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India is a spiritual sangam, feels Mark Tully

05 Mar 2013

Sehar Ansari Husain 

Former BBC correspondent in India, Mark Tully is a well known media personality.The Lucknow Tribune catches up with him at his home in New Delhi to find out his views on a number of issues


How would you describe India?

I don’t think India can be described. I think there is an underlying culture of India which brings it together so I suppose I’ll call India as many people have done, a civilizational hole. Or not entirely a hole because it’s lost bits of it. I also think that if it maintains its individual civilization it has a lot of things to offer to the modern world. But, I fear that it is going to go more and more down the western way and then it will be a bad imitation of the west which I think will be a bad thing. I fear it will lose it’s identity. 
There is an interesting co-exist with different communities living peacefully with each other.

What about your relationship with the country?

 Well, I feel very much a part of India. I was born in this country, my mother was born in this country, her father was born in this country, right back to my great grandfather, we know that people on my mother’s side of the family worked in India. And I have lived most of my adult life in India. So I really feel a part of India and I feel grateful to it because it has been very kind to me and more than kind, it has shown respect to me and affection. 

At the same time I think that what is in your karma cannot be taken away and it was my karma to be born British. 

So now do you believe in Karma?

 I do believe in karma in a way. I believe that is one of the lessons we have forgotten in this world because of so much emphasis on competition and achievement and we all forget that we need some humility and we need to realise that most of our life is made for us.

 I was told of a man who gave a lecture where he said, that  90% of your life is fate, 10% is free will. That free will is very important. So I believe in karma and I acknowledge the fact that after all, I didn’t choose to be born Mark Tully. I didn’t choose a lot of things. I didn’t choose to come back to India. It was fluke or luck. I never thought I would come back here, I thought that part of my life was over. I believe that if you acknowledge fate and karma then you do not exaggerate your own existence. I think this is very important indeed.

Is this how India has influenced you?

 Yes! India has really influenced me in many ways.I believe in the principles of the Gita which means that you should do your work and not worry about the rewards. The pursuit of the sort of things we were brought up to pursue like "success." It is a stupid way to live your life because if you’re successful there is always someone who is more successful than you and you end up becoming envious of them. I try to put the principles of the Gita into practice. 

Where do you think the Indian economy is headed? 

I think the Indian economy is in quite a dangerous position. Economists, for me, are all too often people who sit in offices and look at statistics and are not sufficiently aware of what is happening on the ground. I think two crucial things about India, firstly, I don't think that the GDP growth is enough but growth which produces education, health, job opportunities, housing, etc for all citizens is what matters. 

Secondly, the private sector has a role to play but you need the government to control and provide certain facilities for the private sector to function. I believe that you must improve the standard of governance in this country. 
 You’ve got to look at your prime problem, a nation with a young population. Now many economists will call this a demographic dividend. I believe that if the economy does not become inclusive, if these people are not educated and given job opportunities then it will be a demographic disaster!  This is the real danger the economy of this country is facing. At the moment the economy does not really answer these problems.

What is wrong with the system?

 First of all I will make a very general point and that is, you still have far too much of the colonial hangover in your government. There is far, far too much of the colonial attitude of the government. You still have a colonial police force which goes around as though it was an army and that is because the British police force was designed primarily for law and order and not to be servants of the people. Far too much of the ethos of the government service of this country is still about governing and controlling rather than serving people. That whole ethos and the structures need to be changed.

What do you think the future is with the general elections coming up?

 The elections are still a long time away. They say a week’s a long time in politics. There is a possibility that neither of the big parties will be able to form a government. The election matters, yes! The sad thing is I don’t get the impression that any of the parties are yet determined to make these real changes in governance that are required. That I think is the tragedy of the politics of this country. 

What about the media?

 I think the media is often too hysterical. We all traditionally suffer from the same malaise. We hop from one story to another. We don’t really follow them up. I was saying the same thing at the time of the Commonwealth Games. They rarely take things to their logical conclusion.

What about the BBC?

Today it is very different. When we were there we had a big listenership as it was before the big days of the television. The only other media was government-controlled. So when people wanted to hear independent news they turned to foreign broadcaster. By good fortune, most of them turned to the BBC. There was hardly any alternative. Either you listened to the All India Radio and got sarkari khabar or you listened to the BBC. 

 That position has changed now, television has come in in a big way and there is a lot of independent news. So, the BBC is not as important as it was. It was just a change in history. We were in one period of media history and now we are in another. We always had a tradition of being unbiased and it still is. I think the BBC has become very difficult to manage because it is now so big! It is now even bigger than when I was there. .

Is there any such entity in India according to you?

No! You have got something which is half way there because Prasar Bharati is definitely not independent from the government. What you really need to do is give Prasar Bharati independence. But, I don’t see that happening.

You visited the kumbh this time as well, any particular reason?

Yes, I went for two reasons. I had been to the last two Maha Kumbhs at the time of one of the shahi snaans. In 1989, I wrote a chapter in my book called No Full Stops in India on the Kumbh. I had done two radio programmes in 2001. This time I wanted to go because I had enjoyed the other two so much and I managed to persuade the BBC to let me make a radio programme,
I am a bit of a Kumbh mela freak! Next time I want to go to the Haridwar Kumbh because I haven’t been there. I have only been to Allahabad. Next time I want to go not at the time of a big snaan but when it is less crowded and then people have more time to talk to you. 

Did you have any interesting moments over there?

Yes, I had lots of interesting moments with a lot of Guru’s, Sant’s and Acharya’s. I met the Acharya of the Juna akhara and he was very kind. He gave us an interview and invited me to a concert of Hari Prasad Chaurasia. It was wonderful! A huge audience attended it. I met an acharya of the Kabir Pantis who was very interesting because they don’t believe in bathing in the Ganges, yet they go to the Kumbh. I met a head of an ashram which is cleaning the Ganges. There were a lot of interesting people so it was a great experience. You should go!

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