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Fatal Floods in Balkans; India's "Agonizing" Choice; Kickstarting India's Economy; The Troubling Past of India's New Prime Minister; Imagine a World

Aired May 19, 2014 - 14:00:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour.

It is the worst disaster to hit the Balkans since the war. The United Nations is rushing food to 600,000 people in Serbia and in Bosnia; 500,000 are scrambling to reach dry ground after an inundation of water on a scale never before seen.

Three months of rain hit Bosnia and neighboring Serbia in just three days, putting village after village entirely underwater and turning streets into rivers. The flood has already claimed 35 lives and the toll is expected to climb even higher.

Residents are scrambling to get to safety; tens of thousands have already been evacuated while hundreds of thousands have willingly left their homes. And some are now sleeping in cramped shelters like this one.

In Serbia, people are working furiously to protect a key power plant before it, too, is overtaken by water. In Bosnia, officials are very concerned about the threat of landslides and land mines. The floods may have displaced some of the estimated 100,000 unexploded land mines that were left over from the war and the warning markers have been swept away as well.

And even when the rains stop and waters start to recede, the temperature is set to rise across the Balkans, setting off fears now of disease from contaminated water.

From Sarajevo, the Bosnian president, Bakir Izetbegovic, tells me that it'll take a herculean effort to pull his country out of its latest crisis.


AMANPOUR: President Bakir Izetbegovic, welcome to the program and thank you for joining me.


AMANPOUR: How bad is it, and do you have the attention and the help from the international community?

IZETBEGOVIC: I think we have attention of the international community.

There is good reaction especially from the neighboring countries, from the neighborhood. So dimensions of catastrophe are really great and bad. So this is the worst thing that we faced after the war that we had years ago. Hundreds of square kilometers are underwater in some parts, in some cities, and some regions (ph) in Northern Bosnia there is two or three meters of water.

So there was a road (ph) and now it looks like lakes.

AMANPOUR: How many people are displaced?

IZETBEGOVIC: We believe, in this moment, it is more than 30,000 of them.

AMANPOUR: More than 30,000 people. And what about a very dangerous thing that we have heard, one of the side effects of this, is that wartime conflict areas where there were mines that haven't yet been discovered, are being shifted and moved?

IZETBEGOVIC: Yes, unfortunately, it will happen for sure. In this moment, there is still water. And still we cannot exactly say what happened with minefields. But for sure they will be displaced.

So -- also the warning marks are removed, so all the system of minefields which were under control, which had marks, warning marks, are now actually removed. So it will be a particular problem of the floodings of this problem.

AMANPOUR: And how about the rescuers?

How will they be able to do it without the danger of tripping a mine?

IZETBEGOVIC: In this moment, people do not think about it at all. So they're doing their best.

We actually succeed to displace only by helicopters more than 3,000 people from their roofs, from their homes, and so on.

So people do not take care -- do not think about the mines in this moment. Later, that problem we're there for sure.


IZETBEGOVIC: But now we are doing really our best, and especially armed forces are doing their best.

AMANPOUR: And do you think it's going to get worse or are the rains and the waters receding? It's obviously hitting Bosnia very hard; it's hitting Serbia very hard as well.

IZETBEGOVIC: Actually, in this mountain region of Bosnia & Herzegovina, problem is decreasing. But the waters are still rising in the flat zones and the flat areas. So it means in the North, in Bosnia & Herzegovina, there is still rising problem of floods.

AMANPOUR: And what about the costs? This is one of the most terrible disasters you have faced since the war, and that ravaged Bosnia. I know; I was covering it.

What is the cost and how will you be able to recover?

IZETBEGOVIC: Without international support and without support of domestic people who are not affected by this, it will be hard because we estimate that the cost of this catastrophe will be measured in the billions of euros, so it means infrastructure is disturbed. We have thousands of landslides throughout the region.

Of course, cities and village -- by the way, cities are underwater are so on. So it will be measured in billions of euros. But we will need few hundred millions in this period. I mean, through this summer. So our plan is actually to take care of all people who were affected during this summer, and it will take -- it will actually ask for few hundred millions of euros.

AMANPOUR: Can I ask you whether there is any good cooperation? You talked about the neighboring states helping and the neighborhood, but obviously there are still real political problems between Bosnia and Serbia, between Republika Serbska and Bosnia.

Are you actually getting over the political problems to try to work together?

And how bad are your political problems right now?

IZETBEGOVIC: In this moment, everybody is helping each other, especially on this level of common people. Let's say Croats in some parts of Bosnia are taking care of some Bosniaks who have left their homes. And a similar thing is happening with some Serbs, who are, who escaped from their homes -- Bosniaks are taking care of them.

