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It seems at the moment that there are many areas where India is going for short-term gains, but might lose heavily in the long run. It goes from the mundane to the most spiritual.
Take hospitality, for instance. In the last six months five star hotels in India have doubled -- if not tripled sometimes -- their prices. An ordinary room at the Taj's Fisherman's Cove near Chennai costs Rs 12,000, a cottage Rs 20,000 (all these are rates with breakfast only). Now Fisherman's Cove is a 30-year-old hotel which has long ago recovered all its investment and the basic rooms have not changed much since then. There is no bathtub, which is a minimum requirement for this type of rates and the air conditioning system is antiquated.
The Taj Malabar in Kochi, which is a slightly better hotel, charges Rs 16,000 (that's the Indian price, not the rate for foreigners, which is 30 percent more) for a standard room and Rs 20,000 for a deluxe room. The Taj's Kumarakom resort goes a step further: It charges $900 (about Rs 36,000) for a villa with a tiny 'meandering' pool. Now it is a beautiful hotel, but the facilities are sparse, there is no beach, and nothing much to do apart from discovering the backwaters.
The short-term gains are that these hotels are full at the moment: There is a shortage of five star hotels in India and Kerala [Images] or Tamil Nadu are beautiful places for a Westerner. The long-term losses are that many travel agents now say that it is cheaper to organise tours in Thailand or even to mysterious China -- sooner or later India will see a drop in the arrival of foreign tourists who will look elsewhere for quality at that price.
One should also mention airlines. A return business ticket by Jet Airways [Get Quote] from Delhi to Chennai costs Rs 45,000; you can fly twice to New York from Paris in economy at that price. There is not a single aerobridge in Delhi, the airports are antiquated and you have to circle sometimes for one hour above Mumbai or Delhi for lack of a landing strip.
Short term gains is that the government compromised with the Left, which is against privatisation of airports so that they remained in power; the long term losses is that it set back India's infrastructure for at least five years and that business class passengers, if they can avoid India, will do so.
Sports is also an area where the government goes for short-term gains and long term losses. If you bank everything on 12 players in a nation of a billion, the players who are often spoilt brats, who lose, or draw four times out of five and hog on all the limelight, yes, you gain short term: India feels a misplaced sense of nationalism when they win, the government, sponsors, television channels, make crores of rupees on ads, rights and taxes (witness the amount of money that Vijay Mallya [Images] or Shah Rukh Khan [Images] disbursed for non-existent teams). But in the long run, they lose heavily.
India is nowhere in sports like basketball and football, and much more worthy athletes, who have to train for hours, such as track and field runners, get third class facilities and no sponsorship. The whole nation will cheer if an Indian gets a silver medal at the next Olympics [Images]. Pathetic for such a huge and talented country, while China will reap at least 200 gold medals.
In politics, the policy of reservations symbolises most the short terms gains and the long-term losses, not only for the government, which is in power now, but for the whole country. It is true that there are still unforgivable gaps between the rich and the poor, that Dalits in some parts of India are still discriminated against (but mostly by other slightly higher low castes). But is this the volition of the present government when it offers reservations? Probably not.
In the short run, they might gain with their cynical mathematics of how to get elected with the votes of the Muslims, who remain the most backward community in India, in spite of having brought to power umpteen Congress governments since Independence, and those of the Dalits, who have had a fair share of benefits, having one of them becoming President of India and so many politicians in power.
Mayawati has become a master of this sneering mathematics: Muslim + Dalit + Brahmin votes = absolute majority. But in the long run everybody can see that it is splitting India more along caste and religious lines and that one day we will all have to pay the price for this folly.
The Indian government is holding writer Taslima Nasreen [Images] a virtual prisoner. It may placate the Muslims and the Communists. But in the long run, it is just sending the wrong kind of message.
When a great and noble soul like Maharishi Mahesh Yogi dies, a man who brought meditation in the West and made it a scientifically accepted technique, the Indian government and press pretend he did not exist, or that he was just the 'guru of the Beatles'.
It may please the secularists, but it is just one more sign that there is a strong will at the moment to turn one's back to India's ancient and wise spiritual tradition and become as Westernised as possible.
In matter of conversions, it is easy to adopt an attitude of 'what does it matter, anyone should be free to choose one's religion', as many of India's intelligentsia and upper class are saying now. Christian missionaries are bringing in billions of dollars and euros donated by gullible Westerners thinking that it will go in uplifting poor Indians. Instead this money is used to convert poor innocent villagers and tribals.
The short term gains is that these converts get free medical help, scholarships for their children, interest-free loans, etc. Long term loss is that they are taught to look down on their own culture, are told that it is sinful to enter a temple, bad to do a puja or even wear a bindi. In the end, it creates havoc in Indian society, breaks the social harmony, as seen in Orissa, and makes large chunks of people rootless and ashamed of their own culture.
So, do we need short-term easy gains, that lead to catastrophe? Or long term progress, which requires a vision, an honest mind and a dedicated nationalist spirit? India will have to choose very soon when it elects its next government.
Francois Gautier is the editor-in-chief of the Paris-based, La Revue de l'Inde
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