When you live in India, you kinda sorta just get used to politicians making silly (read: borderline offensive) comments. Arre woh kuch bhi bolta hai, is the automatic response I usually get from people and one, I’m also guilty of uttering.
Well, time to add another one to that list - Goa’s Tourism Minister Manohar Ajgaonkar.
On 1 May, Goa, as you may have heard, declared zero COVID-19 cases. Unfortunately, Goa’s Green Zone status is currently under threat as seven fresh COVID-19 positive cases were detected on 14 May.
But let’s take a moment to focus on what Mr Ajgaonkar did soon after Goa was declared COVID-free. According to the news agency IANS, Ajgaonkar said:
“We want good tourists who are wealthy and who can appreciate Goa and its culture.”
So, let me get this straight: Mr Ajgaonkar wants to kickstart Goa’s tourism economy (okay, fair enough!) BUT he only wants the help of “wealthy” tourists because apparently they are the only ones capable enough to appreciate Goa’s culture?!
Now that one statement of his is problematic on so many levels.
Firstly - what is a “wealthy” tourist and how exactly do you plan on defining it?
Are you saying that anyone who can’t afford to spend 5 nights at Taj Fort Aguada does not deserve the opportunity to vacation in Goa?
Moreover, the idea that somehow only “wealthy” tourists can “appreciate” Goa’s culture is also extremely classist.
Goa’s culture belongs to all its people - regardless of their socio-economic strata - and Manohar Ajkgaonkar is NO ONE to discriminate.
Would someone mind throwing a copy of the Constitution of India at him?
But what’s worse is that this statement about wanting only wealthy tourists was juxtaposed with an even more problematic implication. Ajgaonkar also said, “We do not want tourists who consume drugs, cook on our roads or who create nuisance on beaches.”
Basically implying that rich people are somehow holier than thou and not capable of doing drugs and creating a nuisance. Which is...not true, obviously.
He also said, “We have to recreate the Goa of the 1960s to kickstart our tourism again. In 1960s, Goa was beautiful and now in 2020 it is very different with more than 8 million visiting tourists.”
No one’s denying that Goa has gotten crowded in the past few decades but does Mr Ajgaonkar not realise how big a part of Goa’s economy that is? Instead of being grateful for the wonders that the tourism explosion has done for Goa’s economy which in turn supports his lifestyle, he’s busy chasing a memory from almost 5 decades ago?
Did you ever imagine the Tourism Minister of a state that relies heavily on its tourism revenue saying “We hate tourism! Stay away!”? Yeah, me neither.
As the country grapples with a global health crisis that is adversely affecting its migrant workers, Ajgaonkar’s stance is insensitive and ignorant. By implying potential gentrification, he has also implied the othering of the masses in a country known for its widespread economic inequalities.
As the migrant worker crisis brutally unfolds with every passing day, with the entire nation talking about the government’s heartless handling of the situation - here’s another man proving that we’re all right in pointing fingers. While it might not be fair to compare both the situations, the latter is still a smaller manifestation of a bigger truth that runs this country: that income will continue to be a tool of suppression and discrimination even in modern India.