Ever since Vijai Sardesai’s headline-making comments about north
Indian tourists (which came laced with unnecessary epithets) last
month, there has been a steady fallout of interesting and generally
comical repercussions. The chief minister of Haryana, Manohar Lal
Khattar phoned up his counterpart in Goa to complain, and was
skilfully deflected, “Parrikar ji explained that it was a misquote and
that the minister was referring to earlier unplanned infrastructure
development in Gurugram. Then, the hashtag #BoycottGoa briefly gained
some momentum on social media, before it was found to be hyped mainly
by Goans themselves, who seemed collectively delighted by the idea
that the annual onslaught of domestic tourists might be thinned of
north Indians.

Earlier this week, the veteran journalist Vir Sanghvi presented his
own thoughts on the subject, writing “I tweeted a screenshot of the
story about Sardesai’s speech and waited for the response. Twitter is
always good when it comes to outrage and Sardesai’s remarks were
particularly outrageous…But there was one huge surprise. An
astonishingly large number of people tweeted to say that they agreed
with Sardesai! Even those who did not approve of his language said
that they understood the sentiment behind his outburst! Ever since
this controversy blew over – Goa is back to its target of one crore
tourists, whether or not we are scum – I have been trying to work out
why Sardesai’s remarks struck a chord and what it tells us about
attitudes to tourism.”

Sanghvi’s resulting “tentative conclusions” are an excellent
encapsulation of the attitudes and ideas of India’s Delhi-centric
elites when it comes to Goa, which continues to both attract and
confound in equal measure. His first finding is “Many people in Goa
don’t really like tourists” ascribing this mainly to “huge levels of
resentment over the so-called outsiders who have made millions from
the tourist boom…So, Goans often feel left out in the boom in
tourism.” In addition, says this long-time visitor to luxury resorts
in India’s smallest state, “locals all over Asia are like Sardesai in
that they seem to prefer white tourists to all other kinds” which
doesn’t make sense to Sanghvi because “All over Asia, Chinese and
Indian tourists spend much more than tourists from so-called white

All of that is pretty straightforward, even if wrong. Indian tourists
spend more than Europeans in Thailand, but according to the most
recent industry statistics, foreigners in Goa spend roughly four times
as much as Indians. In addition, mere expenditure does not factor in
the myriad less tangible impacts of tourism from the rest of India,
which has overwhelmed its favourite beach destination with garbage and
a host of unpleasant social ills ranging from constant leering at
women in swimsuits to persistent demand (and supply) of prostitution.
Sanghvi himself wrote, previously, “it was no longer a Goa I
recognised…full of pushy north Indians and loud Gujaratis who stayed
in ugly, overpriced, modern hotels with disgusting food. There had
been so much construction that it looked like any other part of

The truth is Sanghvi knows perfectly well why Goans are appalled by
the devastation of their once-pristine homeland by hordes of
low-budget Indian travellers. He says it himself, “Corrupt politicians
and unscrupulous local officials have lined their pockets by approving
all kinds of unregulated construction. Lovely towns have been
destroyed and entire regions ruined. One by one, all the great and
beautiful destinations have had the charm ripped out of them. The real
cause of this is corruption. But tourism is the motivating factor.”
But instead of building on that, Sanghvi fires off a series of cheap
shots. Nothing Sardesai said about north Indians is as egregiously
false or offensive as “In the case of Goa, the we-love-white-tourists
policy is complicated by the influence of the Russians who many Goans
see as having introduced drugs, prostitution etc. to the state...I
guess, some Goans would rather welcome white-skinned Russians over
middle class North Indians.”

Sanghvi’s muddled motivations are betrayed by his plaintive
conclusion, “So, all things considered, Goa should be thanking us.”
This is the real bottom line, and the actual reason puffed-up feudal
Delhi elites usually often wind up so confused in Goa. Here, manners
matter. Here, vulgar impositions on everyone else’s good time are not
appreciated. You will need to navigate with politesse, because that’s
what is expected. If it’s not too difficult to behave that way in
Switzerland or Singapore, then why complain here? All things
considered, you should be thanking Goa!

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