As the dust settles after the recent Indo-Pak tussle, the world is now suddenly confronted with a new India. No this is not akin to ‘Naya Pakistan’; rather it is the ‘old’ India unmasked.
The second most populous country in the world has tarnished its own image. It is riding the shame train, and basking in humiliation before the world stage. It is unapologetic and is mercilessly committing blunders and, in the process, spawning hundreds of memes. It has become a favorite topic of discussion for many Pakistanis. It is now also a source of entertainment and countless giggles.
But across India, the mask is still on. In fact, people of India have reinvigorated their patriotic sentiments. There are calls of Ranveer Singh to play the role of Abhinandan in a biopic. Men are now emulating Abhinandan’s signature handlebar moustache. Meanwhile, on Twitter, Bollywood celebrities are still congratulating the bravery of the Indian Air Force in downing Pakistan’s F-16.
India is an audience to a contemplative script with all the sparkle and glamour of Bollywood. It is India’s latest blockbuster that has invited awe and wonder. India boasts the largest film Industry in the world in terms of output. While everyone is accustomed to all the cinematic pleasures; enough is never enough. Dramatic acting, over-the-top action, and cosmic coincidences seem to be the dominating qualities of a good Bollywood movie. And when these same qualities are echoed in the news, they produce a jarring response and invite passion and artificial patriotism. But patriotism based on lies is a short-term adventure. Sooner or later people are going to separate fact from fiction. The world is connected to India in so many ways.
The country has 460 million internet users and 66% of households have televisions. On average, Indians stay glued to the television for 3 hours and 44 minutes daily. Disinformation is bound to have a short shelf-life. Now the cocktail of lies advocated by Indian news agencies are slowly waning. The opposition is pushing a new narrative forcing the public to reduce their raging sentiments.
But it is the deteriorating global perception that will be most troubling to India. International media has now completely debunked India’s claim of striking targets in Balakot. It has further come to light that no F-16 was put into service during the dogfight with India. The lies have been laid bare and now in the backdrop of this international fame and shame another mask has been peeled off. Multiple news sources claim that India is not ready for a war. It has very limited stock of ammunition. Its war machines are catching rust.
India remains the largest operator of MiG-21 fighter aircraft which employs 60-year-old technology to fight twenty-first century battles; Pakistan took one out of their inventory and another one was claimed by an unnamed bird. Recently a fire engulfed Indian Air Force Office in New Delhi amidst growing speculation about the nation’s lax military institutes. And then there was a brief row over ‘missing’ Rafale documents.
We now know more about India (real India) than ever before. And as we question its military preparedness, we must not ignore other mighty challenges that the country is facing. There is rampant poverty and extreme inequality. The health of the population is severely lacking. According to the World Bank, India has one of the largest number of undernourished children in the world. 44% of children under the age of five are underweight.
The explosive population growth shows no sign of slowing down. There is also a national “toilet” problem. Nearly half of all households in India lack access to toilets which is spewing chronic illnesses, especially in slums. A recent comprehensive report also highlighted India’s growing pollution problem. 7 of the world’s 10 most polluted cities are in India according to a new study by IQAir AirVisual and Greenpeace.
India’s main threat is certainly not Pakistan. War will not be in its best interests. It will be a costly venture. While Bollywood movies often glamorize military victories, there is no question that the real charm lies in gaining victory over social injustices that plague the country. As a nation that seeks superpower status and wants to advance its space program a lot of spade-work needs to be done. Most importantly India needs to subdue its demons and create an atmosphere of trust. But rebuilding its image will be a bit troublesome.
The article was originally published in TheWeeklyPakistan on March 13, 2019. For original content click here.