November 08, 2010

Maybe then

A few minutes watching CNN-IBN tis evening reminded me of one reason I am so glad I don't possess a TV. The reduction of complex issues to simplicity, even simple-mindedness, is hard to swallow. And add on top of that the way panelists sometimes shout each other down -- indeed I am glad I don't have a TV and almost never watch this stuff.

This was a session discussing the fallout of President Obama's visit, and in particular the question of whether US-India relations were now "better" or "stronger" or some such than US-Pakistani relations. Rajdeep Sardesai repeated that Obama had said something about the US-India relationship "defining" the 21st Century and wanted the Pakistani guest to react to that. Didn't that itself show that the US was more interested in India than in Pakistan? One guest, a G Parthasarathy, said to the Pakistani guest that India has self-respect and does not go about with a begging bowl the way Pakistan does, and therefore he could not understand why this Pakistani was on the show, there should instead have been a Chinese man on.

I find this all nearly infantile. What does "defining the 21st Century" mean anyway, apart from just sounding nice? What else would we expect a visiting US President to say in public except mostly ego-stroking non-sequiturs like that? What does it say about us that we take it so seriously? (Consider, will we take just as seriously Obama's suggestion that "India has often avoided" speaking out about rights abuses in Myanmar and other countries?)

As for begging bowls and self-respect, this report from just a few months ago tells us about new World Bank financing for building transport infrastructure in Bombay. Why did we take this money? In fact, the World Bank and other foreign agencies have poured money into India for years for development projects. Does Parthasarathy so easily forget that?

Besides, what does it say about a nation's self-respect when we hold up innocuous pronouncements by US Presidents? (Remember Bush's I Do?)

What does it say about a nation's, and a man's, self-respect when we (and he) yearn only to be compared to what we ourselves perceive as the big boys -- China for example -- and not to Pakistan? It says the Pakistani guest was right: what Parthasarathy said only showed his own obsession with Pakistan.

The day we stop caring who compares or equates us to which country is the day we'll find self-respect. Maybe then I'll get a TV.


Jai_C said...

"...What else would we expect a visiting US President to say in public except mostly ego-stroking non-sequiturs like that?..."

I found Obama's interaction with students at St.Xaviers to be pretty clear and on the level. I watched only ~20mins of it but there were very few ego stroking non-sequiturs. He was polite and diplomatic but not really giving anything away close to that.


Dilip D'Souza said...

Let me make it clear: I am an Obama admirer and I find him sincere and thoughtful (not least in occasions like the St X interaction).

But I'm baffled by the effort to extract meaning and significance, and most of all an apparent pat on the back, from something like "this relationship will define the 21st Century". What does that mean?

Dilip D'Souza said...

Sorry, sent off last comment mistakenly ...

Which is why I was reminded of that time Bush said "I Do" and those two words were huge TOI headlines. Why do we grovel for these pats on the back?

Jai_C said...

Hi Dilip,

1. Didnt watch either that CNN-IBN show or any other reporting on Obama's remark. So cant offer anything more than this general comment:

I guess ultimately what matters even with flattery is that the person doing it considered you flatter-worthy. I think BRIC are pretty much the only countries where the US speechwriters will reach for the rhetoric of "defining 21st century".

A sign of maturity and a sense of actually defining anything, would be to smile politely and let that pass :-)

re. that TV show I'm guessing Mr.Sardesai and his Indian guest dont take that comment too seriously but were trying to tweak the Pakistani panelist to get some fireworks, TRPs whatever. Rather childish.

2. re the "I do" comment, it seemed to reflect Mr.Bush's genuine beliefs and drove US policy for the nuclear deal. Rightier web-spaces inform me that this involved overcoming significant institutional resistance within the US on the part of Bush and his govt.

An exception of sorts was made for us. I chuckle at the font size reactions but have no problem appreciating that people may want to acknowledge his convictions or even be grateful for the deal (my own ambivalence & confusion re the deal dont get in the way).

thank you,

Chandru K said...

The derogatory reference to Pakistan by Parthsarathy is entirely understandable and justified, given what Pakistan is, and how it has behaved. Basically, Pakistan is an army controlled entity or artifice, not a country. It's whole raison d'etre is to be anti-Indian and not-Indian. Some real talking down of that despicable place, in front of the US and the world, is overdue.

Chandru K said...

Actually, comparisons with China are inappropriate, other than population and perhaps some shared values with respect to education and family. But they are two very different countries. India is a very free, open, democratic, pluralistic, discursive, self doubting, self questioning, fractious, turbulent country, one also where philosophy, spirituality and wisdom are highly valued. China is a contrived, manufactured country where everything is geared toward glorifying and supporting the state, the politbureau and the Red Army, as the guarantors of growth, stability and China's influence in the world.

Really, India is unique.

Chandru K said...

I just watched the concerned CNN-IBN video. D'Souza neglected to mention that the Pakistani guest on the programme was one smug, arrogant, mendacious slimeball. The Indian panelists, particularly the erudite Parthasarathy, were very right to state that India doesn't want the kind of shallow, crude relationship with the US, that Pakistan has always had. Parthasarathy was very sharp in wondering why a guest from China wasn't on the programme, instead of the likes of Hussain. Indeed.

Anonymous said...

Why do we grovel for these pats on the back?

Good question. Perhaps it's because we have lost our self-confidence? I suspect your question is partly rhetorical but I think it is more serious than you perhaps intended. It is a question that sociologists are best qualified to answer but I am not one and won't even try.

Dilip D'Souza said...

I suspect your question is partly rhetorical...

No it isn't.

When I see hatred like expressed on this page ("mendacious slimeball"); when "comparisons with China are inappropriate [and it] is a contrived, manufactured country" but the same man wonders "why a guest from China wasn't on the programme" -- well, these are classic signs of guys with no self-confidence at all.

For them, they long for both the back-patting and for the chance to spit at Pakistan.

No, not rhetorical.

Chandru K said...

Just to clarify: India really shouldn't be compared to China, since it has a different political system, and generally different values.
But IF you are going to compare or equate India with another developing country, then the comparison would be better made with China, Brazil or Vietnam, not with Pakistan.

Chandru K said...

As for the 'slimeball' remark, would you rather have me call the Pakistani someone who deeply believes in democracy, secularism, pluralism and openness, and moreover, has constructive ideas on how both India and Pakistan can improve themselves on these qualities? And his whole demeanor, ideology and approach is one that suggests that this is his goal for the subcontinent?
If so, I take back the slimeball description. But otherwise...

Pareshaan said...

It's going to be a long time before you buy that TV - give you plenty of time to read and write; Congrats.

Anonymous said...

I will go ahead be a typical Bombay student and respond to this post by saying the most common expression used by Bombay college students to express complete agreement - "I swear man"

nice post.