Category Archives: reform

TOURISM: India can keep one of these, all hinges on how it treats tourists

Dollars Or Soul?
India can keep one of these, all hinges on how it treats tourists
Francois Gautier

STATISTICS prove that India has received 1.2 million tourists since January, a drop of 40 per cent compared to last year. As against the 3.5 million tourists who flocked to China during the same period! The Indian government blames this on the sanctions imposed after India’s nuclear tests, but the reality is quite different.

Take flying. I often shuttle between Chennai and Delhi. An Indian Airlines (IA) return ticket costs more than Rs 15,500. For that price, I can fly Paris-New York and back, and that’s double the distance. Also, IA runs only two flights daily between New Delhi, the capital of a one billion nation, and Chennai, of five million souls, the gateway to the South; and even these don’t run full (only ten per cent of IA passengers pay their actual fare—the rest are bureaucrats, executives of state and private companies; so most of the money goes from the government to the government!) The French, on the other hand, have one flight every half hour between Paris, the capital, and Nice, their gateway to the South; and they’re always full, due to the incentives on offer: discounts, off-season fares…

Absurd visa laws, steep airfares and hotel bills, is what marks the Indian tourism scene.

Try telling IA that they should give discounts on return-tickets and all they’ll give you is a dirty look!

This complacency when there’s a 15-day waiting list for a Chennai-Delhi IInd class AC sleeper ticket costing Rs 3,000 taking
36 hours—that’s if you are lucky and the train isn’t a few hours late, or isn’t hit by another train from behind, as it happened to my wife and me a few years ago. If IA had the foresight to offer their Chennai/Delhi tickets at Rs 4,000, I’m sure train passengers would gladly pay another thousand bucks to avoid the 36-hour business. And IA could run six Airbus 300s full daily and make a tidy sum, instead of hiking up prices four times in five years. It’s also very sad that many governments, including the present one, have sabotaged the Tata proposal for a private airline, which would have given IA, the world’s most-staffed airline, a run for its money.

Take hotels. When Jacques Chirac, the French President, visited India in January, he stayed at the Taj Bombay and we journalists tagged along. The price of a room in the new wing was $300 plus, that’s nearly Rs 13,000. The rooms were nothing extraordinary, save for the view of the Gateway. The sea was dirty, with plastics floating around and there were hawkers, snake-charmers and con-men galore, waiting to pounce on tourists who dared to step out of the hotel. The food at the Taj and other fivestar hotels can’t compare even with that of a one star restaurant in a minor French town. For the price charged, one can stay at a better hotel in Paris, or Madrid, and enjoy better cuisine and service.

Take visas. In Sri Lanka, all foreigners are automatically handed a one-month visa on landing. But not in India. One has to apply to sour-faced, underpaid staffers at Indian embassies abroad—forget five-year visas, even if you’ve been visiting India for 35 years, like Roger Anger, the famous French architect, who designed Auroville, near Pondicherry, and was recently refused one. Renewing a tourist visa can be a nightmare too, though I have a friend who recently bought one through an ‘agent’ in Nepal for Rs 10,000 and even got a genuine embassy receipt for it!

Take banks. Thirty years ago, it took half-an-hour to change $100 in Pondicherry’s State Bank of India branch. Today, despite computers, it still takes half-an-hour! Being a resident of India and married to an Indian, I have an Indian Grindlays Credit Card, besides American Express and Visa international credit cards (since the Indian government has a policy of milking tourists: one rate for Indians in rupees at hotels, or air/ railway tickets, another for foreigners in dollars, which is 40 per cent higher).In short, Grindlays, which charges an outrageous interest rate for the card and debits Rs 100 for clearing cheques, cancelled my credit since I was six days late in paying my monthly installment. So my card was refused by IA when I had to pay for a ticket and had to use my Visa card instead, ie. 40 per cent extra! I’m considering the consumer courts…

Take the Indian Tourist Department. In Paris, I met the Indian Director of Tourism, a courteous man. He explained that he spent most of his time there showing Indian ministers and their wives around, and had practically no budget to invite French journalists to India. And when scribes were invited by the Indian Government, it was usually the wrong ones—instead of reporting on India’s positive aspects, they dwell on its negative, more sensational side—Calcutta, poverty, Mother Teresa, etc, or ‘fanatic’ Hindus (like Christophe Jaffrelot, who wrote The BJP and the compulsion of politics in India) because that’s what foreigners wanted to hear.

However, after all is said and done, it may very well be that the politicians stalling pri-vatising India’s airlines, the obscure bureaucrats who make absurd visa rules, the arrogant hoteliers and bankers who inflate prices, are all doing a great service to India.

Because tourism kills the soul of a nation. As it did in Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Nepal. India lives for itself, within itself—its festivals, dances, ways of life are not (yet) custom-made to please ignorant tourists. As for myself, I’ll willingly suffer at the hands of IA for the rest of my life, if it helps India keep its soul, which is what makes it so unique.

(The author is a French journalist, who has lived in India for 30 years. He’s the correspondent in South Asia for Le Figaro, France’s largest circulation newspaper and has published Rewriting Indian History.)

Will Islam convert itself?

Will Islam convert itself?

<!– Views : 1083

November 3, 2006

The recent bombings of the Western Railway system in Mumbai have once again thrown up the same question: Is it possible to dialogue with today¹s Islam ? Does it listen to reason ? Does plain logic work ? Will it ever stop killing innocent people in the name of God ?

