In a recent survey done by a United States’ agency, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi was declared as the most popular global leader, with US President Joe Biden trailing ten positions below. One has to say that upstaging Biden now with his faltering focus is not an Olympic feat, and this comment is not a display of naked ageism but a fact.

India that is Bharat, in its new saffron avatar, has this itch to prove its primacy in every field with raucous chest thumping.

Harking back to the glory that was India (which it undoubtedly was), many claims made by leaders at the helm would have us believe that we were the pioneers in cutting edge technology that’s been developed now.

Myth merges with facts, we had plastic surgery (remember Ganesha’s elephant head), we were aviation experts with helicopters, planes and drones (Pushpak Vimaan etc.) crowding our skies.

So any uptick in India’s global status is considered a rah rah moment, particularly when a man of humble origins upstages an experienced upper class seasoned politician.

Sure. But we mustn’t forget that many renowned global Indians like Mahatma Gandhi didn’t need validation through surveys.

And no politician comes even remotely close to Gandhi’s simplicity of lifestyle, a ‘fakir’ in its truest sense. And it certainly wasn’t the filmmaker Richard Attenborough who made him known globally. If anything, Ben Kingsley who played Gandhi in the film got plaudits for doing the role.

During the PM’s recent Italian visit for the outreach programme at the G7, the video clip of Modi holding the soft spoken Pope Francis, in a sublime clinch went viral.

His popularity amongst the Christians would go up a few notches because of this operatic moment. One only hopes that this goes beyond optics to send a signal to those bent upon narrowing the concept of the Indian nation.

Glaring discrimination persists on 4C’s: Caste, Colour, Class, Creed. An instance of toxic intolerance was writ large in the incarceration of Stan Swamy, an octogenarian Catholic priest and a tribal rights activist, on trumped up terrorism charges in the Koregaon Bhima case.

His death in prison, on denial of bail despite health issues, is a sad occurrence that will keep searing our conscience forever.

India, being the land where St. Thomas set foot in AD 52 as an Apostle of Jesus, where Parsis, Jews and other persecuted people settled in and mingled with the natives and yet retained their cultural morés.

India’s contact with Muslims goes back to the time Islam was born. This was through Arab merchants who had been visiting the Malabar Coast for maritime commerce.

Many inter-married and settled in. So to equate Indian Muslims with invaders and outsiders is just not kosher.

Activist Harsh Mander aptly says that demonisation of Muslims in India has created “the crisis of not belonging”. The angst that this alienation generates is not the way to unify a country.

To turn ‘Jai Shri Ram’ into a war cry doesn’t enhance the glory of Lord Rama. You don’t lynch in the name of God. Obviously, that only sullies the richness and the evolved nature of Hinduism.

The oft-bruited title of India being the ‘Vishwa Guru’ (a global mentor) in recent times, by our own drum-beaters, rings hollow when you look at some disconcerting data that has a long tail, hunger index, human rights, dissent, gender, democracy, press freedom et al.

India’s climb to the fifth position in the global economic sweepstakes, an ascent that began with economic reforms of the nineties, is certainly worthy of appreciation.

But we need to worry about the K-type inequality in India, with billionaires ballooning and the poor going bust. This was cited in theWorld Inequality Lab, 2024.

These deficits tarnish our storied democracy. V-Dem Institute (Varieties of Democracy) called India an “electoral autocracy” in its latest report. Last year India was 111 out of 125 countries in the Global Hunger Index. India was ranked 129 out of 146 countries in the Gender Gap report.

Getting miffed at this data is not the answer. Defuse this social ticking bomb by taking honest and major steps.

This is not to take away from achievements and capabilities that India is displaying on the global stage as the world’s third largest economy and as a military power, along with rapid strides in information technology, space exploration, services et al.

Our Indian origin ‘brainiacs’ have pulled off a great tech- takeover with thirty five Indian- origin CEOs being at the helm of global behemoths.

Of course, we could flaunt Rishi Sunak from our desi roots, a staunch temple- goer, but 10 Downing Street is turning into a drowning street for him. Kamala Harris, partly Indian, is going strong as the VP in America for the nonce.

To add to the burgeoning accolades for Indians in many fields, even the very stiff upper lip BBC has now a chairman of Indian-origin. Approved by no less an entity than King Charles. Rather difficult to visualise Aunty Beeb in a sari though!

Whoever is in power in our splendorous civilisation should relinquish braggadocio and point-scoring. Instead, follow Raj Dharma and only then can we become a beacon to other nations.

Ushi Kak aka Kashpundit, is an author who revels in wordplay and satire couched in humour. At times she deviates into gravitas. Views Expressed are the writer’s own.

Cover Photograph AP