Rahul Mahajan: If you look at the elections, it’s a unique election in a way that the people who analyse the election have to reinvent the way they look at the outcome of the elections.
Shashi Shekhar Vemapti: Definitely, I think this is a path breaking, defining moment in India’s democratic history, if you look at it historically, the kinds of mandates that various governments have got and the high turnout figure which the Prime Minister also highlighted in his speech. It creates a very unique set of circumstances. To put in a perspective right, we are the largest democracy in the world. We have probably about 800 to 900 million voters and about 60 odd percentage of turnout and if you look at kind of mandate that has been given today, that roughly should be around 300 million people, and you then look at the next biggest democracy which is Unites States which is 300- 350 billion people democracy, so your mandate is almost the size of next biggest democracy in the world and that sort of puts in a perspective that how critical and how historically significant this moment is, both for the democracy in India and democracy in the world and hence rightly I think the Prime Minister mentioned in the speech that this is something that world has to take notice of, because it is historic moment for the democracy in the world.
Rahul Mahajan: But, if you look at the Prime Minister’s speech, he also spoke about the bigger responsibility which has been trusted in him by the country and if you look at the various news items coming out of the world, whether it is about economy or India’s relations with the neighbourhood. Those issues will also come up before the next government and these are bigger issues which the new government has to take care of.
Shashi Shekhar Vemapti: Absolutely, I think it’s a very unique moment for India that this rising aspiration, you have an economy which is relatively among the fastest growing economies in the world but then there are the challenges and the mandate also raises the bar on the expectations. So clearly all of this become a big factor on the road ahead and getting a decisive mandate of this kind gives leadership of the country the necessary wherewithal to take the decision that are needed – To put India on high growth trajectory, To take advantage of economic opportunities that are likely to develop in the geo-political space. For example, you have two of the largest economic powers- the United States and China, headed to some sort of trade war of sorts and that is going to throw up all sorts of opportunity and that is where the opportunity lies for India. To get on right trajectory, to build our exports, to grow our economy, to grow the jobs and this kind of mandate creates that expectation, also empowers the leader to take right decision to realise that promise.
Frank Rausan Pereira: Absolutely, there is huge opportunity there, as far as tariff war between US and China is concerned, but talking about challenges is another big looming situation, the fragile situation in West Asia. It remains to be seen how India strikes a balance because we are friends with everybody now.
Shashi Shekhar Vemapti: In fact, those are the kind of questions, I think India now needs to take a place in the world order and not just be a participant in the deliberation that happen in various multilateral platforms. But also set the course for the kind of change that we would like to see in the world and if you see the last five years, there are number of areas where India took leadership position, be it solar alliance. For example, climate change which happened in Paris treaty that’s a another example, be it taking Yoga across the world and putting the spotlight on the how Indian spirituality can be a force for greater good across the planet. These are various initiatives you have seen in last 5 years where India took the leadership and tried to set a course for the rest of the world. Now, with this kind of mandate and this unique set of global circumstances, I think expectation is even higher that India would take up its role, be it in extended neighbourhood that you are referring too in west Asia. Be it the larger issue of global trade, be it emerging technology, areas like artificial intelligence, space exploration and so on.
Rahul Mahajan: If may I ask, you must be getting various reactions from outside India also, you have worked outside India. What you think, how world has been seen this Indian elections?
Shashi Shekhar Vemapti: I think world looks at India, as a very unique experiment. We are democracy which is barely 75 year old and we are so large in size. So there is no parallel anywhere on the planet. Anytime India goes through this process of deciding its future course, its global event and the world looks up to India, to understand how this process works. Having said that, I must also add that it has been a tad disappointing that the global media specially some of the western media outlets have tendered to view India through a very narrow prism and have tendered access the democratic discourse in India through stereotypes which perhaps now need to be shed and India needs to be looked at in different light.
Frank Rausan Pereira: But you know world leaders looked at it very differently, at around 1:30-2 pm itself, congratulatory messages stated coming from world leaders – China, Russia, Japan , Israel, United States are immediate neighbors in the neighborhood, everybody sent out congratulatory messages, what does that say?
Shashi Shekhar Vemapti: If you look at the world leadership today, you have whole generation of strong leaders that has emerged from different nations, be it Japan, Russia, Australia just went to polls, Indonesia, which finally settled electoral process. So you have group of leaders, very strong leaders and among them, I think India leadership Prime Minister Modi stands out uniquely because of the size of mandate that he can claim to, speaks for 100 million people and billion people democracy. I think that is kind of heft and weight that India’s voice will carry and that is reflected in series of messages that you are referring to.
