15 January 2021, Kolkata: Commenting on India-US relations under US President Joe Biden, British economist and politician, Lord Meghnad Desai, said, “I don’t think Kamala Harris is going to be absolutely 24X7 friend of India. She has her own views on many things. India and USA will probably have differences as Biden is on the soft left of American politics as Donald Trump is on the populist right of American politics. Therefore, there may be differences between Narendra Modi and Joe Biden on questions of human rights, Kashmir and so on. There already have been differences even when Trump was President with the Congressional Democratic members in America.”
Lord Meghnad Desai was addressing an online session of Kitaab series organised by Prabha Khaitan Foundation of Kolkata and presented by Shree Cement where his latest book “Rebellious Lord: An Autobiography”was formally launched by guest conversationalist Montek Singh Ahluwalia, Indian economist and former civil servant. The Kitaab session was formally initiated by Ms Priyanshi Patel of Ehsaas Woman of Ahmedabad and was joined in by guests from all over the world.
On India-China relations Desai said, “There is no solution to the India-China issue. It is a clash of two very deep nationalisms; two old cultures. How we are going to reconcile is very difficult.”
Lord Meghnad Jagdishchandra Desai, is a British politician, life peer, author, economist, commentator, columnist and a film buff who has written over 30 books on economics, politics, history, cinema and fiction. He was awarded Padma Bhushan in 2008 by the Indian Government. He resigned from the Labour Party in November last year after 49-years citing anti-semitism. Lord Desai’s autobiography “Rebellious Lord” aptly reflects his contrarian views and approach on many subjects.
Talking of Indian films Desai said, “Bollywood and Indian films have an uncanny ability to tell India’s story to the world since Raj Kapoor’s times, even as it changes. Obviously India is not a single story, so there is enough scope for different producers, writers and directors to tell different kind of stories. The passion that people show regarding a film is astonishing. I am a great fan of Bollywood, including southern films, which is a very good storyteller with content and entertainment,” Desai said.
Responding to a question by Montek Singh Ahluwalia about his analysis of the economic policies of the BJP in the mid 90s, Meghnad Desai said, “The BJP had a very muddled economic policy 25 years ago. Mentor, Deen Dayal Upadhyay had a kind of third-way idea, neither capitalism nor socialism. It was a khichadi. I went through all the manifestos of BJP and found a tremendous evolution by the time they were into power in 1998 in a NDA coalition. The Singh-Rao reforms were successful and instead of opposing those reforms, they swam with the tide. So their manifestos were totally irrelevant as to what they did.”
Meghnad Desai said, “In India people are expected to tread the same path. I have had a number of evolutions in my thinking and I had said in my article that there was no chance of Communist revolution in India. The 1991 reforms was a great thing Manmohan Singh and Narasimha Rao did which I was waiting for. Those in the Planning Commission knew I was their friend. It was the people outside who were surprised – How can a man have two different ideas in his head! So, I had polluted my caste several times.”
AboutIndia, Desai said, “I see India as a collection of nations, anything which has a language and a territory, it may have a religion as well. Language makes all the difference. India is a sort of Europe. One of the books I am working on will show how diverse Indian history is .Who knows any history of Assam or Kerala. So I want to make people aware and relax that India is a nation state and is not going to go anywhere else. India is a united civilisation rich in nationhood.”
Regarding quitting the Labour Party, Desai said, “There was a leftward shift in 2015 with Jeremy Corbyn elected, lots of people came in. The 1970s and 80s Trotskyites were OK. They were radical and all that but we could deal with them, I was chairman of my Party at that time. But this new bunch were very anti-semitic and threw abuses at the Jewish MPs, especially Jewish women MPs. The Party was reluctant to proceed against them and was reported to the Commission on Human Rights and Equality and the Commission said Yes! The Party had a problem. I was feeling very embarrassed about it. A final report came and our former leaders said it was political propaganda. He was suspended and nineteen days later readmitted. I said this is it I am no longer going to be a member. These people are non-serious about tackling anti-semitism. I wanted to be comfortable with my own conscience. I sit in the cross benches now.”
Reflecting on his nearly five decade political career in the UK, Meghnad Desai feels the reward of being in politics is the experience itself.
Kitab is a signature event of Prabha Khaitan Foundation of Kolkata conceptualised by Mr Sundeep Bhutoria which provides a forum for writers, poets, intellectuals and thinkers to launch their books and share their thoughts and views on varied topics leading to thought-provoking and stimulating intellectual discourses and discussions.