It will take work to fix India’s image

The recent cases of people who lost their sight after undergoing free cataract surgery at a camp in northern India highlights the country's deep problems. (AFP/Narinder Nanu)
The recent cases of people who lost their sight after undergoing free cataract surgery at a camp in northern India highlights the country's deep problems. (AFP/Narinder Nanu)

Analysts say, as The National reports today, that India badly needs more foreign investment if it is to grow at a pace – over eight per cent – that would create enough jobs for 40 million unemployed. For that, it needs to do more to change its image as a place that’s notoriously difficult for foreign companies.

Narendra Modi’s trips to the US, Japan and Australia and his promise that foreign investors would find it easier to enter – and do business in – India have helped, if only because markets like nothing so much as reassurance and goodwill.

Massaging an image is important but is it enough? What about the realities of life for India’s 1.2 billion people? What of the rigorousness of regulations governing goods and services for them? What of institutional accountability and rule of law? Consider the news from India over the weekend. At least 11 poor and elderly people went blind following cataract surgeries performed at a free medical camp, not far from the capital Delhi. Just last month, a scandal erupted when 15 women died after sterilisation operations in another state. Tainted drugs were blamed. These two news items, within weeks of each other, suggest a reality that is nasty and brutish for vulnerable Indians. It’s not the more wholesome picture that India wants to project of an emerging economy that is trying hard to improve conditions for its people even as it solicits foreign investment. Botched surgeries and tragic deaths are also poor publicity for a country that wants to market itself as a low-cost international health care destination. The world might quite legitimately say, physician heal thyself first. Many people might not be frightfully keen to subject themselves to the tender mercies of a system that doesn’t seem to care much for its own.

So that’s the message to take away from India’s new image management exercise. Do that for sure but also fix some of the real problems – the corruption, bureaucratic apathy, slow judicial process, social and gender inequality. Mr Modi has started to make changes, including labour reforms. More needs to be done.

Published: December 6, 2014 04:00 AM

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