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India a country of extreme paradoxes: Tharoor
February 04, 2008 20:01 IST
Terming India a country of 'extreme paradoxes' with 48 'dollar billionaires' on the one hand and 260 million below poverty line people on the other, former top UN official Shashi Tharoor has said a great distance still remains to be covered before the country's emerging status as superpower percolates down to all levels.
While India boasts of its nuclear strength, 600 million people are still living in darkness, 150 million do not have access to health clinics and farmers' suicides make it to the pages of newspapers now and then, Tharoor said at a 'Face To Face' programme organised by Bengal Initiative, a conclave of front-runners in different fields of the state, on Sunday night.
On the cell phone revolution in the country, the former UN under secretary general said it signified the emblematic transformation of the lumbering Indian elephant to that of an agile tiger. The number of cell phone users in India, he noted, had reached a staggering 8.3 million.
On this front, the country occupied the number one slot outpacing China, but the villagers have to still fetch water trudging kilometres in the countryside, he said.
Cell phone had worked as a kind of an empowerment tool for the common man, he said but added that while it displayed the enterprising zeal of the country, 'for real empowerment the government will have to undertake some drastic measures.'
The government should de-regulate PSUs and open them for free enterprise and take control of rural healthcare, power, water supply, he said and spoke about the 'poor' infrastructure in vast areas of the country with bullock carts still ferrying people in some rural belts when automobile giants turn up at the national capital.
Turning to India's pluralistic nature, Tharoor said the country was more akin to a thali (plate) than a pot with different 'delicacies' in the form of religion, culture and communities existing side by side.
"We are faced with a crucial debate of pluralism vis-a-vis fundamentalism," Tharoor said.
"The question is should we preserve our pluralist nature or seek shelter in religious identities," Tharoor asked, hinting that pluralism was indispensable.
The noted author, having ten books about the state of the nation and civilisation to his credit, rued that an acclaimed painter has to spend life in exile because of threats by some groups and this happens in a country like ours.
Praising West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee for his vision, Tharoor said: "The Marxist leader has realised it is not possible to move away from capitalism."
On the prediction of doomsayers about the 'insidious' nature of everything Western, Tharoor quipped, "Such a perception would isolate us."
He said Western commentators who had written off India after it attained freedom predicting 'the experiment with democracy will not succeed in view of the contradictions within,' have gradually been silenced.
Tharoor, who had contested for the post of UN Secretary General in 2006, said his latest book The Elephant, the Tiger and the Cell phone tried to capture how India was moving
along the path from a largely impoverished, under-developed country to a bustling, fast-changing society.