“There will be soft borders and free movement of people”

Veteran journalist and former diplomat Kuldip Nayar on Tuesday backed the emerging idea for the formation of a South Asian Economic Union with “soft borders” among the nations and free movement of people, which he said would promote understanding and cooperation and unite the people across the boundaries.

“Borders should act [just] as corridors in the new system,” said Mr. Nayar – a strong votary of peace between India and Pakistan – at a session on “Between the lines, beyond the headlines” on the last day of the Jaipur Literature Festival here. He was in conversation with New Delhi-based British journalist John Elliott.

The octogenarian columnist, who has authored 14 books and has had a long career as a political commentator, said the economic union in the Indian subcontinent would be a reality within the next 30 years: “It would not be in my lifetime, but the next generation will certainly witness a new era of peace and harmony in this region.”

Mr. Nayar ruled out war as an option between India and Pakistan or India and China, but said while a robust friendship was possible with Pakistan in view of a common past, the scope for friendly Sino-Indian ties was limited because of conflicting interests of the two countries.

“We are two giants and we stand for different values. Our relations can just be normal, but camaraderie is not possible,” he said, recalling the “betrayal” by China starting from building a road in Aksai Chin and culminating in the military attack on India without any provocation in 1962. The Chinese attack shattered Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru as he earlier thought that a Communist nation would not harm a developing country.

A former Indian High Commissioner to Britain, Mr. Nayar touched the subjects of Partition, his migration from Sialkot – where he was born – to Delhi, Emergency, violence in Jammu and Kashmir, corruption and contemporary political trends in his hour-long conversation at Mughal Tent at the JLF venue, Diggi Palace.

Mr. Nayar said his autobiography, One Lifetime Is Not Enough, scheduled for release later this year, would give details of his eventful time as Lal Bahadur Shastri's media adviser and a brief stint as a press officer with Nehru, besides the events in the history of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. The memoir will be published in 12 languages.

The noted columnist-activist, who was jailed during the 1975-77 Emergency, said the Emergency was a watershed period in India's history as it changed all norms for governance. “Mahatma Gandhi, Nehru and Shastri were old guard who espoused the ethos adopted during our freedom struggle,” he said, adding that everything changed during the “despotic rule” of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.

Nevertheless, Mr. Nayar said he had a great optimism for the future of the nation. “India will never fall apart. We do not face any challenge of disintegration,” he said while noting the Indian people had always depicted unparalleled concord and risen up with unity in the times of crises. “Our differences disappeared when Gandhiji was assassinated. We have remained united during external aggressions.”

Mr. Nayar felt that the civil society in modern India should stand up and speak out against corruption rampant in the system and criminalisation of politics. “Anna Hazare is only a symbol. We should have more people like him,” he said, while observing that the Lokpal Bill drafted by the Union government was “too diluted and weak.”

Asked about the ideals before the present generation of journalists, Mr. Nayar said the scribes should not only be independent but should also be “anti-establishment.”

“My generation of journalists never bothered about the business side of newspapers which we worked for. As news carriers, journalists should be ready to take on the establishment.”