The most dominant feature of a country is the quality of its human resource endowment. These human resources have to be dynamic, dedicated, professional and seekers of excellence. But they also have to be tolerant and open. It is a common belief that the US became the world’s leading economic and military power because of the inherent openness of its people to all hues of persons from across the globe. Americans accord to these people and their beliefs the respect they give to their own, and then extract their full productive potential.
India aspires to be an economic superpower and it has the resources and manpower to make this dream come true. After all, Indians are providing stewardship to some of the largest corporations, scientific bodies, political administrations and even educational institutions in the US. Why can’t we replicate this in our own country? Our population, once believed to be a drag, has turned out to be India’s most productive factor. Then do we lack determination? Is our attitude not right?
Take a look at the headlines on page one of any newspaper. What do they tell the country about its own people? Earlier this month, they conveyed how a certain foreign minister of Pakistan was invited to India for the release of his book, and how a certain strata of society, unhappy with his hawkish role against India, felt he was unwelcome. Perhaps the sentiments were right. All patriotic citizens would feel the same. If so, what would the most effective form of opposition have been?
Denying him a visa. We were unhappy with his ideology and actions, hence he was persona non grata. After all, for whatever reason, the US denied Narendra Modi a visa. When it was convenient, it reversed its stand. Why? Because diplomacy is all about furthering self-interest. Denial of a visa would have been an appropriate way to convey our displeasure and the nation would have applauded the government for taking a strong stand.
But that was not the course of action decided by the government. Maybe this was correct — the government and its diplomatic establishment have the information to decide on such issues. The gentleman was granted a visa. Fair enough. He proceeded to go to Mumbai, a city we dream of making an international financial capital. While the host of the function was proceeding to the venue, he was accosted and his face smeared with black ink. He exercised his better judgement and continued the event with his ink-smeared face. This was the picture that the protestors and the host wanted to convey to the world. The guest got an opportunity of a lifetime. He held forth on how tolerant his nation was and how it would never have done something like this. Tolerant — his nation? Who would ever believe him? But we gave him a platform, he latched on to it, and why wouldn’t he?
My reaction was, cry, my motherland. You are being done in by your own. Could any other right-thinking citizen react otherwise? Can we pardon a deed that besmirches the name of the country ?
There was another option. Considering that the government had granted him a visa, he should have been allowed to come to Mumbai. The same people who thought he was persona non grata should have asked him the most embarrassing of questions. We could have held our head high and declared to the world that we are the really tolerant country that welcomes its guests. We could have shamed him for his deeds against our motherland. Alas, we chose not to do that, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.
The economic initiative of the Indian people is time-tested. They are resilient and have the potential to emerge as the best. They only need a fair chance, and an open, tolerant and supportive environment. Should we not give them that chance? I do not even want to enter into a discussion on the restrictions on eating habits, the freedom of literary expression or of our young women to wear clothes of their choice. We need to introspect, and seriously. Where is the country headed? When did we learn to cut our own nose to spite our face?
The writer is a former comptroller and auditor general of India (2008-13)