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'Narasimha Rao was only one fourth as corrupt as Indira Gandhi or Rajiv Gandhi'

You spoke of the selfishness of the individual. When he is poor, does it matter to him whether he is a Keralite, or a Tamilian or a Kanadiga, let alone an Indian? What he is bothered about is only his survival as an individual and nothing more. Is it not so?

Paul Zacharia Up to a point, yes. Beyond that, it is the subcultures that are holding a better identity -- an administrative and cultural unit than the idea of nationhood. As a Keralite, he has some pride. As a Tamil, he has some pride, and he is willing to do something for the upkeep of Tamil Nadu. I think India is too large an idea. Everything takes place at a terrible place called Delhi which nobody can ever reach. It is like a shadow play where something happens too far away.

Is it because power is centered in Delhi and the equation between the Centre and the states is such that we do not have a strong concept of nationhood?

Indira Gandhi That is only one of the reasons. People like Indira Gandhi have destroyed whatever concept was there by making people feel that if things won't happen from Delhi, nothing can happen. Actually with the arrival of a coalition ministry at the Centre there is a very fine opening now for true federalism, true democracy. But the average middle class and upper middle class Indian is scared of coalitions and the way they function. He would like to have one single entity whom he can always approach, like in the case of religion and many such matters. Democracy is coalitional. In Kerala they have run it for the last thirty years with excellent success.

So, you are saying that at the Centre also we should have only coalitions?

It is better if we have coalitions. Otherwise, we are in for trouble. If anybody now tries to hold the strings of power from Delhi with an iron handed fist once again, Gandhiji's dream country will go to the dogs.

But don't you think that in these kinds of coalitions, the parties tend to think of the region that they come from and not India as a whole?

The whole business of India as a whole has not taken root, even now. It is good enough if you can at least think about the place that you come from. If there are 25 people sitting in Delhi, each one thinking of his state, I think you are saved.

Then we should have people from all states?

We should have a highly representational Centre. It was Mrs Gandhi who destroyed that system because she was only aiming for a family operation. I sometimes wonder whether the people of Sikkim had a dream like the Malayalis, the Tamilians had under the spell of Gandhi. What was it that they experienced when an Indian army joined them to our nation?

We have failed somewhere to get this idea of nationhood into the heart of people, as something you love. When you go to Europe or the USA, you find that people strongly believe in having a nation even in the usual humdrum. That what you do should mean something to the nation, its well being and dignity. The commitment to the nation is lacking here. Maybe fifty years is too short a period to achieve that. We have around fifty distinguishable cultures and each one is looking for its own welfare.

Was it because we were divided on the basis of language that this division among people started?

Rajiv Gandhi Where is the question of division? Who divided us? Nobody divided us. Where was India? Which nation are we were talking about? Can you point to me a nation that existed before the British came? There was a Mauryan empire and a Gupta empire, a Mughal empire. There was a Pandian empire and a Chola empire, there were lots of kingdoms. I am not aware of any nation called India. Just scrutinise Indian history word by word, and tell me where this nation called India was. Somebody tried to put together all these and called it a nation. Maybe it will work. Maybe it won't work.

Is it because countries like the US have leaders who can instill patriotism in people that they have this strong feeling for their nation? I saw one of the speeches Bill Clinton gave to the nation and it was amazing to see the way he tried to arouse the whole nation.

Mahatma Gandhi did this to India when there was no nation at all. He could tell people then that there is a nation. Gandhiji had given them a dream of a great future where all leaders would be like Gandhi and everything would be fine.

So are people frustrated because nobody can offer them a dream?

Yes, nobody can offer them any dream. And the dreams that were offered were messed up.

Who is responsible for messing up the dreams of people?

If we had a proper leadership that could ensure a smooth, corruption-free administration, it would have been a different story. So the people who messed up are the people who took up the reigns of leadership. Up to Nehru, there was a semblance of creative leadership, even in the states. It was Indira Gandhi who introduced cynicism, ruthlessness and highly amoral politics. It had nothing to do with principles but with the manipulation of numbers, with destruction and corruption of public institutions. There started the collapse, afterwards we never recovered.

Don't you think when Rajiv Gandhi came to power, there was some hope in the minds of people?

Nil. He was a moron. I don't think he would have reached anywhere. He was mobbed because he looked rather nice and young.

The image that he portrayed was that of a clean young man who could do something for the country.

Yes, that was true. But I don't think anybody coming from that family and from that milieu could be clean.

Has dynastic politics ruined this country?

If you look for one single reason for our collapse then it is directly related to Indira Gandhi's kind of unprincipled politics.

Although Narasimha Rao's regime is alleged to have been full of corruption, he could make people accept the fact that somebody other than the Nehrus and Gandhis could rule us.

P V Narasimha Rao Certainly. I don't think Narasimha Rao's regime was more corrupt than the earlier regime. He was made a special victim and a scapegoat because he was from a certain region of the country and he did not represent the traditional ruling class that had operated from the North. Otherwise, he was only one fourth as corrupt as Indira Gandhi or Rajiv Gandhi.

When you look back, how do you rate Rao's period in the history of India?

I think it was a great period of relief. It was a transition point in post-Independence India.

Transition point in what sense? The end of dynastic rule?

Yes, the end of dynastic rule. Hopefully, hopefully. We could again go back. But unconsciously or otherwise, he messed up the Babri Masjid issue. We don't know the details why he allowed the masjid to be pulled down -- whether his RSS past stuck to him and he was not able to wriggle out. Or when the crisis came, he had to close his eyes and allow the structure to be pulled down, or it is some other circumstance which made him do that. I think this will stand out as the main crime in his time.

Paul Zacharia's photographs by Sanjay Ghosh

Paul Zacharia, continued