And Croats are doing their best with their help, because with their -- every kind of help. Slovenians -- this morning I had a phone call from Montenegro, had phone call from Macedonia, from Slovenia and so on. Turks are also doing their best.

So in this moment, we do not think about things that divide us, but actually everybody is trying to help.

AMANPOUR: You know, when you speak like that, it reminds me of what Bosnia was like before the war, when people were knitted together and all the ethnic groups helped each other and lived together, before Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic and Slobodan Milosevic.

I wonder if you can comment on the irony, or the coincidence, of Ratko Mladic, the wartime Bosnian Serb commander, his trial starting in the Hague today, his defense.

IZETBEGOVIC: Yes. It started in -- I hope, these people who suffered during Mladic -- during the Mladic time, will have some satisfaction in coming days and in coming months, so it can be some kind of satisfaction.

But, generally, this process of reconciliation is on its way. So you cannot compare the spirit of Balkans and the spirit among the common people throughout the region and in Bosnia & Herzegovina with the ones that we have 20 years ago. So it is much, much better.

Some politicians are still trying to make some advantage, especially in this election campaigns, but generally speaking, common people, we can live here together. We can function here together. And this situation shows they can help each other here.

AMANPOUR: President Bakir Izetbegovic, thank you very much for joining me from Sarajevo.

IZETBEGOVIC: Thank you, Christiane. I was glad to hear you.


AMANPOUR: And meantime, Serbia's native son and most celebrated athlete, the tennis star, Novak Djokovic, has tweeted this message over the weekend, urging the international community to sit up and take notice.

And while his beleaguered homeland tries to keep its head above water, in India after five weeks of voting and over 500 million ballots, a new prime minister, Narendra Modi, has been swept into office as we know, thanks in no small part to India's business community.

Gurcharan Das, formally one of India's top CEOs and now respected writer, tells us why his vote for Modi was a calculated gamble.




AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program.

Is India having a Margaret Thatcher moment? A tsunami of national malaise swept Narendra Modi to victory just as it did Margaret Thatcher here in Britain in 1979. And just as Britons were then fed up with economic stagnation and ineffective bureaucracy, so, too, are the 800 million registered voters in the world's largest democracy.

Half of India's 1.2 billion people are under age 26 and they want jobs, not to mention decent roads, 24-hour electricity and water.

But many liberals and many of the country's 175 million Muslim minority are worried because of Modi's failure to stop the rioting and the savage slaughter of mainly Muslims in Gujarat in 2002 when he was chief minister.

Gurcharan Das, former CEO of Procter & Gamble India and now respected writer, joins me from Delhi to explain why India's business leaders threw their weight behind the controversial Mr. Modi.


AMANPOUR: Gurcharan Das, welcome to the program. Thank you for joining me. Let me start by asking why you, as a self-described liberal and secularist, decided to vote for the BJP candidate, Mr. Modi.

GURCHARAN DAS, INDIAN AUTHOR, COMMENTATOR AND PUBLIC INTELLECTUAL: Well, let me first say that it was -- took a lot of agonizing before I did that. But I really feel he is India's best chance to get -- to revive growth.

You know, we're a young country, and in a young country, we have 9 million people who come into the job market every year. And if we can give them jobs, then that will give a kicker to what is called the demographic dividend, means an additional 2 percent growth rate picks up as a result of being a young population.

Now, if we don't deliver them their jobs, then we have a demographic disaster and the hopes of the young will be totally dashed.

And I think there are millions like me who actually thought that way, and therefore the vote for Modi was not just a vote by the Hindu nationalists, by a very large number of people like us.

AMANPOUR: Let me ask you about the risk you say you were taking, but also the great expectations. More than half India's population is under 26; they have seen the economic powerhouse that Mr. Modi has delivered in Gujarat.

They've seen 24-hour electricity, they've seen jobs, they've seen decent roads and a very efficient way of government.

Is that transferable to India as a whole?

Does Mr. Modi have the ability, in a highly and strongly federalist system, to transfer that?

And how will he do it?

DAS: Well, I think he can. I think because the principles are the same, principles of managing, principles of leadership. His core competence is the ability to implement, to get things done.

Indians are big talkers but they are not big doers. And for the first time I think we have a person who is a genuine -- who is a leader in that sense that he monitors projects, that he gets into the messy details. He motivates people. He encourages people. And then he holds them accountable.

And that sort of -- that sort of -- you know, today the government in the center is all gummed up, and there are hundreds and hundreds of projects that are paralyzed and stopped because of various reasons. And so just doing that itself, without major reforms, just getting things done, I think, will get the economy kick-started.

