Saturday, October 26, 2013

Promote tourism, neta ishtyle

Promote tourism, neta ishtyle
The Times of India

The lions of the Gir sanctuary in Gujarat have long been tourist attractions. But now a self-styled lion in human form promises to outdo them. According to reports, Narendra Modi's NRI fans from several parts of the world are planning to flock to India to watch how the man they perceive to be the king of the country's political jungle operates on the campaign trail.

The BJP has reportedly scrapped its strategy of employing Bollywoodstars to act as crowd-pullers at political rallies, feeling that Modi is as big a draw as any matinee idol. NaMo's supposed box office appeal, particularly among Indians living abroad, might be put to good use by those who seek to project India as a tourist destination.

In fact, it's not just Modi who could prove to be a star in the making in India's political firmament. Incredible India offers several equallyincredible netas who could do double-duty as politicians-cum-promoters of tourism.

After all, if Bangladesh can tout itself as a destination for 'poverty tourism' - especially designed to attract visitors from affluent countries with high standards of living who are curious to see how the other half lives - there is no reason that the world's most populous democracy can't sell 'neta tourism', particularly when elections draw near with all their attendant sound and fury.

What might be called 'maharaja tourism' - based on erstwhile royal palaces converted into luxury hotels - has become old hat. Or rather, old turban. India's neo-maharajas are our netas, who swank about in beacon-mounted cars and disport themselves in Lutyens' bungalows as though to the manor born.

Through clever marketing, diverse traditional festivals ranging from Kumbh Mela to Pushkar'sannual camel fair have been turned into major tourist attractions. A ringside seat overlooking India's political arena, before and after polls, would provide visitors revealing insights into the many time-honoured rites and rituals of our democracy, as famous for its trade in horses asPushkar is for its commerce in camels.

With the laudable end in view of attracting sightseers from abroad to help swell the country's depleted coffers of foreign exchange, our netas should play to the gallery and pack as much fire and brimstone as possible into their election speeches, and turn their rallies into three-ring circuses or tamashas in triplicate. 'Competitive promotionalism' should replace competitive populism as the new neta buzzword.

In short, our political leaders should ensure that when overseas visitors prepare to return to their adoptive homes they do so with a sense of relief best expressed by a note of thanksgiving: There, but for the grace of diaspora, go i.

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