Among the mass of supporters of Prime Minister Narendra Modi is a huge, unseen but raucous contingent that cheers him along. No prizes for guessing who makes up this contingent. They are the Hindu NRIs, obviously not all but definitely many.
The NRIs (non-resident Indians) have given him a blank cheque of adulation, and a level of ‘bhakti’ that beats the imagination of a resident Indian. We saw that in Modi’s US visit at the beginning of his term in 2014 at New York’s Madison Square Garden, for example.
But what makes the NRIs go so crazy for Modi? And have they got it right? In today’s world, there are millions from India who are settled abroad, in all parts and in varying numbers. There is hardly a middle-class family without either a close relative or friend who works in a foreign nation. According to the latest World Bank estimate, Indian remittances were the globe’s highest at $79 billion in 2018, no less.
A large number of Indians flocked to the US and Europe after the advent of the Internet and in that sense are probably the first generation or, at the most, second. Having grown up in a Hindu-majority environment back home, the expatriates experienced a ‘minority’ feeling in countries, with the majority being Christians or Muslims.
Having been an NRI for a few years, this writer could identify with the sudden ‘loss of identity’ of fellow-Indians, particularly Hindus. Diwali would come and go ‘silently,’ Dussehra festival would pass by without any activity on the streets and so was the case with other publicly celebrated festivals like Ganesha Chaturthi.
This minority feeling over the years has been encashed surreptitiously by the RSS-BJP through its front organisations abroad. Its Hindutva project, among others, rests on the premise of ‘Hindu victimhood’ in India, and this has found immediate resonance with the NRIs who are minorities abroad. So, the argument is: if Christians are, for instance, dominant in Europe and the United States and Muslims in the Middle-East why not Hindus in India? If the Christians have a Jerusalem or Bethlehem and the Muslims have a Mecca or Medina why can’t Hindus have an Ayodhya?
All the nuanced arguments of Hinduism being different from the others have been replaced by the Sangh Parivar’s Hindutva view. And, for the NRIs struggling to assert their Hindu identity abroad, this appears to have come in handy.
Never mind whether the Hindus are actually victims in India, especially since they form around 80 per cent of the country’s population. If Hindus are in reality victimised, that must be mostly from fellow-Hindus, none else. But such logic has not bothered NRIs who see Modi as their saviour and expect him and the Sangh to take India to new heights of Hindu Rashtra.
Herein lies a wicked paradox. If the same logic that the NRI Hindutva supporters apply in the advanced countries they are living, settled, working and enjoying themselves they could be in trouble. For, as resident Indians have seen in the past five years since Modi came to office, minorities, particularly Muslims, have had to endure attacks of various kinds — from verbal to physical. Some attacks even leading to the deaths of hapless Muslims.
If something similar happens in the countries where Hindu NRIs are thriving, what would be their fate? Already we are seeing the rise of right-wing governments in Europe and Latin America with United States president Donald Trump too falling in the same bracket — akin to the BJP government in India.
As the old saying goes, ‘what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander’ too. In a different context veteran Communist leader VS Achuthanandan recently said Congress president Rahul Gandhi was cutting the branch of the tree he was sitting on. This can very well apply to Hindu NRIs, who rather than promoting secular politics and shunning communalism in their very own interest are backing a divisive force that can return to bite them in their new adopted homes.
This is not just a theoretical construct. In 2009, there was a spate of racial attacks on 23 Indians down under in Australia. Similarly there are reports of occasional racial attacks including on Indians in Russia. In the US far-right neo-Nazi groups like Proud Boys are increasing in numbers and turning violent against immigrants.
When the recent attacks on two mosques in New Zealand’s Christchurch occurred killing scores of worshippers there was a feeling among many that the white supremacist killer was only targeting Muslims. That may be so but in reality the hoi polloi in the US or Europe cannot really tell the difference between a Muslim and non-Muslim brown skin. In the aftermath of the September 9, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York, anyone who looked alien was targeted. An innocent Sikh owner of a petrol bunk, Balbir Singh Sodhi, was shot dead for no fault of his. A CNN report says hate crimes continue to this day against the community.
In India, groups affiliated to the Sangh’s ideology celebrated when Trump came to power. They probably did not realise they were backing a government that reflects a dangerous social polarisation in the US that can potentially harm minorities including Hindu NRIs.