Howdy Modi! Better Not Mention These Things in Houston…
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is locked and loaded to hit the US from tomorrow with a blitz. Besides the marquee event at Houston, Texas, where he will address an estimated 50,000 Indians and is expected to be joined by President Donald Trump, he will have meetings with CEOs, address the UN General Assembly (UNGA), interact with various world leaders and showcase Mahatma Gandhi because it is the Bapu’s 150th Birth Anniversary this year. It promises to be a hectic, uplifting week, indeed.
On such occasions, the given wisdom is that one doesn’t talk about the bad things in India. National pride has to be preserved, isn’t it? So, here is a short list of things that Mr Modi will need to keep silent about.
Malnutrition and Hunger
Just a few days ago, a detailed study of malnutrition was published and widely reported in the media, including at Newsclick. It revealed – no surprises here – that 706,000 children under five years of age died primarily because of malnutrition. That’s 68% of all under-5 deaths.
But that’s not all. It also reported that among children under-5 years, about 30 million had been born with a low birthweight, about 55 million were stunted (height not commensurate with age), about 22 million were wasted (weight not commensurate with age), about 46 million were underweight, and over 83 million suffered from anaemia. All of these are definitive signs of malnutrition – they are not getting enough food. In addition, the study also found that a staggering 195 million women of child-bearing age (15-49 years) were anaemic. This means that they would give birth to children who would be doomed to suffer from malnutrition right from their conception.
These children are destined to suffer growth deficit, including growth of brain functions. It’s the future generation of Indians. Don’t mention this, Mr. Modi, it will take the sheen away from your ‘world leader’ image.
On a different note, don’t mention that unemployment levels in India are at an all-time high, despite all the highly publicised policy initiatives that include improvement in ‘ease of doing business’, removal of labour law protections, privatisation of state enterprises, and so on.
The government’s own report for 2017-18 had recorded unemployment at 6.1% in 2017-18 but other estimates, like those of CMIE (Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy) are currently putting it at over 8% in August 2019. This translates to about 42 million persons. Out of this army of jobless, over 68% (that is, about 28 million) are youth between the ages 20 to 29 years. Their numbers have increased by about 11 million between 2017 and 2019 (January to April).
It wouldn’t go down well among the NRI’s (non-resident Indians) to know that India’s economy – zooming towards $5 trillion -- is not doing so well, will it?
Kashmir will definitely be spoken about by you, Mr. Modi, at the UNGA if not in Houston. But you need to be careful! Don’t mention that about seven million people in the Kashmir valley, and a few more millions in some of Jammu division’s districts, are practically locked inside their houses for the past 48 days, with over 25,000 heavily armed troops guarding every street and crossing. Schools are closed, Eid and Muharram were heavily restricted, markets are closed, medicine shops are closed. A bumper apple crop is ripe and ready to pick, but it is still on the trees as there is no one to pick those yet. Shikaras are idle. Paddy fields are empty. Jails and guest houses are full – with prisoners. Reportedly, 722 incidents of protests have still taken place and the number of those hit by pellets is unknown because people are afraid to go to hospitals. You will, of course, stress the ‘integration’ of J&K with India by abrogation of a couple of pesky Articles of the Constitution. But don’t even mention that that this ‘Heaven on Earth’ is now the world’s largest prison! Not good for a ‘world leader’ image.
Although recently in Parliament, your government said that there was no centralised record available of lynching incidents in the country, but it is an open secret. Many concerned people have tracked the spread of these barbaric acts of mob blood-lust, which has led to 36 people being killed in 90 such incidents, according to one dataset. At least 292 people have faced such mob attacks in all – mostly in the name of “cow protection” or “beef” and others for assorted xenophobic reasons or suspicions. These incidents of medieval barbarity do not include all the other incidents of attacks on exhibitions, seminars, conferences etc., where people who oppose the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh gather to express their opinions. Nor does it include forcing people to chant ‘Jai Shri Ram’ or ‘Vande Mataram’.
And, Mr Modi, you better avoid speaking about the caste system altogether because it will naturally lead to the macabre fact that there have been 1,39,301 incidents recorded by the police of upper caste violence against dalits and adivasis in the first three years (2014-2016) of your first term. After that, the official data has not been published, so it’s no problem.
This is but a very small list, but you must have got the drift, Mr Prime Minister. And, for heaven’s sake, don’t get carried away by all the adulation and start off on how Ancient Indians had actually invented the first airplanes, the first nuclear devices, carried out the first transplants and plastic surgeries etc. The Indians in Houston may lap it up (at least some of them), but maybe the American people will not appreciate this competition. After all, they think they used the atom bomb first, isn’t it?
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