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Leadership for the 21st century

March 18, 2008

That leadership is what defines the best in any sphere from the rest is a no-brainer. But what specifically are the characteristics of “Leadership for the 21st Century.” Some of the best minds from across India and the world came together to discuss and debate this issue at the Seventh India Today Conclave held in Delhi on March 13, 14 and 15.


India Today Group Chairman and Editor-in-Chief Aroon Purie moderating former US President Bill Clintonís opening keynote address

India Today Group Chairman and Editor-in-Chief Aroon Purie moderating Bill Clinton’s opening keynote address | More pics

The topic was defined not in the narrow political and economic sense, but in a broader sense, including these two, but also encompassing subjects like sports, cinema, spirituality and science.

Aroon Purie, Chairman and Editor-in-Chief, India Today Group, set the tone for the conclave, saying: “The new century needs a leadership that is not subordinated to ideology, but ideas.” The India Today Conclave, he added, had become a forum where concepts collide, arguments provoke and ideas flourish.

Addressing the conclave, Finance Minister P. Chidambaram conceded that the benefits of robust economic growth had not reached all sections of society. He attributed the poor performance in distributive justice to the stagnant agricultural sector “which is growing at 2.6 per cent and accounts for only 18 per cent of GDP. Agriculture’s share will shrink further unless a big chunk of the 42 per cent of rural population dependent on it is taken away to non-farm jobs”. And this, he added, will be possible only through good governance.

P. Chidambaram, Finance Minister
P. Chidambaram
Speaking on the “Future of Communications and its role in Globalisation”, Sunil Bharti Mittal, Chairman, Bharti Airtel, said: “What we’re seeing today is just the very basic platform of the emerging world order in the next 10-15 years.” Elaborating, he added that “although Bharti started as a telecom company, it will not end up being one. We will turn into a lifestyle provider.”

Mukesh Ambani, Chairman, Reliance Industries
Mukesh Ambani
Reliance Chairman Mukesh Ambani, expectedly, perhaps, addressed the session on “What Does It Take To Be a Global Business Leader”. He reminded the audience that India’s share of world GDP in the 17th century was 22 per cent (roughly equal to the share of the US economy in world GDP today). “India is poised to reclaim its position in the word order provided it seizes the opportunities at the right time. And whether or not India is able to seize this opportunity will depend on the leadership of the country and its businesses, because nothing in the life of a country or company is inevitable.”

Al Gore, Nobel Peace Laureate, 2007, and former US Vice President
Al Gore
Former US President Bill Clinton, linking up from the US via satellite, came out in support of the Indo-US nuclear deal and said the Democratic Party, if it comes to power, will honour the commitments made by the Bush administration under the deal. “Some Democrats have some questions about the agreement… but new (US) governments tend to honour agreements entered into by previous ones,” he said. Coming to the subject of the conclave, he added that removing inequality, insecurity and global warming from the world should be the key agenda for the new leadership in the 21st century.”

The temperature turned decidedly hot when A-list politicians like Narendra Modi, Chief Minister of Gujarat; Digvijay Singh, former Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh and Congress General Secretary; and Farooq Abdullah, former Chief Minister of Jammu & Kashmir, locked horns over the topic “Leadership To End Votebank Politics”.

Provoked to the quick by session Chairman and India Today Editor Prabhu Chawla’s statement that all political parties practised votebank politics in their pursuit of power, Modi said the politics of development is the best antidote to the politics of votebanks. Reacting sharply to Modi’s observation, Singh blamed the BJP for practising the politics of exclusion. “Hindu fundamentalism is breeding Muslim fundamentalism and dealing firmly with them can strengthen communal harmony.”

J. Craig Venter, Pioneering Genomic Researcher
J. Craig Venter
Expectedly, perhaps, the irrepressible Abdullah had the last word on the subject. “Votebank politics is an enduring legacy of the British rulers. And we politicians have spread the virus of religious hatred to grab power over the last six decades.”

Others who addressed the session included BJP leader and NDA’s shadow Prime Minister L.K. Advani, iconic genomic researcher Craig J. Venter, young politicians Sachin Pilot and Kanimozhi Karunanidhi, actors Aamir Khan and Preity Zinta, JKLF leader Yasin Malik, Cisco’s Chief Globalisation Officer Wim Elfrink, recently retired Australian wicketkeeper Adam Gilchrist, Founder-CEO of SKS Microfinance Vikram Akula, and former US Vice President Al Gore, who delivered the closing keynote address.

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