Nowadays, in every hotel, every railway station, every government office, you can find posters selling ‘Incredible India!’
I have been a defender of India for years, but the Incredible India campaign does not always match the reality on the ground.
Take visas, for instance. Because India’s intelligence agencies did not do their work properly and Headley was able to move freely around the country, preparing the 26/11 terror attack, visa rules have been tightened to a ridiculous extent.
Recently, I asked for a visa for my assistant, a French lady, who wants to work in India. She would help in the making of La Revue de l’Inde, the only magazine solely devoted to India in the French-speaking world, and which props up India as the natural, liberal and democratic alternative to China.
The Indian embassy in Paris offered her a 3-month visa! Visa rules in India are Nehruvian and outdated. The Chinese have understood that one needs to open one’s doors if one wants investments. Incredible India!
Take railways. Twenty years ago one had to wait for a long time to get a confirmed berth on the Ranikhet Express, which connects Nainital and Ranikhet. Any change?
When we booked our tickets, we were waitlisted 12 and 13. A month later, we were still 12 and 13! Lalu Prasad & Mamata Banerjee might start new trains to please their constituencies, but they do not increase the existing capacities.
As a result, Indian Railways have hardly progressed in 20 years, whereas the Chinese have clean, comfortable and fast trains.
I say fast, because when we finally got confirmed berths, the train was seven hours late and took 14 hours to cover the 378 km that separates Delhi from Kathgodam, an average speed of 19 km per hour. Incredible India!
India is the largest democracy in the world. Is it at the moment? Reliance claims the government has asked them to spy on 1,00,000 phones. What about the other operators?
How many phones is this government spying on? CBI blatantly lets go of Quattrocchi, the only man who could implicate Sonia Gandhi in the Bofors scam, but goes out big time after Hindu ‘terrorists’.
There is some progress, though, because a few people are beginning to point a finger at Sonia Gandhi, whereas before nobody dared for fear of some goons ransacking their office, or worse. Incredible India!
Speaking of mobiles. The 2G scam is not only about mobile operators bribing Raja to buy bandwidth at throwaway prices and sell it a month later at huge profits to foreign companies, as Tata did to Docomo; it is also about them thinking they can get away with anything and in employing strong-arm tactics to recover unpaid bills.
I have been a customer of Essar, (then Hutchinson, then Vodafone) since 1997, when I paid a deposit of 5,000, which is worth at least four times more today.
In 2008, my 11-year on-time paid connection (9811118828) was arbitrarily disconnected by Vodafone for a disputed bill of Rs2,000 (of unwanted ads while in Bali, which one of then Hutch executives had agreed to waive).
Then, on March 10 last year, I received a call on my new mobile from sub-inspector Kripal Singh (08010649949), who said there was a non-bailable warrant against me for unpaid mobile bills.
He gave me the mobile number of a lawyer at Delhi’s Tees Hazari court (09540602039) and said that I had to pay him an amount of Rs7,500 before 5 pm, otherwise I would go to jail. Most people pay out of fear. Incredible India!
If only Indian politicians could hear what ordinary Indians are saying about them. Our driver in Jaipur, who is paid Rs5,000 a month by a hotel that charges Rs22,000 a day for a room, says with a smirk as soon as we get in his car: “India, My India, Incredible India, but everybody is corrupt, sir, I hate them all”. Incredible India!
Good journalism should always balance criticism with positive outputs. Let me say then, that India has shown again that when in extreme distress, it can raise its head and correct its headings.
The judiciary and the press are fighting the incredible corruption cancer that has taken over Indian politics and some accountability is being primed at the moment.
In Jaipur again, I stumbled in a stadium with over 1,00,00,00 people, many of them youngsters, singing, dancing, breathing, and meditating with Sri Sri Ravi Shankar on the occasion of Shivaratri. That was amazing: Incredible India!
The writer is editor-in-chief of the Paris-based La Revue de l’Inde and author of A New History of India firstname.lastname@example.org