From Russia with Love

The Russian President Mr. Dmitry Medvedev was in town a few days back, ostensibly to inaugurate the new Convention Center. That we were already seated inside the Hall for two hours when he arrived was a different matter. The institute did its best to regale us and the Russian guests by showing us the same video all of us were made to see on our first day in the institute, at Convocation Hall, over and over again. Thankfully, the faux pas wasn’t enough to dampen our spirits. After all, it’s not everyday that you have a Head of (such a big) state visiting your institute!

Getting past all of it, the new Convention Center is really the only place in the institute fit enough to host such guests. The auditorium, for those of you who haven’t seen it already, looks luxuriously cool, especially after you’ve been subjected to Convocation Hall and, to an extent, LT. After getting through security, we were handed wireless receivers which had English as well as Russian channels, seeing as the President was going to talk in Russian. Mr. Medvedev, after being shown the tree Brezhnev had planted almost fifty years ago (next to LT) and being given a tour of the Nanotechnology labs finally came in to address us.

The director did his speech thing and introduced him (The Director sounded so much more interesting on the Russian channel) and Mr. Medvedev seized our attention from the word go. He talked of the relationship that had existed between the erstwhile USSR and our institute four decades back and how both sides hadn’t really paid attention to it. He talked of a new relationship and the way he spoke, you just got this feeling that he wasn’t paying lip-service to the thing. His short speech mainly dealt with the issues of business in Russia, education, high-tech and nanotech.

The Q&A session was going to be a different beast though. Now Mr. Medvedev is a smart fellow you know, unlike the image most of us have of him as Putin’s sidekick. And he was delightfully astute in handling our rather blunt and carelessly worded questions. The audience threw almost everything it could at him. Permanent seat for India at the UN High Table? “India has our complete support.” Wikileaks and what the Americans had to say about Russia – “Diplomatic language tends to be rather informal and we should not read too much into it. Of course, the Americans would get to hear pretty warm things about them as well if we had such a leak.” What if Pakistan attacked our country? “We’re all against terrorism and Russia would lend whatever support it can as far as anti-terrorist campaigns go.”

Of course, there were some that were downright embarrassing. Someone actually asked him when Russia would become a democracy. “We’re all at different stages in our pursuit of democracy and in the democratic process, you will always have some people who are unhappy with the way things are going. I’m sure you have such people in India, as in all other democracies.” Deftly handled I tell you!

The President missed not a single opportunity to take potshots at the Americans either. On being asked if he wanted Russia to be a superpower like the erstwhile USSR, he said, “This idea of a superpower is certainly tempting, but we must focus on being responsible for our acts and not act like the bullies of the world.” (or something to that effect) On democracy in Russia – “All democracies are unique and we’d be loath to impose any one model of democracy around the world.”

All in all, a fabulous session. Mr. Medvedev was quite the leader and we hope we continue having more such sessions in our institute in the days to come.

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– By Mohit Sharma