The Prime Minister was in Dubai and Abu Dhabi last week and in the coming months he will be travelling to the US again to attend the UNGA (United Nations General Assembly) and also to Malaysia for the ASEAN summit. In his interactions with the Indian community abroad, you cannot but observe the nationalism at display. They identify with the unabashed display of patriotism by Prime Minister Modi. They revel in the fact that Mr Modi is a proud patriot. Hyper nationalism sits easy with the BJP, a party that wears its nationalism on its sleeve, all the time. And then, Modi is from the House of RSS, where ‘rashtra’ comes before everything else.
The Indian expatriate community cheers during a speech by PM Narendra Modi at Dubai Cricket Stadium in the United Arab Emirates on August 17. Pic/AFP
I don’t mean it pejoratively when I say ‘display of patriotism’ among NRIs. This is because, at various points in global history, hyper nationalism has led to negation of a contrary point of view. Hyper-patriots tend to place themselves on a pedestal, with an air of superiority that rejects multi-culturalism. Of course, one can’t paint all expats with the same brush. Despite extremely strong nationalistic sentiments, most Indian expats have amalgamated into foreign cultures, learning new skills, languages and blended in, as much as they possibly could in egocentric societies. And yet they want to not let go of their links to their home country. After all, why would anyone abandon claim to roots of a civilisation as old and rich as the Indian one?
I am in Dallas, Texas this week and interacting with expats who are bursting with pride on India’s rising profile. But they are also anxious that the momentum should not slip and negativity re-enter via the media. Expats who watch Indian TV debates over cable channels here wonder if the media is exaggerating or if the NDA government is facing a similar crisis of credibility like the UPA. Many of the doubts and confusions that plague Indians in India are similar to the ones that disturb Indians outside India.
One thing is quite clear, Indians abroad adore Modi. There is no other way of putting it. His outreach has unified them into a powerful force with unrelenting praise for the motherland. From Dallas to Dubai it is the same story of ‘recharged’ Indians. They see PM Modi as a symbol of an India on the go and this spurs them on.
The gleaming buildings of Dubai built brick by brick in scorching heat by glorified slaves from countries such as India are a testimony to the hard work put in by the community. It is this group of people who are also the single largest source of India’s hard currency earnings. They are important stakeholders of the new Indian story.
They cheered with full-throated voice in chorus of Bharat Mata ki Jai or Vande Mataram when the Prime Minister of India asked them to join in. Just like the Indians in Seychelles, Mauritius, Germany, France and many other countries that Mr Modi visited this year. Here in Texas, there are many who have booked their tickets to California next month to attend the NRI bash for Prime Minister Modi. They eagerly wear T-shirts with Vande Mataram splashed all over it. Religion and nationalism blend with ease when you are an NRI. Here, even hip couples find themselves attending Geeta classes, Gurudwara keertan-langars and joining picnics and yoga evenings by random Indian cultural associations. And for secular cultural linkages, there is always cricket and Bollywood. These are all their bridges to India, built over time on solid framework of connectivity.
But they also have heated debates over how India should be run. The low tolerance level of expats who swerve into two extremes is the subject of much mirth. One lot who think they did right by ‘getting out’ when they did. Such Cassandras are getting fewer by the day. Another lot, equally gleeful is the group that believes that India is one step away from dislodging China as the superpower in Asia and eliminating Pakistan from the map of the world. They swerve between scepticism and hope.
It is difficult to feel the same kind of intense angst while thinking about India as those who live far from its shores. Perhaps this song from Kabuliwala, picturised on an Afghan separated from his motherland expresses that poignant nationalist love, best of all.
Aye mere pyaare vatan,
aye mere bichchade chaman
My dear homeland,
my lost garden
Tujh pe dil qurbaan
My heart is given in sacrifice for you
Tuu hii merii aarzuu,
tuu hii merii aabruu
You are my desire,
you are my honour
Tuu hii merii jaan
You are my life.
Smita Prakash is Editor, News at Asian News International. You can follow her on Twitter @smitaprakash