Befitting the stature of a rural correspondent, I will take a train tomorrow from Chicago to New York to spend the next ten days reporting India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit. I leave at 6.40 p.m. Sunday and reach New York a little after 7 p.m. on Monday. That is longer than flying to New Delhi from Chicago. Joe Lahsin, an American friend of mine commented on my train journey plans saying, “How very 1940s of you?”
With all my Gaon Connection newspaper credentials in place now, it is official that I will report for India’s first professionally run and major award winning rural newspaper. As Neelesh Misra, the founder of the newspaper, pointed out, “We are committed to constantly breaking the stereotypes about what rural readers should get to read and watch. We created these stereotypes.” So while I might look for some rural angle to stories, I intend reporting the visit very much like I would report it for an urban newspaper. I have never patronized my Gaon Connection readership in whatever few columns I have written so far and I intend to continue to serve them in a similar fashion. I might choose to give them a broader context simply because there are no rural newspapers doing it for them.
I know how utterly choreographed and controlled the media interaction of the US and India leaders are in Washington and therefore have no expectations of being allowed to ask a question of either or both. Given half a chance though, I would like to ask President Barack Obama whether the concerns and aspirations of the world’s rural population even remotely figure in his diplomatic dealings around the world. India alone accounts for over 833 million rural population, according to the 2011 census. In case you have not already understood it, that number alone is the world’s third largest population by itself. I seriously wonder whether bilateral relations between India and any other country, not to mention the world’s biggest economy of America, even factor that aspect in.
I think this is where Neelesh’s point about rural stereotypes comes in. While rural populations may have their own unique demands, their aspirations and concerns are not necessarily distinct from the urban population merely because they live in villages. Of course, developments models have to be tweaked to meet rural requirements but when it comes to aspirational objectives, they are pretty similar. As Gaon Connection has been reporting about the changing attitudes in villages, the information and communication technology revolution has ensured that rural Indians can be as up to speed with what is going on around the world as urban Indians. This is by far the crudest hint I can drop to President Obama and Prime Minister Modi’s media handlers to let me, as a correspondent of a rural newspaper, ask one question at their joint press engagement.