|India: warm, vibrant, luxurious and "mysterious." Different are their ways. Certainly needs some admiration and to be looked at with some sense of humor and laughter.|
Why Indians don't care about David Cameron
The British media may have got itself worked up over David Cameron's visit but Indians have other priorities
"What? James Cameron is in India?" My friend, the editor of a popular New Delhi magazine, was terribly excited for about eight seconds until I broke it to him that our present visitor was not, in fact, the multi award-winning American filmmaker but merely the British prime minister. His attitude reflects the utter lack of interest in David Cameron's recent jaunt to Bangalore and New Delhi.
In the past few days, the Times has twice carried editorials about Cameron in India, Comment is free has devoted several blogs to the excursion, and the BBC spent a significant few minutes of its Wednesday night bulletin covering the trip. Meanwhile, in India, we're more concerned about internal security, the Commonwealth Games (HM the Queen has declined to attend – now that pisses us off) and, of course, celebrities.
Such are the priorities of the Indian press that on Wednesday, when the British media was busy working itself up over Cameron's remarks in Bangalore about Pakistan's ambivalent attitude towards terrorism, India's best-regarded television news channel, NDTV, picked up on a different aspect of Cameron's speech: his references to Indian cricketer Sachin Tendulkar and Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan. This could, of course, be because Cameron was merely stating what both the Indian state and public consider painfully obvious.
Meanwhile, the broadsheets were enthused by Cameron but only to the extent of giving him space in the occasional editorial and perhaps some op-ed pieces. But then leaders tend to be written by the sort of journalists who studied at Oxbridge a generation ago and still cherish a sentimental attachment to the British Isles. For their readers, however, this morning's Hindustan Times front page in Delhi sums up what Indians think about when we think of Britain: the paper carried a picture of Cameron swinging a cricket bat (and not very well).
Not so long ago, if the British head of government had visited our nation, the papers would have been full of reports about his living arrangements, his schedule and even, as in the case of Bill Clinton's trip in 2000, his lunch menu. In the UK, the PM's tour of India would have been unremarkable.
How did this happen? How did the world turn upside down? The most obvious reason is Cameron's relative newness. Indians like celebrities. Cameron hasn't been prime minister long enough, done anything significant enough (like, say, start an unnecessary war) or been hyped up enough for Indians to even know who he is, let alone care that he's come calling. Arguably, Tony Blair would get a warmer reception in India. He's famous.
The second explanation could lie in the attitude of the visitors themselves. While Cameron has been both realistic and honest in facing up to the fact that Britain needs to seek a relationship with India for its own benefit, admitting as much has been perhaps a tad too much honesty. You may have a weak hand and everyone may know it, but that's no reason to go about telling the whole world how awful your cards are.
Third, the callousness with which the Indian political establishment has treated Cameron – turning down his request to address parliament, for example – and the joy the press has taken in reporting the new power relationship (when it has bothered reporting anything at all) suggests that India, with a giant chip on its shoulder, is finally getting the chance to feel just a little smug.
But while these may all have been contributing factors, far more likely is simply that the people of India – especially the navel-gazing middle class – were just too busy being self-obsessed, going to malls and reading about Bollywood actress Mallika Sherawat's latest PR stunt to notice that they had a guest. And even if they did, they probably dismissed him as what an Englishman-gone-native friend described as "just another white guy who's shown up to make some money".