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April 13, 2011updated 22 Feb 2022 9:00am

Living the dream

Sir Mark Tully is a distinguished writer and broadcaster who was chief of bureau, BBC New Delhi for 22 years. Born in Calcutta and educated at Cambridge University, he has covered some of the defining stories of recent Indian history, including the Bhopal disaster. In April 2011, Tully will be leading a six-night train journey on the Maharajas' Express Royal India. He also presents the weekly BBC Radio 4 programme Something Understood.

By cms admin

“I have enough reasons to travel to keep me happy. I have just come back from Ranchi in central India and had a wonderful time meeting the Maoist Naxalites. I travel whenever possible by train. I hate going by air; if I have to travel by air in India I regard it as a wasted opportunity.

I live near Nizamuddin railway station in Delhi and when I’m lying in bed and hear the trains going out I wish I was on one. I love sleeping on trains; I love waking in the morning and being in a completely different part of India, that sense of time shifting – you look out of the window and try and work out where you have reached. There is a great feeling of relaxation when you reach a new station in the morning, and get out and go and get a cup of tea and a newspaper and go back and settle down in your carriage.

I prefer the speed of an Indian train as you can see much more of the countryside going past. When railways become too fast they become sort of speed-obsessive and one of the things about a railway journey is that it is not a question of just going from A to B.

Standard of governance

I have examined how India has changed since economic liberalisation started in the 1990s. The economy is still tied up with red tape, although in some sectors, like industry and finance, things have improved. What hasn’t improved, and this is crucial, is the standard of governance. My view is that if the standard of governance is not improved, India’s position as an emerging superpower with a super market will not be realised.

I travel whenever possible by train. If I have to travel by air in India I regard it as a wasted opportunity.

Governance is a block to the main issues of addressing poverty and making India a more equal society. There are some people in India who say don’t worry about governance because the private sector will solve all the problems. As we have seen in the UK, US and elsewhere, the private sector does not solve all problems.

Things like infrastructure need vast improvement, which requires government investment and control. Governance is inefficient, crude and oppressive. As the economy advances, there is a real risk of social unrest as there is a much greater awareness through the press and other media.

I absolutely have confidence in India’s future, but equally it is very dangerous for India to assume that this is going to happen without big efforts to reform its systems of government. India is an amazing country with brilliant people in all fields of democracy. It has brilliant parliamentarians who know how these institutions function, but they have not been able, in my view, to get the balance of these institutions right and to protect the autonomy of these institutions so each of them can do their job without undue interference. I wrote in a book called India in Slow Motion that the politicians and the civil servants have joined hands with one another and do not respect the separation that should be between. If you can restore the balance, then we are really in for a bright future. A democracy is more than election – a democracy needs to function 365 days a year.

Of all the stories I covered, the Bhopal disaster in 1984 stands out. This was a classic example of bad governance and poor administration by the Indian government and the worst elements of capitalist colonialism, and was a totally man-made disaster. It was dreadful. It’s coming up to 30 years since the event and they still have not cleaned up the place.

Spiritual side

You can’t be in India without being aware of the spiritual side. I wanted to become a priest and I thought of Christianity as the one true religion, but India has changed my religious beliefs. Many people experience God through Christianity, but, through studying Hinduism and seeing India where every great religion of the world lives side by side, I think there are many different ways to God. India is not a country that demands you change your faith.

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