Frank Rausan Pereira: Talking about the mandate. What message does this mandate send out to the world and world leaders? Maybe to some of troublesome to our neighbours as well!
Shashi Shekhar Vempati: I think it sends out very clear message that India wanted a strong and decisive leadership, so that India is able to take to kind of decisions that it needs to take to put its economy on track, to secure its interest, be it on territorial front, be it on national security front and to advance Indian values, so that the various problem we see at global level perhaps have a unique Indian way of solving it and opportunity is for India to take that leadership role.
Rahul Mahajan: Now we have unique relationship as far as China is concerned and with US and China having a trade war, there is some apprehension that China will start dumping their goods in India and India is in very strange situation as far this is concerned. So how you think that will be a challenge for this government?
Shashi Shekhar Vempati: In fact I have read a very opposite perspective some time back in Financial Times which argued that perhaps it is opportunity for Indian export into China. So, I think the opportunity exists but we have to be imaginative, we have to accelerate our decision making process which will now happen, thanks to the mandate.
Frank Rausan Pereira: Talking about making up mind and taking decisions, I want to draw your attention to procurement, ever since the Bofors scandal broke, the area of Defence procurement has been a tricky one for subsequent governments. Are we going to see a change now as for as Defence procurement is concerned?
Shashi Shekhar Vempati: I think it has been demonstrated in the last few months that irrespective of whatever have been the media narratives, there was clear sense of purpose, with which the leadership acted and you could see that manifest, in the most recent, you know, defence procurement decisions, that have happened. Having said that, let me also bring out another aspect, which is the role of the public broadcaster in this environment. I think often there’s been a lot of debate, especially in the run up to these elections around fake news, but it is also important to pay attention to false narratives. And I think this is where the public broadcaster, be it Doordarshan or All India Radio or Rajya Sabha TV, comes in, that there is a certain importance that we need to attach. Truth and facts cannot have two opinions. And so truth needs to be highlighted, truth needs to be reinforced. And it would go a long way in countering that sort of false narratives that hurt national interest.
Rahul Mahajan: As far as BJP is concerned, they started a unique experiment of managing the country, especially in the bureaucracy. They started inducting professionals at the posts in the bureaucracy. How far do you think that this experiment will go?
Shashi Shekhar Vempati: I don’t want to comment on specific step or specific issue, but I think I can say in general sense that the kind of mandate we witnessed today underscores that fact which you just pointed out that Nation is ready for tough decision and nation wanted the kind of decisive leadership that can make those decision so that we can see the changes we want which put India in the trajectory that it richly deserves given its size as a largest democracy, one of the most ancient civilization, so it has certain role to play in the world order and it has rightful claim to a space in world order and I think that calls for lot of tough decision internally as well and we should see that happen.
Frank Rausan Pereira: All this talks about the kind of reforms that have undertaken by the government for the last 5 years, be it digital India, be it GST, be it Demonetization or for that matter so many other things. IBC was another very important reform which was undertaken, so it is very clear that Prime Minister Modi is going to head in that direction and bring out more reforms because the idea is very clear, specially from what we heard just now that nation building and nation development is going to be key agenda as far as this government is concerned.
Shashi Shekhar Vempati: Absolutely, I think he laid out very well from a very broader national sense that there are only two communities, there are the poor, then everyone else, who is willing to entrepreneur energy and trying to eliminate poverty and which essentially means that lot of efforts needs to go in wealth creation and this will require lot of policies and schemes and all sort of initiative which will grow the economy, create jobs, create entrepreneurship, innovation and so on, so you are absolutely right.
Frank Rausan Pereira: Talking about creation of jobs in the economy, it clearly looks like the job creation is going to be the focus area of this government, because that is something over which the government has received a lot of flak about over the years from the opposition, so that is going to be the key focus area. The other one being the economy, let’s look at it from the world perspective. The Chinese economy is slowing down, there are reports of other economies that are going to slowdown. So does India have an opportunity here, is India going to play a leading role in the growth area.