AMANPOUR: Mr. Das, he has an authoritarian streak, some would say demagogic. Even business leaders, who practically funded and ran his campaign, have had their problems with him. When business leaders asked him about security in Gujarat, for instance, he responded by threatening to lead a boycott campaign of the Confederation of Indian Industries.

Does he have a short fuse?

Does he have the temperament for national leadership?

DAS: It's obviously a risk you take when you get a -- bring in a strong person. But I believe that India has enough constraints of a pugnacious press, a fiercely independent judicial system and a disobedient people, that I think the chances of getting a dictator are diminished as a result of some of these. And a temper, the plural temper of the Indian people.

AMANPOUR: Well, let me take you back to a very unhappy period in Indian modern history and that was obviously the riots in Gujarat in 2002. Mr. Modi, during his campaign and now that he's won, has said, and I'll quote, "This election will strengthen Indian democracy. The era of divisive politics is over."

But is it really?

Because anti-Muslim bigotry is so ingrained across India, and he has never apologized or addressed why, as chief minister, he failed to stop that terrible rioting in Gujarat, which was mostly directed at the Muslims, which saw women raped, people disemboweled, people set on fire and dismembered.

He's never apologized for that.

Should he now do it?

DAS: Well, I think that would be the wise thing to do. I think that would be the magnanimous thing to do. And certainly I think he -- in his very first speech, he said that he's a leader of all Indians. But he needs to go further.

And this is why, frankly, I agonized about voting for him. But, in the end, you know, I said to myself that, over the last two years, they've done an analysis of his speeches -- and this is actually an American foreign service officer who did this analysis -- which showed that, for one mention of Hindutva or Hindu nationalism, he made 500 mentions of development.

And so I feel that perhaps he -- that he has changed. Gujarat has had a period of -- you know, Gujarat used to have a riot every year. For the last 10 years unto decade, he has -- there's been no riot.

So I -- I feel he's grown. I hope he has grown. And I feel we are taking a risk, but it's a calculated risk that the country is taking. And I mean, India's threat to India is not, doesn't come from outside.

We have nothing to really worry from China or Pakistan; the threat is that the Muslim minority of India has been the most, the least fundamentalized Muslim minority in the world, and we'd like to keep it that way. And let's hope he doesn't do anything that would change that.

AMANPOUR: OK, Mr. Gurcharan Das, thank you so much for joining me.

DAS: Thank you.


AMANPOUR: So you just heard, many do hope that Modi really has changed as he prepares to enter the prime minister's office. But my next guest, historian and author, William Dalrymple, asks more directly is Modi a remorseless Hindu fundamentalist whose election bodes badly for this secular democracy?

And he joins me now from New York.

Thank you for joining me.

Now start to say that you actually live in India; you've covered the elections. You know this place very well and you know Mr. Das very well.

Is he overly optimistic, do you think?

WILLIAM DALRYMPLE, HISTORIAN AND AUTHOR: I agreed with a great deal Gurcharan said. I mean, the truth is that no one really knows what Modi will do. He has a deeply sectarian past; he rose through the ranks of the RSS, which started life in 1920 as an imitation of an organization like the Hitler Youth, like the phalange in Lebanon, it's one of those 1930s fascist movements.

It still parades in Khatib (ph) and the RSS salute is very like the Hitler salute, except it's across the chest. That said, his speeches have been entirely about development, about technology, about cutting through bureaucracy and many of the Indian elite, actually many across India like Gurcharan have taken the decision to vote for him. I mean, the scale of his victory implies that not only did Hindu nationalists but also Muslims, Dalits, all communities came out and voted for this man. And they believe that he has changed, that whatever he's done in the past that he's now an effective, strong leader, which is what India desperately craves for. And frankly, you know, I hope they're right.



DALRYMPLE: -- they're right. No one knows whether they're --

AMANPOUR: -- but obviously everybody hopes and as you heard, the calculated risk is how Mr. Das explained it.

But there are many Muslims --

DALRYMPLE: I think that's exactly right.

AMANPOUR: -- there are many Muslims who are very worried; there is an ingrained bigotry against Muslims still to this day in India. And people are concerned about the actual elements of -- you mentioned the RSS. Give us the nuts and bolts of what happened in Gujarat; he, Mr. Modi, denies he had anything to do with it.

Other people beg to differ and say that he has never explained nor apologized, of course, for failing to stop it.

