While India under PM Modi has done well in transactional state-to-state relations with countries around the world, there has been a decline in the people to people relationships. This is particularly so with the countries that matter, such as the US, UK, Canada, and those in Western Europe, as these are supposedly fellow democracies. There are many factors involved but one is the decrease in interactions between ordinary people during travel to each other’s countries. No longer do people get to live with or develop friendship with locals – it is more a case of service providers working for ‘tourists’ on an impersonal basis.
Gone are the days, for instance, when hippies and such like visited India to seek spiritual solace in a materialistic world. They went home – even as some chose to stay behind – with an understanding of the common Indians. Now, unfortunately, people around the world learn more about India from the internet, which no matter how informative, does not allow for the warmth of personal relationships and building, sometimes, of lifelong friendships. So, naturally, when some of them rise to levels where they decide on how to deal with India, they act on the basis of second hand knowledge. This allows those with an agenda to manipulate policy.
And it is not just a Donald Trump acting on the basis of stereotypes of the ‘sh…ole countries’ type – the supposed liberals are just as full of misconceptions, smugly lecturing India on secularism, human and minority rights, democracy, etc. Being clueless about India’s history and its many challenges, they foolishly provide sustenance and succour to elements they believe would provide them leverage, such as the Khalistan extremists. Such actions clearly betray their own disregard for human values.
It is, of course, an evolving situation and, over time, balance should be restored, but the process can be helped along by the Indian Government reaching out in several ways to encourage people to people contacts. There should be exchange programmes for young people just out of school or in college to visit each other’s countries in a manner that they can appreciate the diversity and nuances of real life. ‘Festivals of India’ should be held on a regular basis to project the nation’s culture, music, dance, culinary and other traditions. The Diaspora should be activated to promote this soft power and counter the negative perceptions so carefully cultivated by anti-India elements. This will have multiple strategic and economic benefits in the long run and result in the well-being of all.