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Glitz and Glamour

Joe Eruppakkatt Joe Eruppakkatt
18 Sep 2023

The extravagant show is over. The national capital is back to normal – children came back to schools and colleges opened after a break of four days; street vendors rolled out their carts to the place they used to park and do small business; the glittering laser lights are off; the green fabric used to hide the slums have been removed. India’s show is over. But there’s one face, whose photos posted on G20 billboards all over the national capital, that will continue to occupy the walls, electric posts, traffic circles and flyovers of the city –  that of the self-proclaimed ‘Vishwaguru’!

Someone has rightly observed, “you don’t become rich by wearing an expensive borrowed dress for a one-night wedding ceremony.” This perhaps sums up the pomp and show put up in New Delhi last weekend, hosting the G20 Summit. However, one tries to impress that India is shining, that India has eradicated poverty, that India has no more urban poor, that Indian economy is booming, but the reality will continue to haunt those in power.

One man all the way

Government officials and ruling party ministers have claimed G20 to be a whopping success. It has showcased India to the world leaders. India got global recognition. It has brought India closer to the international community. It has shown what India is capable of. It can now organize mega events like this, even Olympics, one day. Home Minister Amit Shah went one step ahead when he said: “If G20 has come to the country during his (Modi’s) time and it is completed with success, then he must get the credit.”

He must get the credit. Shah stated it straight. Someone had  asked, “Is it G20 or Modi20?” According to the Associated Press, “Prime Minister Modi used G20 to advertise his global reach and court votes at home. Major roads, teeming with giant photos on billboards of one leader smiling benignly at every traffic circle, tried to market his image and elevate his party’s prospects.” No other world leader was shown on any of the road side billboards, so much so that it looked like it was Modi who was coming from the United States, it was Modi who was coming from the United Kingdom, it was Modi who was coming from Germany, Italy, France, Canada, Japan, European Union, etc. It was just this one man all the way!

Veteran Political analyst Sagarika Gosh put it bluntly, “Modi is positioning himself as a global statesman, a global thought leader… and the voice of a rising India. And all of this, I believe, is designed to feed into the Modi personality cult, which is a very expertly created, very well marketed cult, designed to appeal to a demography which will be very well swayed by these promises of rising India.”

At what Cost?

According to Meenakshi Lekhi, Minister of State for External Affairs, the total coast for conducting G20 in New Delhi is Rs 4,100 crores. Of this, Rs 700 crores was used for Delhi’s make over – construction, repair, maintenance and beautification of roads and surroundings. Statues, paintings and sculptures were placed all over Delhi. Add to this, the cost of 70,000 flower pots, prepared by the PWD to beautify the footpaths of Delhi. Rs 340 crores was spent on maintaining law and order that meant a 3-layer security for the visiting dignitaries. 

But the major portion of the money was used for the construction and maintenance of Bharat Mandapam, the venue of the G20 Summit at Pragati Maidan, New Delhi. But only Rs 990 crores was allocated to G20 sumit in the last Budget by the Finance Minister. This meant we spent 300% more than the budget allocation. This was tax payers money. The money used for thousands of wayside hoardings showcasing the Vishwaguru was spent from your pocket and mine. Of course, government sources claim that large portion of the money was spent towards the permanent asset creation and other infrastructure development – not limited to the hosting of the G20 summit only.

Where are the poor?

The G20 summit resulted in the displacement of a large number of people, particularly from the neighbourhoods that foreign leaders and diplomats would visit during various meetings.

Weeks before the Summit, police began chasing the thousands of poor beggars and daily wage workers who used to live on footpaths and under the hundreds of flyovers of Delhi. Ten slum habitatations were razed to the ground by the bulldozers. Hundreds of houses were reduced to rubble after giving one week’s notice. People ended up having no shelter and their meagre livelihood was snatched away from them.  

