|Rediff India Abroad Home | All the sections|
India Shining is feeble nonsense
February 23, 2004
You see, we must not spoil the party. We must not talk about bad things, must not raise inconvenient questions, must not interfere with this exhortation -- or it an ultimatum? -- to 'feel good.' And if we do any of those things, we are immediately branded pinkos, or slave-minded, or gutter-inspectors, or some equally delightful epithet.
Epithets are fine, they've always gone in one ear and right out the other. So instead, I'm concerned about the monumental deception this 'India Shining' campaign asks us to perform, and on ourselves. To me it is just as hollow a drum as the one a lady called Indira sounded with that earlier mantra: 'Garibi Hatao.' That one was all slogan and no 'hatao'; this one, similarly, is all slogan and no shine.
Not that there's anything wrong with slogans, by themselves. What gets me is the utter divorce from reality these two represent.
In Indira's time and later, I don't recall any significant, visible decrease in poverty. Ever. Yet so often and effectively did the lady chant her slogan that to this day -- two decades after she was murdered -- people will tell you admiringly that she really cared for the poor, worked for them, reduced poverty. So powerful is this image that these people willingly blind themselves to the evidence that's everywhere -- shacks that have lined Tulsi Pipe Road for generations, dust-laden urchins cadging coins at every traffic signal -- and pretend that poverty was actually eradicated in Indira's time.
Much the same with India Shining. Sure, you can repeat the words incessantly, as the ad campaign is doing. Perhaps then you'll be among those, a couple of decades from now, who speak admiringly of this man Atal, as others now do of Indira. Because just like them, you will have taught yourself to look past the evidence that's everywhere, showing up India Shining for the feeble nonsense it is.
This evidence: those shacks on Tulsi Pipe Road, those beggars at every traffic signal. The ghastly state of the road right outside my home in Bombay, but all over the city too, with large stones lying in wait to be thrown into my face by passing cars. (Some of the ads say we can now drive in multi-laned smoothness from Kashmir to Kanyakumari -- but to reach the
A stamp paper scam that involves the once-top cop in the city and the once-home minister of the state -- the two men, as it happens, charged with the greatest responsibility for the implementation of our laws. Acts of Indian terror -- Bombay in '92-93, Delhi in '84, Deorala in '87, Gujarat in '02 -- whose Indian perpetrators remain unpunished, even celebrated. A young engineer murdered for exposing the rot in our most high-profile infrastructure project, the Golden Quadrilateral of highways.
I'm told that today, people don't want to hear about this stuff. That they are tired of 'negative' images of India and think it's time to put out 'positive' ones. That means things like our BPO boom, our telecom revolution, the Golden Quadrilateral, our growing ability to compete with and beat the best of the West. Sure, those are all tributes to Indian dynamism and determination. Allowed to flower, Indians know what they are capable of and have proved it to the world.
But do these positives mean the negatives have suddenly disappeared? Am I to believe that the world's poorest human beings won't be at the signal pleading for cash the next time I'm out, merely because I have bad-image fatigue? Is there anything intrinsically wrong with recognizing and understanding the things in our country we need to address? If a stream of
And does a series of stylish, almost poetic ads, however appealing their message, really do justice to India?
Ah, the ads. Questioned about them, Prime Minister Vajpayee says, 'it is the duty of the government to inform people about its achievements' (Indian Express, Feb 10 2004). So India Shining has cost taxpayers like me an estimated Rs 4 billion so far: money spent, Vajpayee tells us, on spreading the news about his government's achievements.
Fair enough. But two issues here. First, let's take a look at what's in these India Shining ads. The one I saw this morning has three smiling young women on bikes, and these words:
I make my India shine.
Very encouraging, very inspiring. I say that in complete sincerity. What could we not achieve if all Indians spoke and felt this way? Only, this ad is supposed to be, my prime minister himself tells me, a compendium of information about his government's achievements. So what in these lines amounts to such information, such achievement? All I see are inspiring
Second, long dreary years of government ads -- from the Congress, Jayalalitha, Rabri and Laloo, Mayawati, the Communist parties, everyone -- have left me convinced of just one thing, and I suspect it's a conviction shared by many. Governments that issue ads to 'inform' us about their 'achievements' are governments that have very few achievements to their credit anyway. The difference in this latest series of ads is only that they are far more imaginatively done than earlier ones. But that aside; if even half of all we've read in such ads over the decades were true, we should be a country where absolutely nobody lives in poverty, where everyone is educated and healthy.
Please spend ten minutes on the street outside your Indian home to know the truth about that.
But, of course, we must not mention these things. Perhaps we must not even see them. After all, it's because we are learning to shut up about them that India Shines. No, we are not supposed to upset this applecart.
And apparently, the purveyors of these slick ads have assumed that we -- you and me -- are idiots. That by merely having this latest slogan repeated often enough, we'll swallow it. That we are too dopey to simply look around us at things like heaps of stones.
Are you that kind of idiot?