says Ravi Velloor in a tete-a-tete with GS Jolly.
India Rising:Fresh Hopes New Fears, is published by Konark Publishers, who have sought to set high standards in Indian publishing with a strong list of books on South Asia. India Rising… is a valuable addition in this direction by the publisher with a desire to leave a legacy that readers can be proud of.
Ravi Velloor (RV), who has authored India Rising: Fresh Hope New Fears, is associate editor of The Straits Times (Singapore) and an award winning journalist who has reported from across Asia, Europe and the United States. In a career spanning 35 years, he has been foreign editor and South Asia Bureau Chief of The Straits Times, and previously with Bloomberg news, Time Inc, magazines, Agence France-Presse and United News of India. A Jefferson Fellow and founding life- member of the Foreign Correspondents Club of South Asia and a co-founder of India Club, Singapore, he was in India recently and shared his views with G S Jolly (GSJ), Deputy Editor of AABP on some of the issues he has raised in his widely appreciated book.
GSJ: You mention in your book that caste as the Modi 2014 election showed, may be losing a bit of salience politically as a vote aggregator, but in the situation being created in the run up to the elections in UP and Punjab, the factor is raising its ugly head again.
RV: Caste was initially a social phenomenon and as a social phenomenon – inter-marriage, inter-dining, contact etc. – it is diminishing. In the 2014 elections, Modi’s USP was anti-corruption, infrastructure and development. Caste was not the principal vote aggregator. But that was at the national level. At the local level in states it is still a factor in collecting votes.
GSJ: Julio Reberio, the star policeman responsible for putting down the Sikh insurgency in Punjab has been quoted as saying, “I feel threatened, not wanted, reduced to a stranger in my country.” Has the intolerance grown and is the personal safety of minorities at peril in India?
RV: A feeling is being created that insecurity is growing at national level. That is why I say that Modi, to fulfil his promise, has to be emperor of the entire nation and not of one community. The diversity of Indian civilization and its essential tolerance is an important reason for India’s less violent ways. Modi must remember this even as he works tirelessly to raise the welfare of every section of his people.
GSJ: In the chapter ‘China Factor’ you have written that whatever happens in the decades ahead, one thing is clear, the two are not going to carve each other’s names on trees. Do you see any improvement in the situation in the years to come?
RV: I don’t visualize too calamitous a deterioration in the relations between the two major powers of Asia although I doubt they will ever be close friends again. Healthy exchanges between the two civilizational powers should be good enough for Asia. I am more optimistic about India-China than India-Pakistan. Chinese nationalism is not based on anti-India sentiments unlike the situation with Pakistan. The Chinese know that India will stand up and cannot be pushed over. They have no major historical differences with India. The 1962 was unfortunate and it came during a period of turbulence in China, the Great Leap Forward. They also respect the depth of India’s civilization.
GSJ: You have commented that Rahul Gandhi’s failure as a vote catcher has been sealed with Congress’s performance in Delhi state assembly elections in February 2015. Do you see any sign of resurrection of Rahul Gandhi in Indian politics?
RV: The drop was so bad. The Gandhi family always had a spectacular following but that is swiftly ending now Rahul Gandhi is leading the charge. There will probably be slight recovery from its current depths but that will be temporary. It is not that I dislike Rahul. He is otherwise an intelligent man. He has a vision. The problem with him is that he cannot articulate his ideas and he has no vote-drawing power.
GSJ: Media in India is feasted on every misfortune suffered by the government. Do you think the job of media is to magnify every shortcoming no matter how insignificant or immaterial and trivialize any positive news?
RV: Indian media is going through a period of evolution and turmoil, as other media too. It is our job to point out what is wrong. But that said some sections of our media are indeed rather immature.
GSJ: Most writers don’t want intervention and suggestions or questions dealing with the manuscript. Did you encounter any such situation with your publisher?
RV: It is a question of how much your publisher trusts your author and believes in his expertise. But at the same time if the editor wants something to be changed, as an author I would listen. After all, the intention of the editor is to steer your manuscript to more acceptable levels for the audience. I, as an author, would leave my ego behind and listen carefully. As an author it is also my duty to listen and respect the other’s point of view.
GSJ: How much editorial freedom do you enjoy as a newspaper editor compared with a book editor?
RV: Newspaper editors enjoy more freedom, I suspect. In newspapers there is scarcity of time and space and therefore one has to adhere to brevity. A book editor has much more time to go through the book and sometimes he tends to become more interventionist. An appreciation of each other’s skills and knowledge can work to the benefit of both.
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