Take these bombings for instance: do they really make sense ? Here you have a Central Government which is heavily pro-Muslim, making sure that a number of Muslims are appointed in top posts, endeavouring to carve a sizable chunk of reservations for Muslims, as seen in Andra Pradesh and constantly pandering to India¹s Muslim minority. The bombings also happen in Maharashtra, a state governed by the Congress, where many Muslims live and work, the financial capital of India, whose prosperity benefits all, including Muslims.

The same illogical strain seems to have got hold of the Government of India, whether it is BJP or Congress ruled. We keep hearing that those blasts, in Delhi, Vanarasi or Mumbai, are the work of the ISI of Pakistan or Bangladeshi extremists. But what they don¹t say is that it would be impossible for these people to function unless they have a lot of ground sympathy amongst local Indian Muslims. And the question has to be asked again: why should Indian Muslims go against their own Government, which has done so much for them since Independence ? Why should Indian Muslims target India, a country where they have more freedom than in say Pakistan, or Saudi Arabia ?

Every time also, the Government comes out with the same litany: these acts are meant to create communal violence, be peaceful, don’t react. Which basically means, You Hindus (who are targeted), keep quiet and get killed. Who cares anyway. And a few months later, another blast takes the lives of a few more innocent Hindus. But how long will the Hindus keep quiet? This is the question that the Indian Government has to ask itself. Gujarat has paved the way: However reprehensible these acts of mass vengeance were, they have shown that Hindus keep quiet for a long time: they get riled at, they are made fun of, they are despised, their women raped, men killed, children burnt in trains and one day they blow up – and blow up badly. Riots don¹t erupt in a few days: they are the fruit of decades, of generations even, of suppressed anger, of frustration, of a silent majority which sees itself more and more marginalized and taken for granted.

Yes, we do occasionally come across wonderful Muslims, open, friendly, who have somehow preserved the knowledge that all religions are the same, that Islam in India owes a lot to the tolerance of Indians, that Hinduism, yoga, meditation and pranayama, are India¹s gifts to the world and can be practiced by Muslims, Christians and Hindus alike. I have personally met quite a few of them, within the Art Of Living Family, for example. But they are such rarities. And even those educated Muslims, whom you can talk to, will not go as far as criticizing the Koran. Look at Javed Akhtar’s poetic tearjerker on the Bombay blasts (As a human being, I shudder to think how can my fellow humans do something so heinous? Are these terrorists made of flesh and blood? Do they laugh and cry like us?). Not once Akhtar, who has made a favourite pastime of deriding Hindu Gurus, said that all these crimes are committed in the name of Islam and the Koran, his religion and his Scriptures

So will Islam ultimately convert itself? Because the problem is not with Muslims, but with the Koran. Will it, instead of feeling totally paranoiac, thinking that it is under attack everywhere, whether it is Palestine, Chechnya, Kashmir, or France, realize that it is actually Islam which is the aggressor all over the world, that Muslims who have settled in France or India, or the UK, and which these countries have sincerely accepted, giving them citizenship and the same rights as any French, Indian or German citizens, are actually biting the hand that fed them ? Will the mullahs of Islam accept to sit down and reform the Koran, which is a perfectly acceptable scripture for the Middle ages, when mentalities were very different, but which today still propagates an aggressive, exclusive, and dangerous zeal in its children?

This is what we are all hoping for. This is what most Western leaders secretly crave for, when they go out of their way to praise and favour the moderate Muslims of their country. This is what spiritual leaders like His Holiness Sri Sri Ravi Shankar are attempting, with a certain amount of success, by speaking to Muslim leaders, fostering ties in Muslim countries such as Iraq or Afghanistan, or reforming Kashmiri terrorists through meditation.

Unfortunately, time is running out. Muslims in India and elsewhere in the world do not understand is that we are slowly losing our innocence. At the moment, Islam still benefits from the sympathy of the media, which constantly negates Islamic fundamentalism, making a hero for instance of the Chechen warlord Shamil Bassayev, recently killed, who organized the gruesome massacre of hundreds of children in Beslan and a villain of Vladimir Putin (or a hero of Sadddam Hussain and a monster of Bush) but it is slowly losing that sympathy. Sooner or later nearly the entire world will wage a war against Islam, from Europe to China, from the Ural to Pakistan.

There will also come a time, which is not very far, where everybody will become wary of anything Islamic. Anyone looking slightly Muslim, in a plane, in a train, in a shopping mall, will be looked upon suspiciously. Anybody with a Muslim name will have problems entering any country. Those who have Muslim friends will quietly stop seeing them or find some excuses not to meet them. It is already happening. Muslims will cry themselves hoarse and speak of persecution. But they will have only themselves to blame: they did not speak up as a community when innocents all over the world were killed in the name of their religion .

And this may be the way Islam will slowly disappear. Muslims with a little common sense, or just maybe with a sense of survival, will start changing their names quietly, they will stop going to the Mosque, they will send their children to Christian or Hindu schools. Governments will clamp down so hard on their own Muslims, there will be so many restrictions on them, that entire families, will move out of the Muslim enclaves you find all over the world, to resettle elsewhere. Jehadis facing certain death even if they are not suicide bombers, will melt back in civilian life. Muslims will slowly lose faith in the righteousness and the power of their own religion, become atheists, or even embrace back Hinduism, as 90% of Muslims in India are Hindu converts. It may take a few decades, a hundred years even, But Islam will surely disappear in the alleys of history and what look now like menacing, dangerous, foreboding force will be looked upon as just another religion that came and passed away.

Unless Islam converts itself?