As BBC plans to axe its Asian Network radio station, Mark Tully, former correspondent with the channel talks about this ‘threat’ and the reasons for his premature exit.
What’s been keeping you busy?
I’m making a programme for BBC Radio Four called, Something Understood. And I’m writing another book, on how India has changed after almost two decades of economic liberalisation. It’s similar to my book, No Full Stops In India (NFSII).
What are the changes you’ve noticed?
There’s been a huge rise in entrepreneurial activity as a result of the socialist ‘license permit Raj’ coming to an end in 1991. Industrial production and
consumerism is on an upward trend. Twenty years ago, only a limited few had Maruti cars and Ambassadors. Now, you see Hondas, Mercedes, Skodas and Marutis too. Though the systems of governance and the administrative infrastructure haven’t changed much.
In your last book, India’s Unending Journey, you write about how Mahatma Gandhi said that the real India lies in the villages. Do you agree with that?
I think India made a mistake by focusing on top to down development. We should have listened to Gandhi and concentrated on growth at the grass root levels.
How do Indians view you?
(Smiles) I have been shown great kindness and respect in India, far more than I deserve.Do you plan to retire here? Ninety per cent of life is governed by fate and destiny. It’s in the hands of God. At present, I have no plans to leave India. It’s a fascinating country because of its diversity. I’m articularly interested in its religious traditions, its huge potential and unresolved problems.
I love its geographical beauty, but am saddened by the decline in architectural standards. Modern India isn’t very beautiful. It is has wonderful architectural heritage, but it seems to be going in for the worst face of pragmatism in it. I was born in East Bengal, and spent around 10 years of my childhood here under the British Raj. I have always felt at home here. During my career in BBC, I was mostly stationed in this country. It’s as if I was meant to be here.
Does your wife, Margaret, feel the same way?
Margaret is the mother of my four children. She lives in the UK. We are not divorced, but separated. I live in Delhi with my partner Gillian.
Some people have that mistaken impression that I dislike UK. I did once say that I feared the prospect of permanently living there. I don’t, but I can’t rid myself of the years I have spent in India and its influence on me. Neither can I rid myself of the years I have spent in the UK and its influence. I go back quite regularly.
Why did you leave the BBC in 1994?
That was 16 years ago, BBC was going through a managerial revolution. I was critical of the complicated structures conceived by management consultants. I got a chance to address the annual meeting of the Radio Academy about it. A year after that, it became clear to me I could not go on working there.
What do you think about BBC’s plans to close down Asian Network?
It’s the special service for Asians in Britain that they are planning to close down. The Indian language services will continue. There was never a complete English service for South Asia specifically. I would personally like to see more programmes on South Asia, but I do realise that BBC is for the whole world.
What’s your take on the print media in UK?
Newspapers are facing a crisis. I am critical of popular British newspapers. They have too many tedious and personalised columns, celebrity stuff and intrusions into people’s lives. There is not enough foreign news and hardly any serious political or economic reporting about India.
What about the Indian media?
Radio is in a funny position here. The government doesn’t allow news and current affairs on independent radio. So you only have All India Radio, which broadcasts government news.
TV is sad. It strives to be sensational and it lacks journalistic editorial control. Reporters are gabbling away, nineteen to the dozen, but are unintelligible. At the moment, newspapers don’t face any threat from TV, radio or the Internet, in India.