A tweet on my timeline last week by an expatriate Indian,who goes by the twitter handle @filter_c said: “idu namma desha (this is our country). A Tibetan’s response to me in Bylakuppe, Karnataka, when I asked him how he knew Kannada.”
And yet this Tibetan is probably living in fear after the recent attack on a fellow Tibetan in Karnataka and the exodus of people of North East origin from Southern and Western India back to their homes. Tibetans are often mistaken for people of North East origin because of similarity in their facial features.
It is downright depressing to see thousands of people packed in trains, quitting jobs, leaving academic sessions, shutting homes, just leaving it all, not sure if they will ever return. It has happened before, of course — in Kashmir, Assam, Mumbai, Punjab, Delhi and Ahmedabad. Every time people get displaced due to riots or fear of mob attacks, one hopes it is the last time.
But it recurs. Like a dysfunctional automobile, India splutters, again and again. If you were living outside India, almost all the news that you have recently read or seen about India is negative. The front-page news on India in the New York Times, the Guardian, the Strait Times or Khaleej Times is always about a scandal, scam, corruption, power outage, malnutrition deaths, foeticide, rapes or molestations. From being everybody’s blue-eyed boy, India has become the talented kid who failed to live up to his potential. We have become a global disappointment.
The New York Times begins its report with, “Like a fever, fear has spread across India this week, from big cities like Bangalore to smaller places like Mysore, a contagion fuelling a message: Run. Head home. Flee….”
The Guardian writes on the power outage with an ominous heading: “India: the dark reality behind the west’s idea of the sub-continent’s success. The path to prosperity is not as straight and smooth as many would like to believe.”
Here is a sample from MENAFN — Khaleej Times: “A survey last year showed a 40-year disconnect between India’s youth and its cabinet. The power of choice does not mean the youth get the leaders they deserve. In the Indian brand of governance, the young are made to wait indefinitely to gain entry into the corridors of power. Many drop out of the race or watch the veterans pass the baton among themselves.”
Pick up any international publication; the news is all about the India story gone sour. Television is no better. Reporters covering India talk of grain rotting while villagers go hungry, of farmer suicides and crumbling urban edifice. When the Prime Minister announced India’s Mars mission on August 15, it was met with scepticism. What? India? Here is the Reuters report: “India has announced plans to send a satellite to Mars — just weeks after a malfunction on the underinvested power grid deprived 600 million people of electricity. It sounds like inexcusable waste.”
Deep down, we know it is perhaps true. But it is also true that India has made huge strides in space research despite its socio-economic challenges.
Similarly when India wins six medals at the 2012 Olympics, its best ever performance, the country is not allowed to cheer even for a short while. Every report is paraphrased with the addendum: a country with a population of 1.2 billion didn’t even win one gold medal. Again, that’s not untrue. But the ‘feel-not-so-good-factor’ is getting a bit too much to bear.
We haven’t acquired this poor reputation overnight. We have earned it by assiduously working towards it, in full measure. To reverse it, we will have to work doubly hard. At 65, India is where it should have been at 30, or at 40.
In 2004, when Dr Manmohan Singh took over as Prime Minister of India, we were but a speck at many international forums. We slowly clawed our way in, whether into ASEAN, G-20, EU, UN, NSG (almost), either as a full member or as a dialogue partner. Our profile increased like never before, and then began the slide. It is time to quickly stem the slide. Image management is of vital importance, both strategically and for the nation’s morale. But for the image to be good, the content has to be excellent.
It is no longer about looking at the glass being half-full or half-empty. It’s about how quickly we can fill the glass.
Smita Prakash is Editor, News at Asian News International. You can follow her on twitter @smitaprakash
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