The conference began with the inaugural lecture delivered by our Distinguished Faculty member Shri. Gopal Krishna Gandhi, former Governor of West Bengal and an eminent officer of the Indian Administrative Service. In his lecture Mr. Gandhi touched upon various issues surrounding conflict and situated the theme in the larger context of the Indian society.
He primarily pointed out to the subjectivity involved in our responses to conflictual situations. Discussion on conflict depends on which side of the fence you are. The people on one side want economic reforms to remain, where FDI is good, where labour laws should be scraped, where solar energy maybe good for our souls but nuclear energy is the sole panacea to our problems.
However, there is the other side of the fence. While the slow growth of GDP causes concern, the dismal level of poverty alleviation measure is ignored. By citing statistics Mr Gandhi brought to light the contrasting perspective.
Moving on, with illustrations he brought out the complexity of the Indian society. India itself is a land of conflicts. It is an amalgam of the worst and the best in the country. Along with trickery and selfishness exist selflessness. The only way to avoid conflicts in such a way is to promote inclusiveness. The conflicts of our country would be far easier to resolve if left to those mandated to resolve it and if these mandated do not doddle over it.
However, he makes an exception for some conflicts where negotiation is not an option. For instance, those who discriminate against gender, those who perpetrate violence against minorities, caste conflicts do not fall under the ambit of discussion.
Mr Gandhi then emphasised on the methods and tools employed to grapple with issues of conflict. Satyagraha has been an effective means for the same. It has been used by Africans against their governments and in many other instances. However, it will always be fraught with mishandling. There is a very thin line between the ethical and unethical use of Satyagraha. The other mechanisms and institutions he described were that of the RTI, civil society organisations and the constitutional entities like the CEG, CAG and NAC.
On the issue of conflict in literature, Dalit Literature comes to the forefront. He spoke about the rising importance of the field of Dalit writing and gave examples of exceptional writers like Mahashweta Devi, and Bama.
On a closing note he identified certain important public intellectuals like Arundhati Roy and their contribution to the understanding of the larger picture of conflict. Mr Gandhi’s comprehensive lecture not only took a peek at the theme of the conference but also set the ball rolling for the rest of the sessions. In short Negotiating Conflict 2012 could not have asked for a more befitting beginning.