DALRYMPLE: So what happened in 2002 was that a party of Karsevaks returning from the site of Ayodhya, which 10 years earlier had been the site of a major whole gathering of Hindu fundamentalists, destroyed a mosque, which was allegedly built by a Mughal emperor on the site of the birthplace of the Hindu god, Lord Rama, 10 years after that mosque was destroyed, a party were returning from marking the celebrations of its destruction, when they passed through a railway station in Gujarat and their train was either firebombed or set on fire; various different reports are -- some have said it was a firebomb; some said it was a gas canister that exploded by accident. No one's entirely clear.

But what happened next is very clear. The bodies were paraded around Ahmedabad. Mr. Modi, among other leaders of the MJP made incendiary speeches, blaming in on Pakistan and Muslims. And the next day there was a mass uprising, the most famous incident that took place was in the Gulbarg colony, a middle class colony in Ahmedabad, where a Congress -- ex-Congress MP, Ehsan Jafri, was surrounded by thousands of rioters. He, being well connected and an ex-MP, was calling people in the Rajya (ph), according to his wife. He even called Mr. Modi and he, according to his wife, laughed at Jafri and expressed surprise that he was still alive. This, of course, is disputed by Modi.

And many reporters who were there reported that the police explicitly told them that they were not given instructions to save the Muslims who were being attacked, that they were told to hold back. And there have been a whole series of allegations by human rights reports and journalists and that have gone on and on and on, that Modi not only knew about this, but was -- but was giving a clean hand to the rioters to go and run amok for three days.

Now he's been cleared of all that by a simpering court commission and so at the end of the day, in the judicial system, it hasn't made a final judgment, but the report that they commissioned cleared him. And it's this that has allowed, for example, the U.S. to give him a visa now and Britain to give him a visa.

So legally, he's -- you know, he can hold his head high and say that I've been found non-guilty. But many, many people, because of all the other evidence, remain unconvinced of this.

AMANPOUR: And what about the euphoria obviously since his election the unbelievable spectacle of sweeping so much power that for the first time in three decades, he doesn't need -- no government needs to go into a coalition. He has a majority government.

Do you think that he should apologize? Some have suggested that it's never too late; apologize for what happened publicly. He's already called for national unity.

Do you think he will and he should?

DALRYMPLE: Well, I think he definitely won't. He's had, you know, innumerable opportunities over the last 10 years to do so. And his view, which he's repeated several times, is that, you know, if he's actually guilty and proved guilty, he shouldn't apologize; he should be hung, which is a good retort. And I don't know, everyone hopes that he will be this leader.

He got the majority he did, at least, within 30 votes of actually having the majority to change the constitution. So this is a major political change in the landscape of politics in India.

And you know, he has the ability to completely remake the country and many people hope that he will do so and break the logjam of ossified bureaucracy and cut through all the blockages of the system. And they're longing for a strong leader. The worry is that he will turn out to be kind of Indian Putin, a nationalist, a strongman. He -- it isn't just the riots; he's a -- journalists who have opposed him in Gujarat had seditions charges slapped against them. Human rights lawyers have had trumped up charges of corruption put against them. There's a whole feeling that he doesn't brook opposition, that he doesn't forget. And many people are very frightened. And while we hope that he will be the technocrat, his record in Gujarat is of an authoritarian leader.

AMANPOUR: William Dalrymple, you've given us a lot to think about and this is a massively important story. And we'll obviously keep watching it.

And after a break, we'll celebrate a lifelong career in listening and the language of diplomatically. That's after a break.




AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, world leaders from Bosnia to Bombay to Washington rely on voices in their ears, not only to interpret other languages but to parse the nuances that can spell the difference between successful diplomacy and a diplomatic incident.

Imagine a world on the brink of the Cold War where one man kept the peace from being lost in translation. For three decades, Viktor Sukhodrev stood beside every Soviet leader interpreting the tense back-and-forth with their superpower counterparts. Born in Moscow, he spent his boyhood in London, mastering the language of Shakespeare and Dickens. And when he returned to the Soviet Union, he turned his language skills into a diplomatic career. Most memorably translating Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev's famous warning to the West, "We will bury you."

Even the American president Richard Nixon trusted Sukhodrev to be the sole interpreter in his discussions with the Soviet president Leonid Brezhnev. And in the 1980s, he was called in once again for talks between Gorbachev and Reagan in the last days of the Soviet empire, talks that eventually led to the end of the Cold War.

Viktor Sukhodrev, often in the shadows of the famous and the powerful, was called "the king of interpreters," and he died last week at the age of 81.

And that's it for our program tonight. Remember you can always contact us at our website,, and follow me on Twitter and Facebook. Thanks for watching and goodbye from London.