevent all the liquidity being pumped into the global markets from fueling another asset bubble after we recover? Don’t allow toxic assets underwriting; also system of freak finance needs to be controlled. While this is a global problem, the policy responses have largely been national. More coordination across countries is required.