There is both a lot of heartburn as well as exultation in the Indian mass media over President Barack Obama’s ongoing visit to
The heartburn stems from the fact that the US of A is still unwilling/unbothered about acknowledging India’s notional Great Power tag – they won’t endorse our bid for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council, they are still dragging their feet over granting us full and legitimate nuclear-power status, they are still too cosy with Pakistan to acknowledge that we have a right to have our problems with that country fully and officially recognized, etc. The crowing is due to the fact that while only forty years or so ago our PM had to go hat in hand for help to the US, and was insulted as the representative of a third-rate backward country, the current incumbent in the Oval Office has come to hawk his country’s wares and solicit business because he desperately needs to create more jobs in his homeland in order to survive the next election – and India, supposedly, is one of the few countries which can help him create jobs on a significant scale, both by investing in US companies and by placing large orders, especially for defence equipment.
It would be nice if our media took a closer look at the ground realities and discovered for themselves that there is little cause for either heartburn or exultation.
No matter how much we dazzle ourselves with our recent successes, whether it be the average annual GNP-growth rate or the number of dollar millionaires we are creating every year or the razzmatazz of the recent Commonwealth Games, the fact remains that India is still one of the poorest and most backward countries in the world, and carries very little clout. Decide for yourself after checking out just the following statistics: the per capita income, compared with the ten richest countries, the number of people who live below or just above the poverty line (not less than 600 million – that’s twice the whole population of the United States), the number of illiterate people, the quality of our infrastructure (consider the power and drinking water situation in the capital city; you don’t even have to think about the hinterland), the number of Indians who have won Nobels and Oscars and Pulitzers and Grammys and Olympic golds in the last 50 years (that too, given the fact that we have the second largest population), the number of people from advanced countries who want to come and study in even our ‘elite’ educational institutes, the number of Indians who want to run away to the US for a better life, and the all-pervasive corruption in our public domain. Finally take into account the fact that, unlike in the era of Gandhi and Tagore, there are no Indians around who strike the rest of the world with awe (and don’t even bother to mention SRK or Sachin Tendulkar). Even where economic and military power is concerned,
China is vastly better positioned to give the headaches – or demand its respect – than we do. So heartburns can happen only to those Indians who live in a cloud-cuckoo-land of their own imagination. We literally have miles to go before we have a right to expect that the US take us seriously as a ‘great’ power. US
As for the crowing, I should like to make the following points: a) it is gross bad manners to crow over others’ misfortune, as individuals or as nations, b) we haven’t got much to crow over anyway, seeing that the US, even in these troubled times, is a larger economy than the next three (including India) combined, c) they haven’t exactly come begging, but only to do some hard-nosed business, and they are not even willing to make any significant concessions to our national interests in return, such as increasing H-1B visa quotas, which means they still feel confident enough to ram what they want down our throats, d) it would be stupid on our part to forget that we depend on them (think of the dollar inflow from NRIs and FIIs) much more than they need us.
Both Obama and Manmohan Singh will negotiate with one hand tied behind their back, so we should wish both well, and not expect too much. Meanwhile, if we really want a future US President to treat us with the kind of respect that we like to dream of, let us remind ourselves that a long, tough road of nation-building lies ahead. We might start by resolving to set up a system whereby tens of thousands of beggars will not have to be unceremoniously carted off to distant towns in order to uphold our ‘national pride’ whenever an important foreign head of state comes visiting or some event like the Commonwealth Games is being held in the capital city !