Each year, since then, India has had a major visual presence at Davos through cleverly pitched campaigns designed by highly creative advertising agencies.
The India visible in the branding images primarily exists in the consciousness of the elite. It is a world of neat shopping malls, expensive branded products, happy, prosperous consumers, skilled scientists and engineers, white coats, headphones, smooth highways, high rise buildings, glass facades and green grass that paves one's vision. The images could be from anywhere in the world, while the Indian setting is presented through cultural icons such as bindis, colourfully decorated elephants, Gandhiji's spectacles and Taj Mahal. In short, India is transformed into a global place while still retaining its cultural authenticity and ethnic appeal.
While this vision is a powerful tool to attract investors and tourists, it is also its biggest weakness. The images conjure a world that does not really exist outside the limits of the visual frames. Absent from the frames is the “other” India — the poor, the untouchables, the minorities, and all that is un-beautiful — the ruptured body of the nation that has not only failed to “catch up” with the progress, but in fact is seen as holding the nation back in its journey towards prosperity and global power.
It is not uncommon to hear stories of shock and disappointment upon arrival from the very members of the privileged global class that the Indian state so wants to attract.
As the novelty of dazzling image campaigns levels out, India might need to rework its agenda — to focus on the actual production of a prosperous and equitable nation, rather than producing merely images of it.