Joke used to be that if you held an Indian passport, you required a visa to travel to your neighbour’s house. Neighbour as in next door, and not Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Maldives, Nepal, Myanmar and Bangladesh. Oh, and China. Henceforth, visas will be unnecessary. India is under arrest. No red corner alerts, no Interpol and no, certainly not the resident SHO. We have nowhere to run, nowhere to hide, so we might as well stay at home and watch cricket.
Eight hundred million people in the country are hungry and half our children are malnourished. And what do we do? We pretend to set up a bank with a group of nations that includes China which is now the G1 of G2, the other country being the United States of America. China has more money or for that matter more of everything including people, for now. What do we say? Ha, we have a free press, elections, democracy, astrotart…we will show you. By the way, instead of paying an international agency to find a name for the bank, here’s a suggestion – CRIB. It’s not an acrobat, it’s a mirage.
International tuberculosis day just slipped by and what did we do? We observed Earth Hour and switched off lights in a country where two-thirds of the people do not have electricity. It’s been a while since our lights have been switched off. Never mind that we can save 330,000 Indians who die annually from tuberculosis with tablets on earth, not Akash. Why don’t we care? Because you don’t get tuberculosis if you live in Lutyen’s Delhi, Mylapore or Palace Orchards, never mind if spit and mosquitoes travel on private jets. And when we have a cough that lasts a few weeks, we vaccinate our house help.
Our international begging bowl just got deeper and what did we do? We wondered if Sanjay Dutt should be pardoned, if Beni Prasad was an albatross and who will win the next IPL.
The most dangerous game to play in India today is called it cannot get any worse. The latest swipe – yes, that’s what it is – against Narendra Modi is a self-goal. Millions of Indians think the Chief Minister of Gujarat is responsible for a “programme” but millions of others don’t and they voted him back to power for a fourth term. Millions of Indians think he runs the country’s biggest propaganda machine, so what prevents others from doing the same? After all, India is a democracy. When the European Union (EU) has lunch with him, headlines follow. Guess who’s coming to dinner? Denzel Washington. The G-32 – evening channel swimmers – outdid themselves in emptying the dictionary. A group of business people and politicians from the US visit Modi and accusations are hurled that this was a paid audience. We even went to the extent of asking the visitors if they had been paid to praise Modi and did they have the necessary permission to do so. Since when do people need permission to praise people? Besides, has anyone heard of Davos or for that matter all the think, blink and pink festivals where you are not invited if you don’t wear blinkers?
What did veteran Hollywood director Steven Spielberg tell us recently? He said the story is more important than people who tell it. That, of course, fell on deaf ears, because our interests were riveted on who got to meet him, what they wore and who stood naked. If you confused the all mighty LBD with the ordinary LBW, you were a parvenu.
For now, we don’t have a story to tell and we lack the humility to admit it. All governments make mistakes or take an occasional tumble but we paint ourselves into a corner with each passing day. The world knows it and that’s why they write cover stories about India and Indians, not because they care about us but because we are potentially a huge market. Not just for rubber bands and nail polish but also for roads, electricity, healthcare, education, entertainment, media and above all armaments. You haven’t heard about it, but there’s an Arms Trade Treaty which is making its way through the United Nations system which could curtail our freedom to buy arms. We have been doing what we do best – expressing public indignation and inserting private commas. That’s a career path for the keepers of our foreign policy.
This piece has no economic predictions of potential growth, potential market and eventual capacity. Economics is a social science only as relevant as the political will and commitment that binds it. This piece is more concerned about the meantime, the here and now.