This morning someone brought to my attention a series of three articles by Shashi Tharoor, written with the aim of “ripping into” Modi’s foreign policy. The series is published in the National Herald, the “newspaper” that was urgently brought back to life around the time Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi had to get themselves bail in a scam associated to it.
Among Shashi Tharoor’s complaints, the reduction of the Prime Minister of India to a “travelling salesman.” Among his failures, things like a promised $100 billion investment from China getting “watered down” to a mere $30 billion.
I can imagine the aversion of Shashi Tharoor (and the Congress Party in general) towards “salesmen.” The Congress is the party of the privileged. Its leaders, as well as its cheerleaders, are merely sons and daughters of an extremely tiny sliver of Indian society that made a fortune being cosy to the British and then thrived under Nehruvian socialism. A salesman, on the other hand, is a wealth creator, no matter how small.
But the salesman is belittled and mocked by the upper class, folks like Shashi Tharoor and Mani Shankar Aiyar. To P Chidambaram, a small tea or pakoda seller is little more than a beggar.
Like everything else, the upper class of Tharoors, Chidambarams and Aiyyars are hypocritical about “begging.”
If you sit in front of CST Station in Mumbai with a bowl, you are a “beggar.” If you are fluent in English and French and you go behind closed doors to beg from white people in distant countries, it’s no longer begging but called “diplomacy.”
Which is what Indira Gandhi used to do.
Dear Shashi Tharoor, if our current PM is a travelling salesman, should I call Indira Gandhi a travelling beggar?
Yes, soon after becoming Prime Minister, Indira left for her first foreign trip bearing on her shoulders the shiny burden of fifteen years of Congress rule. Mostly that of the years under the great Nehru. Her mission?
Beg for wheat.
It was actually a two-part mission. First, beg for wheat. Second, don’t let common Indians find out that she is begging for wheat.
So, on one hand, Indira begged the US to send ships of wheat. On the other hand, India carried out withering criticism of US foreign policy to make it appear as if we were more than just beggars. An angry US President Lyndon Johnson decided to send ships of food aid by the month, instead of making an annual commitment.
One American newspaper headlined her visit as follows:
“New Indian Leader Comes Begging”
Ah! What a way for India’s Prime Minister to cover our nation with glory! But don’t worry, that was just a newspaper in the American south. As Ram Guha records, Indira Gandhi made a much better impression on the American East Coast, due to the “elegance of her dress.”
I am glad that Indira Gandhi managed to dress with an elegance that was beyond the means of some beggar. I bet the Indians who got the food aid were extremely grateful.
“Travelling salesman” looking much better now, eh?
Are you an Indian who has ever felt angry at the insulting, patronizing tone that Western media takes towards India? Have you ever wondered where that impression comes from?
Here is your answer. That impression comes from facts. While they acted as entitled Queens at home, when they went abroad, the only thing India’s Prime Minister would have to offer was a begging bowl.
I don’t think Modi’s accent in speaking English would impress anyone. But the returns from the foreign visits of the travelling salesman speak for themselves.
The last two years of UPA added $1 billion to our forex reserves. The first two years of Modi government added $55 billion. By Jan 2018, this had grown to $411 billion.
As of 9th March 2018, India’s foreign exchange reserve stands at $421.487 Billion.
But, it’s not like Indira Gandhi’s foreign travels achieved nothing.
The Indian Rupee had to be devalued from Rs 4.76 to the dollar to Rs 7.50 to the dollar, a 57% reduction.
For easy reference, I have prepared this simple chart to explain the Indira model of boosting India through her foreign travels.
Dear reader, which side are you leaning towards? The travelling salesman or the travelling beggar?
Abhishek Banerjee is a math lover who may or not be an Assistant Professor at IISc Bangalore.