Faint glow of a few burning twigs, around which children huddle on a cold winter evening, trying to derive some warmth from the feeble fire. India Shining?

Bright engulfing flames, which take the life of yet another newly married woman, for dowry. India Shining?

Bleak radiance of a street lamp, under which sits a determined student, straining her eyes to read her homework. India Shining?

The gleam from a burning putrefied garbage dump, that is bigger than the makeshift houses next to it. India Shining?

Blaring headlights of a fast car, that shine on a family of five sleeping on the pavement, under one blanket. India Shining?

Dazzling blaze from the latest high-range missile—-that diverts money away from education and health—-being tested in the dark night sky. India Shining?

Gloomy haze from a smouldering mass funeral pyre of eight farmers whose debt forced them to commit suicide. India Shining?

The dim kerosene lantern, around which sits a family of twelve reading a letter from their only income-earning member in Mumbai, saying he just lost his job. India Shining?

The harsh glare of a policeman’s torch that harasses a homeless man as he rummages through the trash for some dinner. India Shining?

The flashy gold and diamond jewellery of a woman in a car, yelling at another who begs for a rupee at the traffic light. India Shining?

The inextinguishable embers of communal genocidal fires, that haunt minds, hearts and dreams of the victims. India Shining?

No, I’m not a pessimist. No, I’m not a cynic. No, I’m not unpatriotic. But yes, I’m sceptical of fallacies. Yes, I question the squandering of national resources. Yes, I shun forced national pride.

Sure, India “shines,” sometimes, in some places, for some people. Most of all in the dreams of its 400 million children. But “India Shining, Bharat Uday” is not something to gloat over and feel smug about, because it is just a glossy expensive election gimmick. A “feel good, your government loves you, everything is great, vote for us again,” campaign. If you truly feel good about it, that is something else. I am not here to dilute your contentment. Only to express my own disapproval of a campaign that hits irony hard on the head with a heavy hammer.

Cell phones, yes. GDP growth, yes. IT revolution, yes. More consumer goods in the market, yes. More flyovers, yes. New military weapons, yes. Greater nuclearisation, yes. Increased foreign investment, yes. Benefits, yes, but only for a few.

Wipe the gloss off. A rise in GDP doesn't necessarily Get Down Poverty. Economic growth doesn’t automatically reduce the exploitation of the unorganised labour force. Nuclearisation doesn’t bring national security but drains the nation’s coffers and 'radiates' death. Increased foreign cash flows don’t reach the poor through the ‘trickle-down’ effect. ‘Trickle-down’ in India is the state of a dysfunctional water tap behind which stands a queue of women, waiting, for their one bucket per household daily quota of water. ‘Trickle-down’ are the tears of the silenced raped girl, of the abused street boy, of the spurned single mother with AIDS, of the exploited bonded labourer, of the young lovers who are stoned for loving out of their caste...

India shines more in government dossiers, in glitzy reports, in election manifestoes, in the houses of a few.

Whether India shines or not, depends on where you are situated on the socio-economic spectrum.

Whether India shines or not, is for us to decide. We don’t need a multi-crore government campaign—an outright profligacy of taxpayers’ money—to convince us.

Make India truly shine. Make the lives of its people shine. Clean water. A meaningful education. Jobs. Safety and security. Justice. Healthcare and housing. Religious freedom. Land. Rights. Dignity. Respect. Freedom and power for self-governance. Space to grow and to be.

Then talk about India Shining. Until then, stop the sham, please.