Friday, January 08, 2010

Day 5: A Week Unfinished

Finally, Friday, and a sort of a conclusion of the week. It does not feel over though. If anything, it feels like a freeze, not just the physical kind. It is as if life has suddenly stopped, mid-air! The kind of weightlessness people may feel when being accelerated through the air to fall with a bang on the ground, I am feeling now.

Part of that weightlessness thing is related to the fact that I finally applied for naturalization. It was a fairly long journey over last six years, when a lot has changed in my life. It took me quite a while to come to terms with the idea of giving up my Indian citizenship and settle for the pragmatism of applying for a British passport while the doors are still open. It was difficult, but as I said earlier, I almost came to accept that passport is just paper, not identity.

But, on the same day I made the application, there was an announcement made by the Prime Minister in Pravasi Bharatiya Divas that NRIs will be able to vote in 2014 elections, raising my hope that India may allow dual citizenship. I have noted, to my disappointment, India and the Indians treat the Indian diaspora with distrust. I have in fact read [somewhere I don't recall of my head] the differences between how China treats the Chinese expats and how India treats theirs, though there are many highly successful Indian and Chinese who live outside their home country. The big expansion of Chinese 'soft power' was primarily achieved because the Chinese diaspora was far more integrated with China than India ever cared to attempt. There may be historical reasons: The Chinese diaspora was a source of investment and inspiration for freedom among Chinese, while the expatriate Indians were seen as careerist individuals least bothered for their country. I would not say that the feelings are completely untrue, but I think Indians can do better in looking at the world with less fear and more ambition than they ever did in the past.

I keep coming back to this, but I shall mention this again. I watched the debate, in 2008, in India's parliament about the Indo-US nuclear energy agreement. During that debate, Rahul Gandhi made a good speech, even tempered, balanced and weaved around stories. However, during the speech, he made an important point, which remains relevant outside the immediate context of the nuclear power debate. He said: India needs to shade its past fears and start thinking like a big country. Those fears, if you reflect on India's behaviour on the international stage, are all too apparent: A nation constantly seeking reaffirmation of its own greatness, touchy about anyone saying anything, and in constant fear of being undermined. We don't want to sign NPT, we don't want to sign Landmine bans, we don't want to curb our carbon emissions. We are always looking at the rear view mirror and expecting others to set examples for us by doing it first. We simply don't want to set examples. But, we also want the world to recognize us in the context of our past glory, we want a permanent seat in UN Security Council, we don't want to be clubbed with Pakistan all the time. In all, we keep behaving as an adolescent nation, eager to be counted among big boys, but don't want the responsibility. Rahul Gandhi was saying that it was time to grow up and fear less and act with more confidence.

I think the same insecurities play on our mind when we look at the NRIs. We want their money, so the government is doing their best to ease up the process of investment in India, but don't want them back. I noted with dismay how reverse migration to India, which peaked last year during the downturn, was received with brickbats, and how the returnees were being treated as 'traitors' to their motherland and were mocked because they had to come back. Remember, many of these people were citizens of other countries already, and their reasons to go back to India was pure economic opportunity. However, we decided to show as much chauvinism as foreigners, particularly Australians, show towards us these days.

In context, I watched the disturbing clip of a Tamilnadu policeman being hacked to death by a gang while ministerial convoys passed them by but failed to stop and the ministers stating that it was not their responsibility to intervene. I keep wondering why we feel so offended when other nations throw racist insults to us Indians while we treat our own citizens so badly in our own country, but the answer is possibly obvious. We imagine India as a middle class nation, and our deeply embedded caste prejudices allow us to exclude all but the middle class [and the civil servants and the maharajas] from our definition of India altogether.

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