The footpaths were to be beautified and shown to the world leaders as the proof of a new India where poverty and misery do not exist! It doesn’t matter if the poor don’t eat for a week, if they move away to the nearby towns and cities for the rest of their life, if their children miss school, if they starve and die!  Ironically, this was when ANI released the videos of silver and gold plates and cutleries, custom made (at the cost, God knows), for the use at the dinner hosted by the President of India for the world leaders!

However, the demolition drive had its limits. The authorities then did what they knew best! Cover it up! Much like the 7-feet high, 600 metre stretch wall that was built in Ahmedabad to hide the poverty of the slum prior to the visit of then US President Donald Trump, the Delhi authorities did a cover up job. Only that this time it was too much to build high walls all over Delhi. So the next best option was to do a green drive. Large swathes of green fabric was put up  to cover anything that would bring displeasure to the eyes of the visiting dignitaries. But it is said that sometimes even the biggest curtain falls short. So the next option was to use Modi-posters to fill up the gaps. 

The LA Times and Japan Today newspapers ran full page report on how India was “covering up” the poor! The poor were simply erased from the scene, much like the stray dogs and monkeys that were rounded up and removed. “There would be no need for a cover up job if the money spent on covering up the slums was used to build new houses for the poor in those covered areas,” someone has rightly said.

New Delhi was under an enforced lockdown for three days: 8 - 10 September. All educational institutions were to remain closed. Shop owners were told to down the shutters for three days. Buses, auto-rickshaws, taxis and all private vehicles, except on emergency services, were to remain off the road for three days. The only transport available in the city for common man was the metro rail. The small business people, daily-wage workers, street vendors and auto-taxi drivers who earn their daily livelihood were left to starve. They had no place in the mega show that was happening in the national capital. 

G20 India’s own pride?

The Group of 20 or G20 was formed in 1999, to act as a forum for international economic cooperation following the Asian financial crisis. It was a forum for finance ministers and central bank governors to discuss financial and economic issues. The G20 includes 19 countries – Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Türkiye, United Kingdom and United States – and the European Union. The grouping represents around 85 per cent of the global GDP, over 75 per cent of the global trade, and about two-thirds of the world population. The Presidency of the G20 grouping rotates among five groups of member countries. Each country from a group becomes eligible for the Presidency when it is the turn of the group. The eligible countries negotiate and determine the group's Presidency.

Every year G20 summit is being held in one city or other with hardly any noise. Normally the country that holds the presidency makes no publicity and mega show. However, according to the Washington Post, “Indian authorities were determined that its 1.4 billion people are to be told that India holds G20 Presidency!” As if it is a unique privilege!  That’s how G20 summit could become a propaganda for the 2024 elections. The summit simply became an advertisement for the Prime Minister and his party. It was in fact a narrative of lavishness and showmanship, cover up and hypocrisy!

What gain, and for whom? 

In what way did the life of ordinary people change for the better as a result of G20 summit? It was noted by some that if the  money spent on organising the G20 was used for development work, it would produce much better result.

The final declaration of New Delhi G20 “We are One Earth, One Family, and we share One Future” appears well drafted and  forward-looking. But it is nothing more than just the usual adulations on trade for growth, preserving the planet, preparing for the future, advancing financial inclusion, fighting corruption, eliminating hunger, green development, etc. The declaration ignored the real issues that rattle India and the world at large: Manipur violence, religious intolerance, mob lynching, attacks on minorities, Russia-Ukraine war, Chinese aggression, etc. 

In short, the New Delhi G20 summit was blown up into a huge marketing exercise for the ruling dispensation and its leader. As one CNBC reporter said, “It was overshadowed by PM Modi.” He cleverly used the nameboard BHARAT in place of INDIA at his presidency desk that betrayed his nervousness at the opposition alliance running up to 2024 general elections. One BBC report sums it up well: “India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi had wanted the summit to promote his country as a major global power, and himself as an important world leader, ahead of a general election due in spring 2024.” The very logo, depicting flower lotus, designed for the Summit speaks volumes on what the real agenda was!

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