Pravasi Bhartiya Divas extravaganza: Hindutva Inc. Goes Global

-An Observer

On the face of it the recent Pravasi Bharatiya Divas extravaganza had all the hallmarks of a long established pattern of interaction between the Indian bourgeoisie and its overseas counterparts. There were the familiar exhortations to do more for the homeland on one side and on the other a familiar combination of sentimentality with a litany of complaints about the inefficiency, inadequacy and ineptitude of all things Indian. Yet one needs to only scratch the surface to find that the unprecedented official recognition of the role of the Pravasi Bharatiya is yet another symptom of the twin forces today consuming the country, global capital and Hindutva.

In terms of globalisation, the connection was of course quite explicit, with Jaswant Singh using the occasion to announce further liberalisation of foreign exchange transactions, even as Vajpayee piously intoned that ‘we do not want your riches, we want the richness of your experience’. NRIs are a potential source of foreign direct investment which is why, as South African Fatima Meer put it, it is the NRIs in the ‘dollar and pound countries’ who are transparently of the most interest to the government. But all the overblown rhetoric about a ‘partnership between the children of Mother India’ barely masked the fact that NRI capital, like any other section of global capital, is demanding -- and getting -- terms and conditions which will only strip India further of its assets and resources.

In this context the government’s oft-repeated hopes of emulating the Chinese and Israeli experiences with their ‘diasporas’ are in different ways particularly inappropriate. As far as Israel is concerned, there are obvious parallels between the repressive and chauvinistic pro-US states of India and Israel, and between the ideologies of Zionism and Hindutva. But the idea that the Jewish diaspora has its roots in the state of Israel (and consequently that all Jews are financially supporting Israel) is to legitimise the Zionist myth. In the case of China, there is the much greater financial clout of the overseas Chinese communities who are economically dominant in several countries. But more importantly, as in other admiring assessments of China’s economic performance by the Indian ruling class, China’s ability to make the most of the overseas Chinese contribution is not acknowledged to have anything to do with China’s many decades of socialism.

But if the Indian economy stands to gain little from NRI capital if current economic policies are maintained, the same cannot be said of the saffron brigade. Ironically, it is the Sangh Parivar with its constant evocation of a (fabricated) Indian ‘tradition’ which constitutes the most globalised political force India has yet seen. Today the Sangh Parivar has come to rely on the moral - and more importantly material - support of the so-called diaspora which, as has been well-documented, runs into millions of dollars (see reports in Liberation, October 2002 and January 2003). The fact that the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas was intended to recognise the contribution not simply of Indians abroad but of Sangh Parivar supporters abroad was reflected in the composition of the invitees: look beyond the public figures (a handful of whom did challenge the Hindutva agenda of the gathering) and successful businessmen, and we find that the ‘ordinary people’ present, the ‘sub-postmaster from north London’ or ‘IT consultant from Phoenix’ were largely hand-picked Sangh Parivar supporters and fundraisers.

Hardly suprising then that Vajpayee should echo the hate-funders’ hero Narendra Modi in his inaugural address. While the latter had railed against the domestic media for slandering Gujarat, the Prime Minister bemoaned the ‘bad press’ that the whole of India gets in the rest of the world where ‘isolated acts of crime and violence dominate the headlines’, and urged those present to set the situation right, presumably by intensifying the current blanket denial of state orchestration of the Gujarat genocide by Sangh Parivar sympathisers abroad. It is significant too, though perhaps predictable, that while Vajpayee urged Indians abroad to overcome linguistic divisions and strengthen the broader Indian identity, there was no mention of bridging communal divisions in this process. The identity that NRIs are to strengthen is implicitly a Hindu one. His words of guidance fit neatly with what is actually happening in Britain for example where Gujarati Hindus have a virtual monopoly on the term ‘Indian’ and the government is promoting the idea of ‘faith communities’.

As the announcement of dual citizenship for ‘Persons of Indian Origin’ in advanced capitalist countries alone made all too plain, the Indian communities in the Caribbean, Africa and South East Asia, many of whom are the descendants of indentured labourers, are very much seen as second-class NRIs today. In fact the model for ‘Indianness’ on show last month also excludes the experiences of working-class Indians in Britain and North America, and the struggles they have fought against state racism and for basic rights in those countries.

It is these struggles and their continuation today in new forms which form the basis on which a very different link between India and the ‘diaspora’ can be strengthened and developed - a link between the revolutionary left in India and the progressive sections of South Asian communities abroad, built upon a shared determination to resist fascism, communalism, imperialism and war. q