Conclave tackles challenges for now and tomorrow

Chandran Nair spoke at the India Today Conclave on 21 March 2007. Click here to watch Chandran Nair and Dr. Francis Fukuyama on YouTube.

GIFT founder and chief executive Chandran Nair helped set the tone at an international conference tackling some of the toughest issues facing the planet, in a discussion with American author and Johns Hopkins University professor Francis Fukuyama.

In its sixth year, the annual conference of Nobel laureates, key policymakers, thinkers, business and industry leaders pondered “The Challenges of the Brave New World”. The conclave was “conceived to provide a forum for a free and frank exchange of ideas”, its website says, a forum where they can “… discuss and debate ideas – and the issues and the solutions arising out of them”.

“Today, as the war on terrorism intensifies with the world itself at stake, the India Today Conclave hopes its efforts at bringing the best minds together to discuss, debate and offer solutions to issues that plague the world will make a difference,” it says.

The India Today Conclave was held in New Delhi on March 21 and 22, 2007. The diversity of participants’ backgrounds, fields of interest and expertise reflected the breadth of the conference’s scope. Among those taking part were: Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister of India; former Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto; former President of Iran Hujjat-Ul-Islam Seyed Mohammad Khatami; N. R. Narayana Murthy of Infosys; Dr Andrew Weil, physician and author; actor Abhishek Bachchan; Paul Saffo, director of the Institute For The Future; multi-Olympic gold medallist Carl Lewis; Sir Richard Hadlee, former New Zealand cricketer; and Mira Nair, film director.

Top government ministers of India also took part, including Finance Minister P. Chidambaram and Commerce and Industry Minister Kamal Nath.

Professor Fukuyama and Mr Nair presented two very different points of view of history and visions of the future. Their session, entitled “The World: End of History or Brave New Future?” played on the title of Professor Fukuyama’s essay, “The End of History?”, which caused a stir when it was published in international affairs journal The National Interest in 1989.

Professor Fukuyama sought to clarify misunderstandings of his thesis, which he expanded in to a book, “The End of History and the Last Man”, published in 1992. He also spoke about four ways in which the thesis might either be challenged or might have to be modified by developments since he articulated it, characterizing them as challenges that were standing between now and “a global disaster”: the exception of Islam and the Muslim world to the general pattern of modernisation; the democratic deficiency at the international level; governance and development; and technology.

Twist to history

For his part, Mr Nair contended that history “is the victors’ fables all agreed. It is not our version …”

He warned that the threat of fundamentalism was from all sides, and that its simplistic notions of good and evil found expression in “people riddled with intolerance, poor understanding, lacking wisdom, and a severe lack of generosity”.

Mr Nair challenged Asians to shake off their inferiority complex, rise above their resentment of the past, and pursue and promote greatness in Asian institutions and institutes to contribute the richness of their knowledge, cultures, and ideas to the world: “The world needs us, needs us to engage. It needs a wider perspective. It needs our understanding, our aspirations,” he said.

He challenged Asians: “Where are our viewpoints, our contributions to this global discourse? If we remain silent, then the [prevailing] ideology is right, a western, imperialist viewpoint,” he said, making it immediately clear that “I am not anti-western, by the way”.

Mr Nair presented his vision for the world as a series of challenges that had to be met before it could be achieved:

• The resolution of historical injustices
• Tackling unfair trade
• The resolution of unequal wealth distribution
• Tackling poor governance
• Dealing with religious intolerance on all sides
• Resolving the human impact on the ecology