The other day, there was a discussion on NewsX channel, on how India’s diplomacy, specially in our neighbouring countries leaves a lot to be desired. It was a typical talking-heads variety with the news anchors asking a question, providing the answer and also cutting short the response of the guests. The guests included a former diplomat, a rep from a Chinese news agency and the security expert, B Raman (who, by the way always seems to have just woken up look).
The argument was that India’s diplomats do not do enough to create the right perception of India in our neighbouring countries. Having lived in both Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, I think it takes more than a bunch of diplomats to set right India’s perception in both these countries. Apart from being seen as a Big Brother with a superior attitude, there is an element of dislike for India in these countries. Immediately after the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai, there were a flurry of comments in the online versions of Lankan newspapers from the general public. The common sentiment was that of ‘serves you guys right’ and ‘see how it feels when you are the victim of terrorism’. The reference was to India’s role in developing the LTTE who went on to create havoc in Lanka. The general public in both these countries may lap up Indian entertainment, yet harbor only a grudging acknowledgment of India’s progress in many fields. So, any bad news from India is seen as bring Indians back to earth from a high ground.
Indian media has it’s role to play. The hype created around incidents like the Ram Sene beating up a girl in a Mangalore pub play a role in shaping India’s perceptions. More than the diplomats and media, I think the ordinary tourist or businessman who visits these countries play a critical role in shaping brand India’s perceptions. Most of them arrive assuming that it ‘will be just like India’. Even those who stay on for long stints, choose to mix with their own kind and rarely build relationships with the locals. This was also reported in media about the way Indian students behave in Australia. Such behaviour sets up distance and builds animosity. The ex-diplomat attempted to make this point in the NewsX programme but was cut short. Typical.