Not a day passes when one isn’t reminded about the honour and responsibility of being Indian. Drive around the city you live in, chances are you will soon spot a massive fluttering Indian flag; go to the cinema hall and you now have to stand to the national anthem; catch the evening news on TV, and the national interest (read anti-Pakistan, support for the Indian Army, the need to buy top-notch arms, shouting down Indians who seek peace or are in conflict with the state etc) dominates the airwaves.
The slogans are everywhere — Proud India. I love my India. Buy Indian. Make in India. Bharat Mata Ki Jai. Anyone who chooses to disagree with this narrative — or tries to even tackle the shades of grey — is branded “anti-national”, “traitor” and worse by an army of trolls and by equally foul-mouthed TV anchors.
This nationalism can be partly explained by India seeking to assert itself at the global stage. India has one of the largest economies in the world now, but punches below its weight (for instance, while Russia’s economy is smaller than India’s the world takes ‘big bear’ Putin far more seriously than ‘bear-hug’ Modi). It is also fueled by testosterone: a young nation that has no idea about the horrors of war (for who reads history?) will naturally get excited by tough stances, gleaming weapons.
God knows where all this pumped up patriotism (and drum beating) will take us. Moreover, a closer look at those who are making the most noise reveals some disturbing contradictions. These should make us pause and reflect. And also ask important questions, like who benefits from this surcharged atmosphere? Why is the role of the government in our lives increasing by the day? What is this noise distracting us from?
Fact is, the most vociferous backers of the ‘Indian nationalism club’ are not insisting on citizenship for membership. They feel that one does not have to hold an Indian passport to feel love for the country or to want to serve it.
It is well-known that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s phenomenal rise to power has been funded by Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) and India Inc. The NRIs continue to push in huge monies into BJP coffers. Many of them give strategic insight, time, technical inputs, access and more. In fact, Modi’s takeover of social media post 2009 has been driven in large measure by support from the Indian diaspora.
NRIs are indeed entitled to feel proud (or upset about) about India. They can definitely “help build a new country’. But make no mistake: the reverse brain drain of NRIs into Indian cities is not driven by patriotism — the markets, jobs, opportunities, growth are all here. It makes strategic sense to follow the money. You can justify investments by a sense of patriotism, but everyone knows a fool and his money will soon part.
However well-meaning it may be, the truth is this tribe doesn’t have a personal stake in the country’s future (for the record, some of my favourite people are Indians overseas). If tomorrow, there is (God forbid) a war between India and Pakistan (or even China) guess who will be on the first flights out, green passports and Green Cards in hand?Already, the top echelons of India Inc has citizenship in Singapore, Dubai, Cyprus and other safe havens.
In any case, citizenship is a commodity. Read this fascinating report by BBC about how easy it is to buy citizenship for a price. That’s why it is not surprising that India tops the list of origin countries that seeks foreign citizenship. In 2015, some 1.3 lakh expatriate Indians got citizenship of OECD member countries.
In intent, this state of affairs applies uniformly across India’s rich and upper middle-class. Nine times out of ten, the “Uncle and Aunty” in the park will have somebody they know — children or siblings or nephews and nieces or an uncle etc — who are citizens overseas. They too have an escape route. So “Uncle and Aunty” who seek (sorry, demand) muscular leadership actually have no vested personal stake in the country’s future. A couple of houses and many bank accounts do not count: in most cases the next generation is out of the country, or is cocooned in a gated complex with all the essentials taken care off.
To be sure, Indians have been seeking greener pastures overseas for decades now. In fact, an increasing number of children are leaving India to study abroad right after school. Many now come back to India to work, but in reality form another strata — rootless in a sense, neither here nor there.
The difference now is that a disconnected elite is driving the agenda in India, by influencing politicians, funding media, working through powerful think tanks and pumping up patriotism. So while the defense companies benefit (check out the who’s who of India Inc setting up joint ventures galore) and the TV channels gain more TRPs. the really back-breaking part of nation building (jobs, health, education) gets less priority.
As a nation, we seem mesmerized by the sound of our new assertive voice. It is important for us to remember that he who pays the piper, calls the tune.