Home / Opinion / A false idea of Brand India

In the last two years, the Indian state has energetically promoted Brand India—on domestic soil and abroad, with Make in India as its centrepiece. On one hand, India as a brand contains immense promise: our unity despite our deep diversity, our commitment to democracy despite our history and geography, the spread of our culture despite two hundred years of subjugation, and finally, our ability to consistently produce some of the finest minds in the world.

But on the other hand, these are times when it appears that the state would like to drag us back to a time of brazen prejudice. For close to two years now, an intolerant concept of the state that seeks unquestioned loyalty and seeks to exert control over all spheres of public and private life has gained currency. This has been complemented by a sustained effort to alter the status quo of the past seven decades and mould the impatient Indian who could not tolerate dynastic politics and corruption at large into a sagacious one.

This model citizen that the state champions calls for equivalence in every situation; he does not hesitate to air unverified facts; most importantly, he is steadfast in his faith in the new establishment. Trained as he is in issues ranging from the vague ‘influence of global factors’ to the emotionally-charged concepts of nationalism, he insists—louder than ever—that those asking questions of the government of the day have no locus standi. So when students, artists, or scientists protest, they are dismissed as anti-national, politically motivated, or irrelevant—as rotten apples that are distracting the rest from the propagation of Brand India on the global stage.

These traits have been on public display over the last week as the government deployed some of its senior-most commanders—with battalions of online warriors backing them—to tarnish the reputation of a group of students, their university, and more broadly, an entire ecosystem that fostered debate, dissent and the pursuit of knowledge. To understand why this ecosystem is important, it is important to appreciate the space for intellectualism. In this instance, it is the kind of intellectualism that helps one understand the distinction between the nation and the holders of state power—that one’s patriotism is not subject to their views on those holding the reins of state power. The right to dissent includes the right to challenge the state. A state that engages in political vendetta against its opponents is one thing; to use the state machinery to assault the basic rights of its citizens is a whole different ball-game.

It is unfortunate then that the unique selling proposition of Brand India that the state seeks to promote is ultimately reduced to our ability to juggle contradictions that strike at the heart of our democracy and culture. Serious reforms remain off the table, primarily due to the inability of those in power to build a political consensus. Provocation and grandstanding are the order of the day. The state would like to claim we can lead the world on innovation, but at the same time, strikes down swiftly on every minor instance of dissent. All of this is done of course, without allowing the contradictions take anything away from the swagger of an emerging global superpower.

The model citizen today is being asked by its state to don a mask in the service of his nation—one which can help him unabashedly hide a retrograde interior within a plural exterior. As the state today goes about undermining the foundational principles of the country as we know it, it is simultaneously promoting Brand India. This is deception. How long before we are left bare in the eyes of the world, and more importantly, in our own eyes?

Suvojit Chattopadhyay works on issues of governance and development. Over the last decade, he has worked with a range of development agencies in India, Ghana and Kenya

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