Shashi Shekhar Vempati – It’s important to recognize the technological changes that are happening. And the notion of jobs we traditionally had is changing and the work is growing because different types of opportunities are being created by the growing technologies. So it’s very important for India to stay ahead of the curve, specifically if you take technologies like say 5G, Artificial Intelligence. Today you have nations like USA and China which have taken leadership position. So we will have to think out of the box. We have to hedge against the various risks of being left out of the changes that are happening around us. At the same time, we will have to create avenues for innovation, entrepreneurship, so that work gets created, economy grows, and the nature of jobs as technology is changing them, are our youth adapted, are effective and competitive, as the most youngest work force on the planet.
Rahul Mahajan –Another area that the government had earlier focused were health, taking the benefits directly to the people, are these areas where focus will grow in a wider way.
Shashi Shekhar Vempati – Using technology for targeted delivery of welfare, improves its effectiveness, increases transparency, and eliminates corruption. That’s how you can measure outcome. So each of these innovative initiatives, be it on the healthcare side Ayushman Bharat or be it direct transfer of benefits, leveraging Aadhar and so on and the whole payment infrastructure, through UPI. So, all of this come together creates that delivery mechanism, so that people have this safety net. There are two things, there is this ladder of opportunity so that you can improve your economic well-being. At the same time, there are risks, there are uncertainties, so you need safety net. So this combination of safety net and ladder of opportunity is really what will pull everyone, and will deliver the kind of India the Prime Minister talked about where we eliminate poverty.
Rahul Mahajan – In these elections, we have seen that various political parties have targeted the institutions which are otherwise considered sacrosanct in a way. After the results, where do you think, this issue is going?
Shahsi Shekhar Vempati – I think the Prime Minister has touched upon it lightly during his speech as well, where he talked about our constitutional culture and constitutional values. Ultimately, the constitutional values will ensure the endurance and resilience of our institutions. And we will come out stronger. The election was a test of our democracy and a reflection of the strength of our democracy. We can discuss issues threadbare, but after the verdict is out there, the debate has been settled, then the institutions come out stronger.
Frank Rausan Pereira: One problem area over last few years has been the social media. The spread of fake news, fake narrative. Social media platforms had recently came together to create regulations. Do you think it should continue or maybe by the time, individuals get more responsible, the government and the organizations need to take a lead and ensure that everything goes smoothly, Then again the other side of the debate is about what happens to free speech. This is something that keeps coming up and confuses everyone.
Shashi Shekhar Vempati – I think you raised a very important point, we are not only largest democracy, we are also the largest open market where the global tech major can come here and offer their platforms, offer their services but at the same time today we also have this other risk that the entire computing infrastructure on which these platforms operate besides out of India and servers in different countries and not in the Indian jurisdictions. Now if you are looking at India as a market then that very narrow view you are taking and we need to leverage the strength of our democracy, the strength of the power of the market, that’s where we have to ensure that the global platforms play by rules, that they don’t hurt the Indian national interest. So we need to engage with these platforms, we clearly are the beneficiaries of what their innovations are doing. At the same time it needs to happen in framework that enhances Indian interest and that is the conversation we need to have with these platforms. At the same time, I think we also have to create an enabling innovation environment that tomorrow Indian startups are able to take that global leadership goal in the digital space.
Frank Rausan Pereira: And one final question before we let you go, you know the use of the word “New India” has been used quit often today as well, so do you believe the idea of the new India is going to change or is it going to remain the same?
Shashi Shekhar Vempati: I think the idea of new India is about the kind of values that we will achieve to cherish and build upon and draw strength from for this century to beIndia century. A lot has been written that India and china this century belongs to them and so on. There was an interesting column I read in the financial times sometimes back that this is about civilization state that we as several thousand years civilization are our natural beneficiaries of such a direction in that world may take but for all of that to happen we have to abide by certain values and I think the idea of new India is those values, I think those values will be rooted in what the PM was talking about, that it is about giving back to the nations, wealth creation, contributing to that larger national building projects where we lift the masses out of poverty and everyone’s aspirations are realized and doing so with the greater global good in mind. I think that is what this new India is all about and so it is rejuvenating, renewing all that our culture that we always stood for.
Rahul Mahajan: Looking at these elections one thing is unique about this elections all those calculation of caste and everything failed. So do you think that other elections that will come after this, wether that is state elections, the topics of the debates and the issues will be different from that of the previous elections?
Shashi Shekhar Vempati: I think the responsibility is on all of us, especially us across the table as public broadcasters, we need to center and locate the public debate on those issues which take it away from these considerations that how elections to come will be focused on the issue that matters rather than the issues that divide us.