Tabloid view: India is Rwanda by Swapan Dasgupta
An international business traveller (a growing rarity) on an all-too-brief visit to India may be forgiven for moving on to his next destination with a view of the country that is, to put it mildly, somewhat quirky. Waiting for his connection in the lounge of, say, Delhi airport, he will be overwhelmed by the mounds of attractively produced tabloids, available free to travellers who don’t want to look busy on their laptops. Naturally, all publications aren’t allowed the luxury of sampling. Like the National Herald which used to be mandatory on all Indian Airlines flight during the high noon of Congress Raj, there is presumably a screening process that determines the freebies on offer. The guardians of airport tastes are only too aware of what passes the correctness test and what doesn’t. Unless the poor man is in a cold sweat thinking he has landed in an Asian Rwanda,
By the time the traveller checked into his late-evening flight back home, he would have imbibed enough about India to make a reasoned presentation to his boss He had even stuffed the two tabloids and the magazine into his briefcase so that he could wow the boss with some local colour. Had he been travelling last Friday, he would scarcely have known the repercussions of the devastating explosions that had killed more than 70 people in Assam——the place from where his tea originates. He would not have known that an exasperated local population in Guwahati was pelting the authorities with bricks and stones and rioting in the streets in protest at the local government’s criminal denial of reality.
He would not have known that the driver who dropped him off at the airport —— and got a handsome tip in the bargain —— was angry at having to pay exorbitant prices for his vegetables. He would not know that English-knowing Indians are using Mahatma Gandhi’s delightful description of a similar book —— a “sanitary inspectors report”—— to describe that prize-winning novel that is not really about tigers.
He would also not know that a growing number of Indians are beginning to perceive the West’s capitalism as a con game and that the last thing anyone wants at this juncture is extra facilities for dodgy insurance companies based overseas. He would not know that in Incredible India, reality is not quite what it seems from a distance. And he would never have guessed that in a few months time Indians would have a very legitimate way of expressing their fears, anger and frustration —— by voting.
Our traveller’s India exists in the minds of Ostrich India —— which buries its head in the sand and lives in denial. Yet, this is the India that the relevant India wants to sell at home and abroad. It is too incredible a project, even for India. In digesting the airport-favoured media uninhibitedly, the itinerant doesn’t suspect that he is likely to look very silly in a few months’ time.
He needn’t worry. Human fallibility has never deterred his Wall Street friends from mouthing certitudes. Fortunately, by then the relevant India too would have started singing another tune and the tabloids would have reinvented themselves seamlessly. Like Communist parties and Wall Street wizards, India’s secular oracles are never wrong; they just drift from correctness to correctness.