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Stop focusing on passports

Updated on: 30 March,2024 03:55 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Lindsay Pereira |

Is it fair to evaluate how well a country is doing by looking at a travel document, when there are more viable parameters?

Stop focusing on passports

Everyone knows that Indian travellers are the world’s best-behaved, so why should we worry about countries that insist on Indian passport-holders obtaining a visa? Representation Pic

Lindsay PereiraHere’s something to consider this week, given that there isn’t anything else of particular importance happening around us: the strength of a country’s passport is a significant metric used by many to measure its soft power. That piece of information was tacked on to a report about how India slipped a rank down from last year to occupy the 85th spot on the Henley Passport Index for 2024. If this sounds like a joke, I assure you that it’s not.

The Index has been around for almost two decades, apparently, and is based on data from the International Air Transport Authority. It tracks 199 passports and 227 travel destinations and considers itself the ‘standard reference tool for global citizens and sovereign states when assessing where a passport ranks on the global mobility spectrum.’ To cut a long report short, it says that the world isn’t accepting everything we’ve been told about how amazing we are.

I spent a bit of time looking through the report, and what I found was shocking. For instance, I was appalled to find out that citizens of Uzbekistan, Benin, Mozambique, Mongolia and Zimbabwe all had more powerful passports than the citizens of India do. How could this be, I asked myself repeatedly, given that we were being governed by the World’s Most Popular Leader? Even sworn enemy Pakistan’s position at 106 did little to assuage the anger I felt towards what was obviously a deeply biased report. How could Rwanda rank four spots higher? How could Uganda be at 77 and Papua New Guinea at 65? Did the people behind the Henley Index not get the memo about how India is now almost, soon, pretty much ready to be a global superpower within the next six, seven, eight, or nine decades?

The index pointed out that Indian passport holders could now travel visa-free to 62 countries, which made me happy until I saw that passport holders from Spain, Singapore, Japan, Italy, Germany and France were granted access to 194 countries! This meant 132 countries had yet to realise that New India 2.0 was real, and on the cusp of world domination!

I checked local newspapers to see if the honourable government of India or the most honourable Prime Minister of India had launched a public relations campaign to address this lack of awareness, but there were only the usual reports about religious intolerance or protests by a few disgruntled farmers. I believe a campaign to address this state of ignorance will be launched soon though, because it has been almost two days since I last saw the Prime Minister’s photograph displayed prominently in a public setting. If this isn’t what we should be paying taxes for, what is?

It took a few days for my anger and disbelief to subside, after which I began to question the need for a passport index. Should we really use this travel document as a sign of how well a country is doing, or how it is perceived by the rest of the world? Everyone knows that Indian travellers are the world’s best-behaved, so why should we worry about countries that insist on Indian passport-holders obtaining a visa? Who cares if 132 countries don’t accord us the same level of respect as 62 other countries? Shouldn’t we focus on more important parameters, such as how India has the world’s tallest statue or is now the world’s most populous country?

More importantly, given that just 7.2 per cent of Indian citizens possessed a valid passport a year ago, shouldn’t we ignore this report entirely and focus on more positive developments such as how well two or three Indian businessmen from Gujarat have been doing lately? I believe it’s all about priorities.

I intend to ignore the Henley Index from now on and urge you to do the same. If you must travel abroad, pick a place that welcomes you, or do what many residents of Punjab and Gujarat do and find an “agent” who can get you there. I have a feeling the Index will soon lose all meaning anyway, because India is turning into the kind of country no one wants to leave, and everyone wants to visit. In a few years, citizens from countries across North America and Europe will beg for an opportunity to give up their weak passports for an Indian one. Until that happens, I also urge the government to launch its own Pradhan Mantri Bharatiya Passport Index, and award India the number one slot.

When he isn’t ranting about all things Mumbai, Lindsay Pereira can be almost sweet. He tweets @lindsaypereira
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