Why Modi Doesn’t Need Indian Diaspora’s Stamp Of Approval On His Policies

A survey shows that though a significant number of Indian-Americans scorn Modi, the majority of this diaspora still love the Indian Prime Minister and are deeply committed to India and its causes.

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The ongoing farmers’ agitation on the borders of Delhi has been accompanied by the expression of solidarity from various organizations of the Indian Diaspora, particularly in Canada, the US, and the UK.

In the process, the negative aspect of India’s “soft power”, of which the diaspora is an important component, is now being realized, probably for the first time, by the Indian government led by Narendra Modi. Ironically, it is under Modi that this “soft power” has been projected and promoted the most in independent India’s history.

Ever since he assumed the office as the Prime Minister in 2014, his proactive outreach with the Indian diaspora, estimated by a recent study of the United Nations to be the world’s largest at 18 million, had reached great heights, if his massive rallies in places ranging from Madison Square to Sydney, Suva to Dubai, and London to Houston were any indication.

For Modi, the color of the passports does not matter as long as a person has blood links with India. He brought the diaspora closer to India by merging Person of Indian Origin (PIO) and Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) cards and making this card-holder equal with Indian citizens in every respect, save the right to vote and contest elections.

It may be noted that many eminent persons from the Indian diaspora such as  A. D Patel, Cheddi Jagan, and organizations like the  Gadar movement, Azad Hind Fauj (Indian National Army), and Komagata Maru contributing a lot to India’s freedom struggle (even Mahatma Gandhi was a non-resident Indian practicing law in South Africa).

Despite such contributions, India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru was of the view that the diaspora must not expect anything from India, that they should be good citizens of the countries of their adoption, and that they must fully identify themselves with these countries. In fact, Nehru had abolished the Ministry for Overseas Indian Affairs in 1947.

Indian-origin people staged a demonstration during PM Narendra Modi’s visit to London in April 2018. (File photo)

It was only when the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power in Delhi under the leadership of Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 1998 that India’s diaspora outlook changed. The Vajpayee government talked of the ‘Great Indian Family’, launched the PIO card scheme, organized the annual Pravasi Bharatiya Divas on January 9, gave out Pravasi Bharatiya Samman Awards, and so on.

Modi further promoted this policy, which under him, may be summed up in terms of 3 C’s—‘connect’ with India, ‘celebrate’ their cultural heritage, and ‘contribute’ to the development of the homeland.

The Modi government has considered the diaspora as its strategic asset, be it in terms of exercising their influence with the governments in their respective countries for better ties with India or becoming investors in India’s developmental activities. In the process, it seems to have overlooked the negative role that the diaspora could also play at times for India’s security and polity.

A section or groups of the diaspora can fund sub-nationalist or ethno-nationalist movements, which either pose a threat to national security or challenge the territorial integrity of the nation. This has been seen with the separatist movements in Kashmir, Punjab (Khalistan movement), and Tamil Nadu (LTTE activities). Fundamentalist Islamic elements abroad have tried to foment communal riots in many parts from time to time. In fact, the hostile diaspora has funded many disruptive activities.

However, it may be noted that these aspects of the diaspora are not unique to India. These are equally true with other countries too. In some cases, these are more severe than what one has seen in India.

For instance, the Irish-American community has always had a profound impact on the politics and economy in both Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. They were the main funder of the now-defunct Irish Republican Army that was very active in pursuing Northern Ireland’s secession from the United Kingdom.

In fact, the Irish-Americans were behind the so-called McBride legislation that sought to prohibit American companies from investing in any corporation or company in Northern Ireland that did not employ at least 50% Catholics. Mercifully, it was not adopted by the US Congress.

Another example is the case of the Yugoslav conflict in the 1990s when most extreme Croatian paramilitary leaders were from the Croatian diaspora abroad, particularly from London where the Kosovo exiles were heavily involved in drugs and crime.

However, the most important development that has taken place in the diaspora – politics in recent years, particularly those belonging to democracies, is that the diaspora is no longer a monolithic community. As in their countries of origin, they pursue varying political preferences and it is quite evident that many of them do not approve of the government of the day there and its policies.

As has been seen in the case of American Jews, no longer one does witness them saying and supporting Israel, come what may. “My country Israel, but not right and wrong” is no longer relevant for the American Jews.

With Israel’s identity or existence no longer vulnerable, Israeli politics, as is normal with any democracy, is increasingly getting divided. There is no consensus among the Israelis now even on the most basic questions such as borders, who is a Jew, the role of religion, the status of non-Jews, and so on.

They do not even agree on how ultimately the country should resolve the issue with the Palestinians, including the Palestinians who are Israeli citizens. With such division within Israel, it is not surprising why many American Jews and establishments (including the media) do criticize, that too vehemently, what the Israeli government of the day does.

And this is precisely happening with India too. With the consolidation of India’s democracy and the strengthening of its liberalized economy, there are varying voices, which, in turn, are reflected in the Indian diaspora. If the Modi government’s farm laws and other policies have evoked differences within the country, it is a normal phenomenon if the diaspora in the Americas and Europe do reflect them, whether directly or indirectly.

But such critical voices from the diaspora need not be seen as a big source of worry. India is strong enough to cope with harsh words from the diaspora. Its security forces are too strong to deal with the foreign-funded agitators. In fact, analysts point out that Modi’s support-base among the diaspora remains as formidable as his popularity within the country, notwithstanding the ongoing farmers’ protests.

A recent survey shows that though a significant number of Indian-Americans do not like Modi, they are still in minority, with the majority still loving Modi and deeply committed to India and its causes. There is thus no need to overreact to what some western celebrities and the relatives of western politicians say.

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Prakash Nanda
Author and veteran journalist Prakash Nanda has been commenting on Indian politics, foreign policy on strategic affairs for nearly three decades. A former National Fellow of the Indian Council for Historical Research and recipient of the Seoul Peace Prize Scholarship, he is also a Distinguished Fellow at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies. He has been a Visiting Professor at Yonsei University (Seoul) and FMSH (Paris). He has also been the Chairman of the Governing Body of leading colleges of the Delhi University. Educated at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, he has undergone professional courses at Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy (Boston) and Seoul National University (Seoul). Apart from writing many monographs and chapters for various books, he has authored books: Prime Minister Modi: Challenges Ahead; Rediscovering Asia: Evolution of India’s Look-East Policy; Rising India: Friends and Foes; Nuclearization of Divided Nations: Pakistan, Koreas and India; Vajpayee’s Foreign Policy: Daring the Irreversible. He has written over 3000 articles and columns in India’s national media and several international dailies and magazines. CONTACT: prakash.nanda@hotmail.com