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Why are NRIs so touchy about the country they left?

Last updated on: April 27, 2011 08:18 IST

Why are NRIs so touchy about the country they left?

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Sunanda K Datta-Ray


The only readers of this column I am wary of are Overseas Citizens of India, People of Indian origin, Non-Resident Indians (NRIs), call them what you will, in the United States.

Not distinguished achievers like Jhumpa Lahiri and Siddhartha Mukherjee, but ordinary migrants whose patriotic fervour, devotion to Mahatma Gandhi, Hindu zeal, intense anti-Westernism and, quite often, venomous hatred of the Congress party leave me gasping.

It's baffling that highly trained professionals who have migrated in search of better incomes and creature comforts, and whose number includes some 200,000 millionaires, should still feel so vehemently about the landscape they have abandoned.

Being thoroughly apolitical myself, I am even more surprised by their intense party loyalties. The unorthodox syntax and imaginative spelling of some of their protest emails are so extraordinary that I have reproduced them untouched in this column.

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Anna Hazare's fast brought emigrant passions to the surface once again. So has the government's delayed order that the roughly two million Indian-Americans should produce their last Indian passports to be cancelled for a fee.

Quibbling over the amount of the fee is another surprise. Passport and visa charges are going up worldwide but our Indian-Americans seem to think rupee rates should remain static since they left India.

Fasting being the fashion, they 'have decided to Fast, Gandhian way, on April 30 and May 01, 2011 in Houston at 5810 Hillcroft Avenue, and other places in USA' to have the passport order rescinded.

They seem to hold Sonia Gandhi personally responsible for the passport decision and accuse her of driving a wedge between Bharat Mata and her Diasporic children.

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"In their rush to bleed the nation with corruption, destroy its culture through millions of dollars spend by missionaries whom Mahatma Gandhi called as deadliest poison, Sonia and her cohorts in cahoots with Pope and Italian Mafia, seem to come up with a plan to create distance to any possible forces that will slow their moves," says one particularly bizarre email.

Forget the grammar, but note the hint of a sinister international conspiracy. Note, too, the implicit claim that Mrs Gandhi is attacking NRIs because they alone can save India.

I can understand the chagrin that must underlie the wild language and wilder accusations. Some NRIs may really have lost their old passports. But an extra passport means backdoor dual-citizenship for others.

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Multiple passport-holders can also pop in and out as often as they please despite India's once-in-three-months entry restriction.

Singapore doesn't bestow citizenship without proof that the applicant's original passport is no longer valid. The US doesn't bother because Americans don't care two hoots about a naturalised citizen's other papers.

But India can't be complacent. If the original passport isn't checked, any Pakistani or Bangladeshi with a US citizenship can pretend to Indian origins and demand a lifetime visa.

I stirred up another hornet's nest by suggesting that the most realistic remedy for the corruption that provoked Hazare's fast is to allow existing police and justice systems to function properly.

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Why are NRIs so touchy about the country they left?

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An angry Indian-American reader ordered me to 'think of Mahatma Gandhi and his unimaginable power of mind that could suggest a method for eradicating crime and corruption both.'

He told me that Gandhi's formula for spiritualising politics, unfolded in Calcutta's Mirzapur Park on January 23, 1921, and accepted by Hyderabad Muslims in November 2008 "is welcome to the 900 million Dhaarmic  India of Mahatma Gandhi that is not educated by Macaulayan anti-spiritual and Anti-Vedic education system that runs your 'SYSTEM' in India from 1835.'

Clearly, the writer yearns for a Vedic past before Macaulay's Minute on education muddied the pure waters of Indian culture. Is that why he and others like him have fled India's bastardised Westernism for the US?

One reason for all this posturing could be an official report that describes Indian-Americans as 'an invaluable asset' and says 'for the first time, India has a constituency in the US with real influence and status'.

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Amit Gupta of the Department of Strategy and International Security at the US Air Force War College in Montgomery, Alabama, disagrees. His paper, The Indian Diaspora's Political Efforts in the United States, argues that NRI prominence is the result -- not cause -- of improved India-US ties.

Accusing Indian-Americans of being 'more concerned about making quick profits rather than a long-term commitment to Indian development', Gupta points out that more than 50 per cent of India's foreign investment comes from the Gulf.

He could have added that NRIs hastily withdrew $2 billion from India when the Gulf War broke out.



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