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Patralekha Chatterjee focuses on development issues in India and emerging economies. She can be reached at patralekha.chatterjee@gmail.com

Pride and the piper

Published May 21, 2015, 1:25 pm IST
Updated Mar 29, 2019, 3:21 am IST
Modi said several international financial institutions like World Bank and IMF are predicting even faster growth in the coming years. (Photo: AP)
 Modi said several international financial institutions like World Bank and IMF are predicting even faster growth in the coming years. (Photo: AP)

What is so surprising about an Indian Prime Minister speaking about India, Indianness and Indian pride during a trip abroad? On the face of it, nothing. It is part of the job, the stuff of prime ministerial speeches, one might say. Trouble starts when that speech also seeks not just to define national pride, but claim it as being linked to one party, one man.

While addressing the Indian community in Seoul during his recent trip to South Korea, Prime Minister Narendra Modi pitched for his “Make in India” initiative, asked Indians settled abroad to come home and invest in their country, saying the mood and perception about India had changed in the last one year. So far, so good. But in the same breath the Prime Minister also talked about the time “when people used to say we don’t know what sins we committed in our past life that we were born in Hindustan. Is this any country, is this any government we will leave.”

 

Mr Modi told the cheering crowd that people had left India saying the country is no good, but “today people are excited to come to India. The mood has changed.”
Even during the China lap of his three-nation tour, while addressing the Indian community in Shanghai on the first anniversary of his party being voted to power,
Mr Modi had touched on the same themes — the massive surge in India’s pride over the last year as international rating agencies lauded its growth prospects, the shame of being an Indian when things did not work, and so on.

 

Does middle class urban India and all their non-resident Indian friends and relatives agree? Evidently not, if the fierce reaction in the social media over the last three days is anything to go by. Like many Indians, including those who have studied, lived or worked abroad, I have had my share of issues with India. There is a lot to be annoyed about — the creaky infrastructure, the malfunctioning healthcare system, the obscene contrasts between extremes of wealth and poverty, the squalid conditions under which tens of thousands live, the rigid caste system And in recent years, there has been gnawing fear about something as basic as safety and freedom to move around.

 

But, during all the years in this country or abroad, never have I felt inferior to anyone else or a sense of “shame” at being born in India. India has made dramatic economic progress in the past two decades. All too predictably, its clout has grown on the global stage. It feels good to hear that India is one of the fastest growing economies of the world and that sections of the international community view us as the flavour of the season once again, after the last few years of stasis. Like millions of Indians, I was ashamed of the repeated corruption exposes. But did that mean I was ashamed of being born in India? No. I was, am and will remain a proud Indian.

 

Proud Indians do not come in one shape and size; they don’t all speak the same language. While some are proud only when the economy soars, or amid muscular expressions of nationalism, others take pride in India’s Constitution and the country’s basic DNA — secular, inclusive, pluralistic and diverse. These traits have survived repeated onslaughts. Arguably, Mr Modi has injected a sense of hope, especially in the country’s youth. And his clear victory in the general elections last year shows that enough people in this country have faith that he can steer it forward. But does not India still remain a work-in-progress at many levels? Look at the number of illiterates we have. Look at the child sex ratio or the rising crimes against women. These problems did not start with the Modi government but neither have they disappeared during his one year in office.

 

Mr Modi’s statements imply there was little to be proud of before his arrival in Delhi. Is that really so? Is national pride necessarily co-terminus with the party in power? What about the inspirational power of ordinary Indians? Just when you think everything is going down the tube in the country — communities are going for each other’s jugular, children are being married off, women are being killed and raped — something pops up which is so dazzlingly moving that it makes you proud to be born in this country. Like the story a few weeks ago about a 14-year-old girl from a Rajasthan village who refused to accept the marriage she had been made to go through when she was 11 months old. Instead of succumbing, she started a campaign against child marriage.

 

Or look at the recent report about some Muslims in Bihar donating land to help build a grand Hindu temple. These are ordinary people who inspire by action. Such people have existed during Congress regimes and throughout our history. They have made us proud Indians. So no, Mr Modi, not every Indian living in India or elsewhere, was ashamed of being born on Indian soil simply because you were not at the helm. Or, well, because the country was mired in red tape and doing business was tough, or the omnipresent corruption. All of India’s problems remain, and plenty more are being added to it everyday to make us feel frustrated — the persistent caste bias, religious and cultural fanaticism

 

But India is greater than its malaises. And that is why there is reason to always feel proud of being born in India. Every day there are people who rise above their caste or social status to demand that the promise made by the Constitution be redeemed — of equality. They make me proud. When a student from a poorly-equipped government-run school tops the board examinations, or when millions jostle in harmony at the Kumbh Mela, I am proud, proud to be an Indian. When I soak in the syncretic nature of the country, listening to the qawalis at Nizamuddin Dargah on a warm evening, or witness the Indianised service in churches across the country, I feel proud to be an Indian. And this pride is independent of the party in power. This is pride of being born in a country that is greater than the party that’s in power for five years.

The writer focuses on development issues in India and emerging economies.
She can be reached at patralekha.chatterjee@gmail.com

 

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