Listen to this article:
In an interview where he boldly addresses issues such as the relationship between industrialists and government, the claim India is a “Vishwaguru” and the need to limit the role of government, one of India’s foremost industrialists has said: “We must deal with the government as equals, praising where praise is due but criticising when criticism is called for.”
Naushad Forbes adds: “It is time to shed this culture of supplication, of deference, of vassaldom.”
In a 30-minute interview to Karan Thapar for The Wire, to discuss his recently published book The Struggle and the Promise, Forbes says: “I know no industrialist today who thinks this government is open to criticism.”
He explains that it is the fear there will be consequences that restrains industrialists. He also says that this attitude of deference and vassaldom is a reflection of history. He says it comes from decades of control and getting used to going to the government for permissions, favours and for seeking incentives.
Forbes, who is co-chairman of Forbes Marshall and a former president of the Confederation of Indian Industry, says “A wise government would be one that encourages a free and independent media, encourages dissenting opinion, picks up currents of discontent and responds.”
Speaking of the need for ministers and industrialists to be honest with each other, he says: “I have little time for the minister who tells you in person what he really thinks and then gets on a public stage and says the opposite. And I actively distrust an industrialist who recites one-on-one what a disaster the government has been and then on the dais praises it in the tones of the hallelujah chorus.”
In the interview to The Wire, Forbes makes clear that the belief or claim that India is a Vishwaguru is the wrong attitude for a country like India. He says if we think we are the best we will never learn from others. “If we think we are best, we’re already there, the will to develop is damaged…it’s the wrong attitude for anyone who wishes to learn and progress…you need to approach learning with a sense of humility.”
Citing the example of Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, he writes: “The will to develop came out of a sense of backwardness, a sense that one had to catch up.” Asked if India’s belief that it’s special, unique and exceptional is an attitude that is hindering development, Forbes readily and immediately agreed.
To counter this, he says we need to keep reminding ourselves of certain facts that we often brush aside. “We must constantly remind ourselves that we are among the world’s poorest one-third of countries, of our abysmal record in child nutrition and stunting which has got worse since 2014, of the fact that Bangladesh overtook us in per capita GDP in 2020 (and) that China is five times richer than we are.”
Both in his book and in the interview, Forbes speaks about the need for government to limit its role to essential matters. As he puts it, “if we wish to see progress we had better focus on just a few things and get the state out of the way for everything else.”
Speaking about India’s soft power, its music, film, sport, dance, dress and food, he says: “It is this great strength…that we put at risk when we behave at home in a manner that is intolerant, parochial and non-inclusive.”
In this specific context, Forbes is questioned whether the calls for Muslim genocide, made at a Dharma Sansad in Haridwar, or videos of ruling party MLAs claiming they will bulldoze the houses of people who don’t vote for Adityanath, have economic consequences that will retard investment and growth or can be ignored because they are fringe voices that don’t matter.
Rather than paraphrase his answer please watch this bit of the interview which is, roughly, the last five minutes.
In this section, Forbes is also asked whether he is perturbed or disturbed by the fact that two months have gone by since the calls for genocide were made and no industrialist has spoken or commented about this or about the silence of the government in response to these calls.
Watch the full interview here.