Some very good observations made by a foreigner, Adam Roberts of Economist,India which our paid journos do not dare raise. Rahul Gandhi has not been properly tested | Adam Roberts â€˜I would love to see Rahul Gandhi dare to have an opinion on something,â€™ says Economistâ€™s South Asia bureau chief [hr][/hr] New Delhi: Following the Economist magazineâ€™s special report on India (India: In search of a dream), the magazine is organizing its India Summit in New Delhi on 24 April to outline the countryâ€™s prospects and challenges. Mint is a media partner for the event and will be covering relevant portions of it. Adam Roberts , the Delhi-based South Asia Bureau chief of the magazine, sheds the magazineâ€™s tradition of editorial anonymity to talk about the evolving economic and political scenario in India. Edited excerpts: There is a state of gloom in and about India despite relatively high economic growth compared with the rest of the world. Do you think that is justified or do you think Indians are being overly pessimistic? I donâ€™t think you are overly pessimistic. One of the things I like about India is that generally people are optimistic. It is when optimism turns into complacency, (that) there is a problem. When I first came to India, I felt many people were quite complacentâ€”(about) how India was destined to rise, how India was destined to grow fast, (and how) it would overtake China soon. If you are talking about gloom over GDP (gross domestic product) growth rate, I think it is bound to be gloomy. I will be worried because not enough is being done to sustain high growth. Do you think much of the economic downturn that we are experiencing emanated from complacency in the government? The comprehensive answer has to be that there were a lot of factors, but yes, there was definitely complacency. I had gone to see Pranab Mukherjee when he was the finance minister. I donâ€™t want to be rude, but he did just not understand what was going on, he just did not see the things that needed to be done. And then you look back at the rate of public spendingâ€”that is beyond complacency, that is irresponsibility actually. Racking up a massive deficit, without thinking about what will happen even in two years time. Now you have got a finance minister who is more responsible, and there is certainly less complacency. And when you look at the Congress, who among the powerful in the Congress at the top understood what sort of economic policy was needed to sustain growth, I think there was a lot of complacency. People just did not get a grip of the idea that they had to do things to help the economy grow. I think the last one year has been a useful experience for them with Sonia Gandhi coming and talking about reforms last year. I do not think she has done that before. She came out and spoke on multi-brand retail and the diesel price hike. She was beginning to have an opinion (publicly) on those subjects which she had not had before. That was welcome, that was necessary. I would love to see Rahul Gandhi dare to have an opinion on something, starting with the economy. How do you see this behaviour, of leaders interacting less with the public? I think this is something India has to face as quickly as possible. When you have your leaders cocooned not just from the general public but also from informed, sympathetic observers, journalists who may or may not be sympathetic, they are missing out on really important information, they are not getting the feedback.So hiding away is a bad strategy. I think this is very old-fashioned, for Sonia Gandhi, who is letâ€™s face it, is the most important person in terms of political power in India, to disappear from the country when she fell ill and no one has ever explained where she went, who paid for it, where was she. It is a matter of public interest when one is such a powerful and decisive leader. Actually, that thing about her health is not the worst example either. I think it is much more pertinent that we donâ€™t get to ask her questions about policy. We knew so late what is Sonia Gandhiâ€™s view on multi-brand retail. Until she made her view clear, every ambassador, every observer just said we donâ€™t know whether this (allowing foreign investment in multi-brand retail) is going to stick or not, because previously it had been rolled back. It is only when somebody as powerful as Sonia Gandhi throws her weight behind it, does it have credibility. So the fact that she chooses not to speak adds to the policy paralysis. Are you as clueless as everyone else about what Rahul Gandhi thinks? I surely donâ€™t know more than anyone else, but we know something about him. We know some attractive things about him. He seems willing to be self-deprecatory, not too pompous, not too full of himself, quite genial. We know some other things about him which may not go down well with voters. I think it was a mistake in that CII (Confederation of Indian Industry, an industry lobby) speech where all his references were about Spanish night clubs or friends returning from China. Is that with the vision that you want to present yourself? But he is well meaning. We know some useful things about him. He is not firebrand, he is not terribly aggressive. He is not going to be hugely hostile. But we donâ€™t know anything about his views on policies. I would love to sit down with him in a very friendly, informal way just to talk through what he believes. One fear I would have is that he is just terribly influenced by the person he has just spoken to. He has not been properly tested. He has taken too much time tinkering with the youth wing of Congress and has not spent enough time on how India will be a stronger country, less poor, more equal, more attractive, more cleaner. What are your thoughts about Narendra Modi, the other potential prime ministerial contender from the Bharatiya Janata Party, especially with respect to Rahul Gandhi? If it does become a battle between the two, then I think Congress is in trouble. Modi has these two sides to himâ€”the good Modi and the bad Modi. We all know about 2002, his utter inability to apologize for that. You donâ€™t have to accept responsibility, but to show sympathy, to make it clear that you will never let that happen under your watch again. Just to show you care in the basic limited human way. So with that side of the bad Modi, you have anxiety about his ability to hold a coalition together, his ability to make compromises. On the other hand, Rahul probably will not be a bully, he is someone who can make compromises and hold the coalition together. You can see the BJP is worried; the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the BJPâ€™s ideological parent) is worried because they donâ€™t know whether they can control him. Instead of Congress versus BJP, the fight could become Congress versus Modi, which could be a risky strategy. But then there is the good Modi, who understands how to get his state (to) run better. He has got investment, he has got infrastructure working and India is desperate for the sort of things that the good Modi represents. The problem for Congress is they donâ€™t have anyone who could compete in a presidential style with Modi. Narendra Modi is among â€œtheâ€ (most) professional and strong politicians I have ever met, not only in India but generally. You look into his eyes, he has drive, ambition and confidence. He is motivated and he really wants power and he is honest about saying it. He is very driven, which could be terrifying. Generally, India goes for a more modest and conciliatory leader. So Modi is a risk. He is a gamble for the BJP and a gamble for India.Foreign governments also seem to have woken up to the phenomenon of Modi, while till a few months back he was considered an untouchable. Have they realized that his chances are bright for the prime ministership and hence positioning themselves accordingly? It is true that they are positioning themselves. But I think it is just a bit more than about the prime ministership. Why did Britain want to cozy up to Modi? They want to trade with Gujarat. They see Gujarat as one of most dynamic states in India. There are a lot of Gujaratis in Britain. All the parties in Britain would like Gujaratis (to) vote for them. So there are commercial aspects driving this as well. When you look at the US, the ones who are really pushing for Modi is the business community. The Economist magazine has frequent run-ins with the Indian customs officials regarding the Indian map that it prints which varies from the official version. Have you found a permanent solution to the matter? No, the only solution to it is that India has to change its mind. There is a temporary solution though. More and more people are reading it online and it is hard to censor maps online. Of course, Indians are quite capable of seeing a map of India which varies from the one the government tells them to look at. It is not going to corrupt them or upset them. I think it is ridiculous. If every country behaves that way, then it will be impossible to have publications which people read across the globe. It is rather embarrassing for India. We end up saying that we are censored more by India than any other country. Itâ€™s a shame for such a vibrant, strong democracy like India.