The Prime Minister of India has been touring many countries this past year. Yes, the Indian election season is over and he won as one of the strong chief campaigners ever for his party. But now, he is the Campaigner-in-Chief for India, particularly for his ‘Make in India‘ initiative (more on this later). I don’t see an issue with this. India has a lot of ground to cover with international relationships and trade deficits. So, maybe we should cut him some slack here. He’s trying to drum up the business that India needs if we’re to live up to the promised potential of our “democracy, demography, demand”, which he proudly reminds everyone of at the slightest opportunity. That said, his latest speech in South Korea has social media up in arms. Why? Because, he said this:

People used to think that what sin they committed in the last life that they were born in India. [They thought] what kind of country is this, what kind of government and what kind of people it has. Some just decided to leave for other countries,

Again, while I’m no big Modi fan, I have to say that, as someone who couldn’t wait to leave India as a teenager, who has returned recently, and is planning to leave again, I understand exactly the sentiment he was calling out. And, I know many, many Indians who’ve migrated abroad and feel this way. Not just ashamed, but furious, frustrated and many other emotions besides. India is a maddening country of extremes. So, let’s call a spade a spade.

But the larger question, of course, is whether India today is the kind of country that can inspire a requisite pride in the average man or woman. Can it, for instance, inspire anything similar to the youthful, guarded hopes and fears of some of these 20-year-olds in the 1967 award-winning documentary, ‘I Am 20‘ by S N Sastry? Do watch it — you’ll be amazed at how not much has changed.

Some forty years later, some of the folks in that video had these reflections. And, in case you’re wondering about that dashing intellectual who introduces himself in the beginning as TN Subramanian and also gives us the closing comments, you can read a bit more here.

When I first wrote about my return to India, I was very clear that it was not because of some newfound sense of pride in the country of my birth. Nor was it some rosy-eyed aspiration of re-discovering myself. And I must confess to growing more and more disillusioned by the day as I see how, though India has advanced in many aspects, in the most crucial ones, it seems to have remained stuck in the past shown in the video above. So yes, I think Modi is not saying anything untrue when he makes statements like the one above. Why sugar-coat things? It is what it is. Unless we face and accept the reality of India today, we will not be able to work on truly fixing it. Dwelling on past glories and future successes is often a way of simply deluding ourselves about the present.

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