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Pravasi Special: A look back in anxiety

By George Joseph
Last updated on: January 07, 2015 17:29 IST
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‘Non-Resident Indians know that India’s problems are the combination of many factors over the centuries, including foreign rule, lack of resources and the ever-growing population, among other things. Yet, India has achieved many things and even looks at Mars as a neighbour,’ says George Joseph.

As India gears up to honour its pravasis to mark their contribution in the nation’s development, presents different perspectives on the Diaspora.

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When I asked Arun Gandhi for a comment on Mahatma Gandhi’s assassin Nathuram Godse, who is suddenly getting attention and respectability in India, the Mahatma’s grandson said, “Everyone is a hero to somebody. I am sure there are people who worship Satan as well. That does not make Satan a hero for everyone. Those who want to build a statue to Nathuram Godse and even build a temple should, in a democracy, have the right to do so.”

“That is not going to diminish in any way what Gandhiji did or change people’s perception of him,” Dr Gandhi said.

“I believe I am reflecting the opinion of most of the (Gandhi) family. I have not had a family meeting on the issue, so I can’t say for sure.”

After Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s Bharatiya Janata Party-led government left office in May 2004, the intrepid Arundhati Roy, perhaps the best known and outspoken liberal in India, declared that,  ‘Darkness has passed...’

Now that the BJP has returned to power in India with a thumping majority, what will liberal, left, secular folk say?

Indians in their 40s or 50s belong to a ‘golden era’ and any change for them is a move to disaster. 

For India, the golden age started with Independence in 1947 and it almost ended with the declaration of Emergency in 1975.

During this time, the world was mostly peaceful. World War II had ended. The Cold War did not become an armed conflict. And Gandhian pacifism was the standard, at least for India.

Naturally, those who were born in this era inherited a liberal world dominated by Nehruvian ideals, the utopia of the Socialists and the promised world of the Communists.

Then, in the 1970s, reality sneaked in and the cherished ideals crumbled before our eyes.

Nehruvian ideals did not bring prosperity, Socialism did not bring equality and Communism ended as an unrealistic dream.

What remained were the old beliefs, traditions, and the hostility of a millennium. The liberals continue to bark at the darkness brought by a new system, when Godse has become venerable and as patriotic as the Mahatma.

The secular, liberal, leftist Indian in America is not happy at the current turn of events in India, not to mention that he was happy with Congress rule! 

He looks at the land of his origin with romantic mist in his eyes to see only good things and the old values prevailing there. 

He wants India to remain as it was when he left, forgetting that he himself has changed over the years and Indians too have a right to change, whether he likes it or not.

While the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi get the greatest support from the Diaspora, especially in America, the liberals are a fringe group here with no articulate policy or organisation and leadership.

The views of these two groups -- BJP supporters and the liberals -- are diametrically opposite to each other. 

It is difficult to be impartial, but most people don’t care.

The policy of the Global Organization of People of Indian Origin may be a good example. 

The organisation will not comment on any political developments in India, but only support India. 

Though GOPIO did not exist during the Emergency, many leaders now associated with GOPIO kept mum then, maintaining this policy of keeping silent about political developments in India.

It may be a wiser policy too, considering that 1.2 billion Indians in India can determine their destiny without the advice of the non-returning Indian.

Apart from the misgivings about the political scene, people who look objectively at India, see some big things happening there. 

The most important is the smooth change of guard in government. Unlike many developing countries, the ruling conglomerate lost the election and bowed to the will of the people gracefully.

India showed the world that it is as mature a democracy as Britain or America. 

Parties and persons at the helm can change, but the basic structure of the democratic framework, as visualised by the founding fathers, remains intact. 

Another welcome change is that bureaucrats lose their power before a strong prime minister and his authority. 

Since India attained Independence, the babus have ruled the country, made laws to fit their perception of things (unlike Prime Minister Modi who wants to remove as many laws as possible!) and created roadblocks to every project. 

Weak politicians bowed to them or their collective will.

Not any more. 

The babus thought they were the rulers when they were only the workers, a reality that dawned on them suddenly. 

Take the example of diplomat Devyani Khobragade, who wanted the best of both worlds. Her husband and children are American citizens, yet she wanted to be a diplomat for India.

The present government removed Dr Khobragade from her post when she vented her views in public, ignoring the niceties of protocol. No hue and cry from any quarters are heard. (Maybe those who would have created the noise are now part of government!)

On a recent visit to India, I overheard older people saying that India has a prime minister after many years. They compare Modi to the days of Indira Gandhi. 

Does it mean that the Indian psyche wants the security and finality of a strong, authoritarian, leadership?

Apart from these good things, the left, liberal and secular groups look at India with the anxiety of possible changes in the social fabric, where religion gains more and more importance.

In America wishing someone ‘Merry Christmas’ is not politically correct. India, on the other hand, will now accord religion more importance in the public sphere, which has unnerved many. 

After all, history is replete with examples of religions usurping the freedoms of people, curtailing the free spirit and dividing society on religious lines, leading to bloodshed and disaster.

George Abraham, leader of the Indian National Overseas Congress, met Rahul Gandhi after the Congress party’s election defeat and discussed the reasons for the debacle. 

Rahul told him that under the Modi government events and issues have returned to the pre-Independence era.

According to Gandhi, a coalition of retrograde forces have come together to undo the years of progress India has made in uplifting the poor, empowering the Dalits and backward castes and creating a more egalitarian society where the old order is diminished.

Obviously, these retrograde forces did not like the changes the Congress had made and wanted order and control. 

In their view, the Congress created disorder and decentralised power and control. 

They wanted to change all that.

Along with that, a narrative was created that the Congress had been appeasing the minorities for the expressed purpose of creating a vote bank. 

The BJP has done exactly the same in reverse, appealing to the religious sentiments of the majority.

No coalition that disenfranchises the minorities and other groups would have any staying power in India, Rahul told George.

The same doubts and fears are shared by left, secular, liberal groups. 

This may be the same irrational fear that led to the notorious ‘liberation struggle’ of 1957 in Kerala to overthrow the democratically elected Communist government led by E M S Namboodiripad. 

The Communists have since come to power in Kerala many times and nobody considers them a threat to democracy anymore.

Apart from politics -- a divisive issue always -- it makes the NRI happy to see India racing to greater heights in many fields, to see poverty reduced to a large extent.

NRIs know that India’s problems are the combination of many factors over the centuries, including foreign rule, lack of resources and the ever-growing population, among other things.

Yet, India has achieved many things and even looks at Mars as a neighbour. 

We feel proud, indeed.

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George Joseph in New York