By Swapan Dasgupta
The election of the Narendra Modi government in May 2014 has seen many changes in governance, the economy and even society. The question often asked is: how much?
Those who believe that the mandate was revolutionary—a vote to effect a radical break with the past—have often complained that the government is too wedded to continuity. There has, for example, been an interesting debate on whether the government should have opted for ‘big bang’ economic reforms—including the dismantling of the public sector and massive subsidy cuts—or pursued incremental changes that can be managed by an essentially status quo-loving bureaucracy.
Likewise, there are Left-inclined individuals and those affected by the curbs on the foreign-funding of NGOs who feel that the India of 2015 is different from the one bequeathed to his successor by former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Some have described the shifts as moves towards authoritarianism or even fascism, while still others have detected a creeping erosion of state secularism.
The debate has inevitably spilled over into foreign policy where Modi’s aggressive global outreach with a strong economic underpinning has been favourably juxtaposed with the unending muddle over the nuisance along the western borders. That Modi is determined to use India’s economic potential to emerge as a major regional power (with a global footprint) has been obvious. This despite the cussed comments his foreign visits have invited from courtiers of the former durbar for who the history of Independent India is the history of one family.
One feature of Modi’s global outreach has been India’s deepening engagement with its diaspora and a conscious bid to make Overseas Indians co-partners in the larger mission of nation reconstruction. Whether in New York, Toronto, Sydney and Dubai, the Prime Minister has spoken to packed gatherings of Indians elated by the knowledge that the Prime Minister acknowledges their importance. For many Overseas Indians, detached from home, Modi has created an environment that permits a deep emotional bonding with the cultural motherland.
The response to the Prime Minister has been nothing short of overwhelming. After the Dubai event that touched a chord among Indian workers accustomed to being shabbily treated both by their employers and the country that benefits immeasurably from their remittances, it will be the turn of San Francisco and London. Modi will speak to the large, prosperous and influential Indian diaspora in the Silicon Valley on September 27. Then, just after Diwali, he will address Overseas Indians (including a large contingent of Gujaratis who came to Britain from East Africa but still maintain their India connections) at the iconic Wembley Stadium that can accommodate nearly 80,000 people. Both occasions will be an opportunity to simultaneously demonstrate the political clout of the diaspora in California and the United Kingdom.
The linkage made between India’s economy and culture with a diaspora that, for a change, feels proud to be linked to India, is important in the larger diplomatic game. By making it clear to the world that it regards the diaspora as an extension of its soul, it is assuming some moral responsibility for their larger well-being. This, in turn, will enhance the stature of the Indian diaspora in their respective countries, not least because India now counts as a force for the good and a rising economic power. The image problem faced by Pakistan in the non-Islamic world doesn’t extend to India.
The engagement with the diaspora has an additional dimension. By facilitating the emotional connect with India and, not least, the Prime Minister, India is preparing the ground for elevating the diaspora to the status of a permanent India lobby. It was Atal Behari Vajpayee’s government that first utilised the diaspora to offset some of the sustained pressure on India after the Pokran-II tests in 1998. The story of how the US sanctions were neutralised using the good offices of Overseas Indians is a story that needs to be documented and narrated. It is reassuring that Modi is building on this legacy and, indeed, enlarging its scope.
It is in this context that a petition signed by various US-based academics to many Silicon Valley technology companies assumes some significance. Ever since the likelihood of Modi winning the 2014 general election sunk in, various petitions by the Left-liberal lobby to like-minded newspapers painting him as the Indian incarnation of Attila the Hun and Vlad the Impaler did the rounds. Earlier, some academics at the University of Pennsylvania forced the cancellation of a video talk by Modi to students. What marked these interventions was that the attacks were directed against Modi the individual. It was their visceral hatred of him that was paramount.
This time it is different. The galaxy of historians, post-modernists, gender studies experts and sociologists—I didn’t detect physicists or other ‘science types’ in the long list—have basically called upon IT companies in the Silicon Valley to opt out of any engagement with the ‘Digital India’ programme of the Indian government. These guys are unhappy with the developments in Nalanda University, with the ICHR appointment and “constriction of the space of civic engagement, ongoing violations of religious freedom and a steady impingement on the independence of the judiciary.” Therefore, “these alarming trends require that we, as educators, remain vigilant not only about the modes of e-governance in India but about the political future of the country.” Their solution: US companies must shun business links with the Indian state.
The academics-imposed sanctions on India will in all likelihood not even be seriously considered. But that is not the point. What we are witnessing is the willingness of an intellectual diaspora to actually wage war on India’s development. From political opposition to Modi they have moved to sabotaging India in the world.
If I didn’t think their paranoia suggest a deep disconnect with Indian realities, I would have called them treacherous. In any case, it is always worth remembering the names of all those who are ready to subvert India because they didn’t like the way Indians voted.
Sunday Pioneer, August 30, 2015