Moving on to another aspect of the non-stop nature of this country, India’s trying to showcase its economy at international summits, and join the UN Security Council on the one hand, while malnutrition and poverty drag people down back home. Do you think there is a tendency to ride roughshod over the people, especially when it comes to issues like nuclear power?
Well, a number of times I get asked whether I think India will be a superpower. I think there is too much concentration on India’s external status, you know, standing outside this country. The ambition, I think, should be nothing to do with India being a superpower.
And I always ask people, “What do you think Gandhi would have thought if he had been told that the country he loved so much was aiming to become a superpower?” I think he’d be horrified, wouldn’t he? I think what India should be aiming to be is a country in which all Indians are given opportunities to develop their talents, to live peacefully together, and a country in which the culture of this country is preserved and shown to the world as an example of one way of a country living together.
I think that’s what we should be aiming for, and I think all this business of the Security Council and so on, is not very important at all.
You speak quite often of your, almost, idolisation of Gandhi. There’s a reference to him in all your books. When did you first start getting influenced by his ideas?
Quite quickly, after I came here, because I had the great good fortune to work on a documentary which was being made to celebrate the hundredth anniversary of Gandhi’s birth. And, of course, in order to work on it, I had to read and learn about Gandhi, and I was immediately much taken by Gandhi for several reasons.
But I’m not a blind admirer of Gandhi, I have some criticisms too, but I think in all that he did, he was an outstanding example, and I just wish that the world in general, instead of muttering about the most outstanding human being of the twentieth century and all that sort of thing, would actually get down to living according to some at least of what he believed in.
Image: School students dressed as Mahatma Gandhi take part in a function on the eve of Gandhi Jayanti in Siliguri on Friday, October 1, 2010.