By Prof Mathew C Ninan
Aug 29: We are legitimately proud of Indians making a name in the world outside. The moment a person of Indian origin comes into the limelight anywhere in the world, we are quick to acknowledge it and feel proud of it. The latest in the pantheon of Indian heroes is Kamala Harris. Most Indians would like to see her elected the Vice President of USA, the first woman to hold the office in American history. That’s the level of our total identification with one of our ilk who lives abroad. This special favour, of course, is limited to those living in other countries.
Kamala had made a name as Attorney General of California before becoming the running mate of Joe Biden. She is certainly not the first Indian to hog the limelight in the political arena of other countries. In the US itself we have veterans like Bobby Jindal and Nikki Haley who became Governors of States. They too are potential nominees to the high offices of President or Vice President. Sam Arora, Joy Cherian, and Rohit Khanna are a few prominent names among many others.
The UK also has a respectable Indian presence with Rishi Sunak as Chancellor of Exchequer, and Priti Patel as an MP. Swaraj Paul and Keith Vaz were MPs for long, to name a few. Then there are scores of politicians in key positions in Britain.
There are 18 Sikhs in the Canadian Parliament, 5 more than in India. The Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, known for his witty repartees, told an American audience that he has more Sikhs in his cabinet than his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi. It must be recalled that Sikhs form only around 2% in both the countries.
We have many distinguished politicians all over the world with an Indian connection, some distant and some quite close. The fact of the matter is that we do not worry if the connection is near or far, as long as there is at least a tenuous link. Then we can claim credit for it. That is the kind of ‘nationalist affinity’ we have towards our fellow-Indians especially when they become famous in an alien land.
Barring the Middle-east monarchies, with no chance for any foreigner to be in government, many countries of the world have some Indian presence or the other in their political system. This is more pronounced in countries having democratic systems of governance.
Talented Indians have such acceptance abroad obviously because of a certain cosmopolitan outlook in those countries. Such an inclusive culture is the way of the new world. What is our position in this regard?
We hear about a new nationalism that is emerging now, whose contours are ambiguous. It appears to be different from patriotism. Patriotism is love of one’s country, plain and simple. If nationalism means love of one’s own country (read one’s own kind of people) with a corresponding hatred towards others, it is something we could do without. What is clear is that narrow nationalism is against the spirit of cosmopolitanism. It will be the every negation of a common humanity. It will militate against the spirit of globalization which is the avowed objective of all forward-looking nations of the world, including India. Narrow boundaries are anathema to the modern citizen of the world. A borderless world is their ultimate dream.
When the world at large has an inclusive culture, where do we stand? How many people with an alien descent are in our parliament? This is something we need to ponder over. What’s our position with regard to people of foreign descent becoming Indian citizens and occupying positions in the government?
We have had a huge debate on the Citizenship Amendment Bill which is waiting for Rajya Sabha approval to make it a full-fledged Act. It just means that we are inhospitable, if not entirely hostile to the immigration of people from outside our borders. USA, Canada, Australia and many of the European countries do have a large population of immigrants. Indians form a sizable proportion of immigrants in all these countries. We have no qualms about applauding successful people of Indian origin in these countries but we ourselves will not tolerate anybody with the remotest of foreign connection in our scheme of things. Here lies the dichotomy of our thinking, bordering on hypocrisy.
Many of the countries cited above not only have a more liberal immigration policy, but also allow immigrants to participate in their democratic process and occupy positions of power. They believe that talent should be welcomed from all corners of the world, and that’s how a country prospers. Exclusivity constricts and limits, while inclusivity widens growth and prosperity.
The time has come to think of the amazing possibilities of universal brotherhood and global citizenship to realize the dream of a world that Tagore visualised.
‘Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;
Where knowledge is free;
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls.’
Prof Mathew C Ninan is Director, Little Rock Institute for Educational Leadership, Udupi.