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Why PM Modi is wrong in saying that Indians felt ashamed before 2014?

By M Reyaz, TwoCircles.net,

In 2008 during my final year of BA (Honours), I went to Lahore, Pakistan to participate in an inter-college drama festival. The hospitality of our host at GC University as also general Pakistanis had left us Indians humbled. They went an extra mile in making us feel comfortable. I remember at Anarkali market, how shopkeepers would insist on not taking money once they realized that we are Indians, or generously gave discounts. “Aap Mehman Ho Hamare,” they would often say.

When relaxing in my hotel room surfing different channels, the room service staff asked me in bewilderment why I was not watching cricket. I vividly remember his heavily Pathani accented Urdu: “Utthapa baot achcha khel raha hai, aap match nahi dekte?” It was an India-Australia cricket match that day. “I like Sachin and Sehwag a lot,” he continued.

Another evening, a stranger introduced himself as Khalid Riaz, a businessman from Bhawalpur, as he came to our room unannounced. He told us that he was on a business tour and when he came to know that Indian students are staying in the same hotel, he could not stop himself from meeting us.He even gave me his visiting card and invited us to visit Pakistan again, and especially Bhawalpur. “I will take care of everything in Bhawalpur,” he said smilingly.

Narendra Modi
Narendra Modi [File Photo]

In August 2010, I went to Germany to participate in a Summer School programme. As an Indian, I was particularly proud visiting the Allied Museum at Check Point Charlie dedicated to the Berlin Wall and events surrounding it. A section in the museum is devoted to the Messiah of Ahimsa and peace, the Father of our nation, Mahatma Gandhi. As I bought some souvenirs from a shop selling antiques and memorabilia, the shopkeeper greeted with a smile: “Are you Indian?” He talked about Bollywood films and laughed saying, “My name is Khan.” As I paid cash and took my packets, he took out a small statue of Buddha, which I respectfully took from him; thanking him.

Fellow German students had told me earlier that a particular German channel broadcasts Hindi films with German subtitles every Sunday. (Read more about my experiences here: Muslim-West clash: My insightful trip to Germany).

In April 2013, I went to Kathmandu, Nepal to participate in a media workshop. Here too Indian journalists were well received and everyone had some ‘nostalgic memories’ to share. To be fair, among educated elites, there was resentment to some degree of what they see as ‘big brother’ attitude of the Indian establishment. But even then, as Indians you enjoy privileged position.

In 2014, I was at Afghanistan for a week during the Presidential election there. From our skin colours, Afghanis confuse us with Pakistani, often seen with suspicions. As an Indian, you feel privileged, walking on the streets of Kabul and talking to common Afghans as India enjoys immense goodwill among them. (Read here: Why India is the talk of the town in Afghanistan )

At least on three occasions, security/intelligence personnel asked me where was I from. But as soon as they would see the dark blue colour of the Passport, their reactions would change. A local Intelligence officer (LIO) at Shahr-e-Nau in Kabul told me: “Sorry Brother, maaf karna, mai samjha tum Pakistani. Hum Hindutan me padhai kiya. (Sorry brother, I mistook you to be a Pakistani. I studied in India.)”

Afghans are anyway famous world over for their hospitality but the moment they realise you are an Indian, they make you feel special. They all go out of their way to make you feel at home, away from home. Many of them refused to take money from me, or at least displayed reluctance.

Although, I cannot claim to be a globe-trotter, but from my few experiences abroad, I certainly felt privileged every time I visited another country. And hence, I was surprised – rather shocked – to hear Prime Minister Narendra Modi saying abroad that before he became the PM, Indians felt it must have been their “sins from the last birth” that they were born Indian, that they felt “ashamed” and adding that his victory has given new hopes to the countrymen and those abroad feel confident now. Despite #ModiInsultsIndia trending globally, Modi repeated similar things in Seoul, South Korea too.

A post-colonial developing country, India has had its own share of achievements. Indians and people of Indian origin have won Nobel prizes from literature to Physics, Mathematics to Chemistry as well as for their humanitarian work. In the cold war period, India led the rest of the post-colonial developing countries under Non-Alignment Movement (NAM). After liberalisation of its economy, several Indian companies are giving tough competition to international majors world over. Within its limited resources, India has tacitly used its ‘soft-powers’ – cricket and Indian films, not just Bollywood Hindi films, but also from Tamils, Malyalam, Bengali, etc. – to its advantages abroad.

No doubt, India has its own share of problems; it still ranks 85th among 175 countries, according to graft watchdog Transparency International India (TII). Yes, I feel ashamed. I feel ashamed when I see that even 67 years after independence, India has not been able to effectively fight poverty and poor farmers, in economic distress, are forced to commit suicide. I feel ashamed when I hear about selective female-foeticides; I feel ashamed every time I hear about rape of some woman in some corner of the country; I feel ashamed when I hear about upper caste Hindus unleashing atrocities on Dalits; I feel ashamed when minorities are massacred from Hashmipura to Gujarat to Kandhamal, with near impunity; I feel ashamed when youths in hundreds are incarcerated on fabricated charges or killed in fake-encounters. In fact, when the 2002 riots happened, the then Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee had made no secret of his displeasure of how the situation was handled by the Gujarat government. He had called it as “most inhuman and horrible” and a “blot” on the nation.

The founding fathers of India and the pragmatic leaders of the country, with all their faults, deserve their dues for making sure that Indians do not feel ashamed of “being Indian” when they visit any country, instead feel proud, feel privileged.

Modi should realise that he has the mandate to rule the country for five years, with one year of it already over. Its high time he came out of the campaign mode – unless of course, he is already preparing for the 2019 general elections – and work towards actually alleviating some of the real ‘shames’ of the nation, as he had promised during his high pitched campaign; rather than indulge in some hyperbolic empty talks.