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Weekly Column by Ravi Dutt Bajpai

Ravi Dutt Bajpai,  Weekly Column No. 1005/2014


Modi down under: Indian Diaspora in the land of wonder

He had conquered even before he had come and seen, the Indian diaspora in Australia would have happily welcomed any Indian Prime Minister’svisit down under,the fact that it was NarendraModi, the felicitations and celebrations were well and truly over-the-top. However, the fanatical admiration and massive public adulationofNarendraModi was not without reasons. Firstly the Non-resident Indian community in Australia has endured an exile of 28 years exactly twice the duration borne by Rama in the epic Ramayana, for an Indian Prime Minister to finally call on them. Secondly, like other emigrant communities, the expatriate Indians keenly follow the news emanating from their land of origin, sadly for a considerable length of time most of the news coming from India has been extremely demoralizing. These disheartening news stories from India are then splashed across the local news media, which the expatriate community finds quite confronting.Thirdly like most other emigrant communities, the expatriate Indians are very sensitive towards any real or perceived sense of ethnic-racial-religious discrimination against them.Unfortunately in the last few years there have been severalinstances of attacks on Indian students in Australia. The very fact that the visiting Indian Prime Minister happened to be NarendraModi, the lionized icon of Indian middle class, the class from which most of Indian diaspora emerge, elevated a usually bland state visit of a foreign dignitary to an absolute frenzy only reserved for rock stars.

 NarendraModi’s visit to Australia can be considered quite successful in achieving some major diplomatic-strategic milestones to advance India’s ‘look east’ now renamed ‘act east’ policy. However a major spinoff of Modi’s Australia trip has been his ability to mobilize the local Indian communityto unite and form a strong emotional bond with Modiand with each other.The charm offensive unleashed during Indian prime minister’s most recent visit to the United States has already emphasized his profile as a major crowd puller and an iconic figure for the Indian diaspora. Australians of Indian origin were preparing to match their American counterpart and createa glittering Modi mania down under as well. During his visit to Australia, the Indian prime minster always managed to attract a large number of overexcited people of Indian diaspora in his public events, prompting local media to call his public reception as ‘rock star welcome’.

 Modi’slarger than life image could well be the flow on effect of Modi’s domestic popularity being projected upon the international stage by the overseas Indian communities. It is true that the Indian middle class has celebrated NarendraModi as the savior of Indian ideals (Hindu ideals), the defender of national interests (majority interests), a catalyst of economic growth (corporate growth) and the facilitator of good governance (hassle free administration). The majority of Indian diaspora in the world including Australia comprises of people drawn from the Indian middle class hence Modi’s popularity among these people should not come as a complete surprise. However, the demographic composition of Indian diaspora alone does not fully explain the deluge of adorationtowards NarendraModi. There are several other factors driving Indian diaspora’s near veneration of NarendraModi, some of these factors may be traced in sociological and psychological aspects of living as an expatriate community.

 Most of the overseas Indians believe in nationalism, however, their nationalism comprises of two halves, psychological-cultural affinity to their land of origin and political-social-economic affinity to their land of choice. The psychological affinity drives diaspora’s craving for hopeful and promising news from India or about India, unfortunately for a considerable length of time the news from India has been consistently disappointing. The headlines from India may be branded ‘the banality of corruption’;it has been anunending procession of scams, each one outdoing its predecessor in terms of audacity, quantity and impunity. No aspects of Indian society be it politics, administration, business, education, sports, media and even highest judiciary was left untarnished by the specter of corruption. The lack of governance had emboldened the savages to indulge in criminal activities and unleash violence against women in a brutal manner;Nirbhaya’s murder in Delhi, Badayun rape and murder of two sisters outraged the entire world. The continued violence against women deeply affected the psychological-cultural affinity of the Indian diaspora; specifically it exposed the inherent depravity in the glorious civilizational-cultural narrative about India. The magnificenceof Indian cultural heritage is one of the most dominant narratives that NRI’s are too keen to peddle and gloat in their misplaced sense of cultural superiority. The continual violence against women in India also rendered the diaspora vulnerable to stereotyping in Australia, most women (including Indian women) would try to avoid any interaction with Indian men, while Indian women were supposed to feel obliged for being allowed to live in a safe and secure Australia.

 Despite its commitment to multiculturalism and rapid advances made in overall Australian society to accommodate ethnic-racial differences, the undercurrents of racial tensionsdo surface intermittently and on occasions these racial tensions lead to racial violence as well. The attacks on Indian students in the last few years has threatened andfrustrated the Indian diaspora in equal measures. In 2009, NarendraModi as the chief minister of the state of Gujarat had requested the visiting Australian delegation to ensure the safety of Indian students. The ongoing war in Middle East has attracted some Australian Muslims to join the ‘Islamic State’ organization; this has caused tremendous outrage in the dominant ethnic group of theAustralian community. On some occasions this outrage takes the form of ethnic-racial attacks on people who have markedly different appearances from the typical Caucasian looks. Indian, South East Asian and people from Middle East have similar appearance and thus, some people from Indian diaspora have also been victims of these attacks.

 NarendraModi epitomizes the quest of vigorous leadership for the upwardly mobile Indian community within India and beyond, a leader, who is energetic, decisive, honest, hard working, eloquent and self-sacrificing. NarendraModi’s resume ticks most of these boxes in theleadership wish list of Indian diaspora; the idea that Modiis quite popular and admired among his peers has enhanced his aura even further. When NarendraModi was addressing a boisterous buoyant crowd at the Allphones arena in Sydney, one could see the presence of large number of Tibetan flagsamong the people, a sight that would have certainly thrilled the Indian Prime minister. NarendraModi demonstrated the very best of his famous eloquence in his address to the Australian parliament. The Indian prime minister made an impressive speech in English without looking at the prepared text, and used typical Aussie metaphors like ‘shirt fronting’ to have his audience in splits. The Australian media provided appreciative coverage to NarendraModi’s visit and the personal bonhomie between the two Prime Ministers was very heartening for the Indian diaspora. The Indian expatriate community in Australia has waited for a long time to bask in their moment of glory; NarendraModi’s growing profile in the international communityhas been their deliverance from ignominy.

( Ravi Dutt Bajpai is currently pursuing a Masters in International Relations at Deakin University, Melbourne. He is associated with the Institute for Post Colonial Studies in Melbourne and is a regular social and political commentator with the Hindi daily, Prabhat Khabar, published from Bihar and Jharkhand. With expertise on China, India and Australia in world/Asian politics, he is a regular commentator on Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) in Hindi in Australia. Email id:  bajpai.ravibajpai@gmail.com. )

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