Nowadays, in every hotel, every railways station, every government office, you can find posters selling « Incredible India ».
I have been a defender of India for many many 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 around freely around the country, preparing the 26/11 terror attacks, visa rules have been tightened to such an extent that it has become ridiculous. Recently I asked for a visa for my assistant, a French lady, who likes India, and 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 months 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 Visa rules in India are nehruvian and outdated.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. 20 years ago one had to wait for a long time to get a confirmed berth on the Ranikhet Express which connects to two of the most popular hill stations in northern India: Nainital & Ranikhet. Any change? When we booked our tickets, we were waitlisted 12 & 13. A month later, we were still 12 & 13! Lalu Prasad & Mamta Banerjee might start new trains to please their constituencies, but they do not increase the existing capacities and as a result Indian railways have hardly progressed in 20 years, whereas again, the Chinese have clean, comfortable and fast trains. I say fast, because when we finally got confirmed berths on the Ranikhet express, the train was seven hours late and took 14 hours to cover the 378 kms that separate Delhi from Kathgodam, which makes for an average speed of 19 kms an hour. Incredible India !
India is the largest democracy in the world, they say. Is it at the moment? Reliance claims the Government has asked them to spy on a 100.000 phones. What about the other operators? How many phones is this Government spying on? The CBI blatantly lets go of Quatrocchi 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 (Raja must have shared some of the scam money with the Congress for their election campaigns and we all know that Sonia holds the strings of the purse – hence her immense power), whereas before nobody dared, for fear of some goons ransacking their office or even being killed. Incredible India !
Speaking of mobiles. The 2G scam is not only about mobile operators paying bribes to Mr Raja to buy bandwidth at throwaway prices and sell them a month later at huge profits to foreign companies, as Tata did to Japanese Docomo, it is also about them thinking they can get away with anything and employing strong arms tactics to recover unpaid bills. I have been a customer of Essar, (then Hutchinson, then Vodafone) since 1997, when I paid a deposit of 5000, which is worth at least four more today. In 2008 my 11 year on-time paid connection (9811118828), was arbitrarily disconnected by Vodafone for a disputed bill of Rs 2000 (of unwanted adds while in Bali, which one of the then Hutch executives had agreed to waive). Then on 10.3.10, 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 Hazra’s court (09540602039) and that I had to pay him an amount of Rs.7,500/- before 5 PM, otherwise I would go to jail. Most people pay out of fear. Incredible India!
What about banks? There is so much cheating in India by rich people (like Hassan Ali, who has just gone to jail though it is known for years he has 4 fake passports), that the low income lawful customers pay for them. Since five years foreigners can own property in India or even have 100% shares in companies. I am a PIO, so I have every single right that any other Indian have, except to vote. But try opening a trust account, even in a private bank like HDFC. It’s just hell, as your are mistrusted at every step, a hundred forms have to be signed, copies of your PIO have repeatedly to be given and every request starts with a no, no, no. The tragedy in India as it is so centralized with the Government breathing with a million rules on everyone’s necks, that private initiative is stifled, because everybody is so scared that they go even overboard in denying you. Incredible India!
If only Indian politicians could hear what ordinary Indians are saying about them. Our driver in Jaipur who is paid 5000RS a month by a hotel that charges 22.0000 Rs 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 so that one’s readers should not feel that the world is bleak and hopeless. 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 100.0000 people, many of them youngsters, singing, dancing, breathing, and meditating with Sri Sri Ravi Shankar during the occasion of Shivaratri. That was amazing: Incredible India.
Editor in Chief of the Paris-based La Revue de l’Inde and author of “A New History of India” (Har Anand, New Delhi)