Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Inchoate Images of Changing India

Inchoate Images of Changing India
Syed Ali Mujtaba

India is known by many euphemisms, some view it as a land of rajas and maharajas, and others see it as a place of snake charmers, elephants and Bengal Tigers. India is a land of sages and rishis for those looking for spiritualism. The bird which laid golden eggs is an epithet also tagged to India.

No wonder the tourism brochures market India as a land four “S”- sun, sand, snow and surf. The hospitality ads also highlight architectural and cultural heritage of India to tell how attractive it is as a tourist destination.

India to western audience was introduced by John Masters, Rudyard Kipling, Ruskin Bond and many other foreign writers. They wrote about Pindari’s, a horde of cruel marauders in eighteen century. India is also depicted as land of Thuggees, a cult of Kali, who robed people waylaying and murdering them, using silk scarf as a killing weapon.

Foreign writers also have graphically portrayed females immolating on their husband’s funeral pyres performing Sati and about Hook swingers inflicting pain on their bodies piercing hooks to pull religious cart in a procession.

India’s image has also been sketched by various writers of India origin. Nirad C Chowdhry called it a “Continent of Circe.” V.S Naipul has named India as a moving anarchy. His titles “An area of darkness,” “A Wounded Civilization” and “Million Mutinies Now” are all self explanatory. Balraj Khanna, a Punjabi writer settled in England, has titled his book “A nation of Fools.”

India carries the image of a non violent country with peace and Ahimsa as its cardinal principles. It is land of Buddha and Gandhi who were apostles of peace. India’s foreign policy draws its sustenance from the philosophy of non violence to present the case of no first use of its nuclear weapons. Policy makers argue that because of country’s pacifist’s principles India had never been an aggressor and in fact has always been invaded by others.

India as a result has acquired an image of a weak nation which inspite of umpteen provocations shy away from retaliating against Pakistan. India even though amassed troops for more than 10 months on its borders with Pakistan but withdrew them back without firing a single shot. The handling of Qandhar high jacking crisis and unable to retrieve vast tracts of land taken by China in 1962 war are cited as examples of country’s weakness.

On jocular plain, India’s timidness is on display every time it faces Pakistan at a cricket match at Sharjah and develops cold feet there.

This image is countered arguing that India is a South Asian super power. India has acquired this image ever since it took up the responsibility of security of Bhutan and its troops went to Srilanka and Maldives on peace missions.

India’s strong image was authoritatively on display when it conducted nuclear tests and declared itself as a nuclear state, despite international pressures. Country’s pursuit of missile technology programme, planned forays into the space, exploration of resources under the ocean has given it an image which no way could be considered signs of a weak nation.

However, India of late has also acquired the image of a violent country. With militants, popping up in Akshardham temple and in Delhi’s shopping moll, panic buttons makes spines chill with fear. Gun totting policemen guarding various establishments gives impression that terror and violence are round the corner.

The destruction of Babari masjid, Mumbai blast, Godhra carnage, Gujarat riots, all paints a very uncivilized picture of India. Capping them all are frequent reports of poll violence, communal clashes and gross human rights abuse in this country.

India’s changing image nevertheless got a shot in the arm since it has done away with the license permit raj and became a country with vast economic potential coming to terms with free market approach. It’s recent “Look East” policy and making US its economic partner has given it an image of a global economic player.

India’s leadership in information technology, booming exports and manufacturing sectors have led many to call it an economic tiger that is unleashed.

India’s image however takes a beating when quoted that the country still houses more than 40 per cent of its population below the poverty line and have the same ratio who give thumb impression for their identity because they are illiterates.

A country with a billion population where people die of excessive heat, cold, rain and other natural calamities and where people are sitting on the volcano of diseases like AIDS, tuberculosis and diabetes.

At the time of India’s independence, Japan was economic rubble. Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand were all limping out of the ashes of decolonization. China since its long march was gearing to lift its rural economy. All these countries have taken a giant leap over the years while India’s juggernaut has managed to crawl.

If anything that is responsible the sulking image of India then it is the malfunctioning of all the three pillars of its democracy; administrative, judicial and legislative system. The imperfections of Indian administrative system are glaring when we negotiate our day to day life. There is hardly any transparency even though much is sermonised about making the administration transparent.

What could be more appalling than to bribe the babus to get a death certificate of a deceased in this country? The cumbersome judicial process, a legacy of British legal system, has also not helped India much. Thousands languish in jail without trial and there is no legal remedy available to them.

Most of the ills of this country are because the leadership of this country has let us down. Even Nehru who wrested the power from the British raj relaxed after becoming Prime Minister. His experiments of mixed economy and aping soviet models retarded India’s natural growth.

Nehru´s kins Indira and Rajiv could not give any big push to develop the nation. The crop of politicians that followed them continues to ignore the core issues of this country. India is still waiting for a leader who could stand up to the challenges and provide it a more sensible direction. But it seems that the wait is turning out to be the proverbial waiting for the Goddard!

Syed Ali Mujtaba is a television journalist based in Chennai, India. He can be contacted at

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