India and the Indian diaspora post Leicester and Birmingham: Besieged and uncertain

Though no one died, incidents in Leicester and Birmingham have caused understandable alarm and exposed some fault lines

Gautam Sen September 29, 2022 12:05:09 IST
India and the Indian diaspora post Leicester and Birmingham: Besieged and uncertain

The tension, which started after India beat Pakistan in an Asia Cup game. Image courtesy Twitter

Events in the British Midlands of the past week have made one wonder about the fate of people of Indian origin abroad and India’s place in the contemporary world. Nothing very serious has actually happened in Leicester and Birmingham in the past week, nobody died, but it has caused understandable alarm and exposed some fault lines.

These communal fissures have always existed but not something to be mentioned in polite company. It is like the counterpart fiction that Islamophobia is the real underlying reason why many Muslims in the West are disaffected and some get angry enough to occasionally plant lethal bombs. What the terrorist bombers actually say even as they carry out terrorist mass murder is studiously ignored, partly because the bitter motivation they themselves proclaim is hard to countenance and their alleged victimhood is now an accepted truism. Their claim that they are carrying out the will of Allah is too politically incendiary to acknowledge and the blame imputed to Western foreign policy in Muslim lands for their actions even harder still to admit.

However, the contingent cause of the essentially Muslim violence last week was possibly a peace march by relatively recent Indian-origin immigrants from Diu Daman, reportedly complaining of Pakistani intimidation. These migrants have supposedly entered the UK on Portuguese passports, as EU citizens, through subterfuge according to the local Member of Parliament. She was convicted recently in a criminal case and expelled from the Labour Party and is a hard Left decrier of alleged Hindu extremism though elected by gullible Hindu voters. The Hindu supporters of MP Claudia Webbe are mainly East African Asians and largely uninvolved in the recent events of the two cities though likely to have been its victims.

A Bengali academic from a third-tier Leicester university put forward the usual Leftist bhadralok view that the violence was due, ultimately, to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s abhorrent policies, which incited unruly Hindus to provoke. No proof of the libelous allegation of local Hindu culpability was put forward and the evidence is already pointing firmly in another direction. However, the official inquiry announced will likely feel obliged to contrive a degree false equivalence between the two communities by apportioning some blame to Hindus, with typical politically convenient British chicanery. Besides, upsetting Muslims is rightly dreaded as extremely impolitic and unwise.

People across the world should feel a deep sense of gratitude to the hapless Indian prime minister for shouldering the burden of so many global mishaps. He barely escaped liability for Covid though it was an event of sufficiently calamitous consequence for an attempt to be made to somehow implicate him and there was indeed an audacious conspiracy to do so. Of course the accusers were Indian diaspora social scientists of Oxbridge or American Ivy League pedigree. Which interested party in the background covertly serves up to them the periodic menu of abuse against Narendra Modi and the accursed civilisation he presumes to represent calls for WikiLeaks exposure. One Bengali gentleman from Oxford University recently advocated China invade India to remove Narendra Modi from power, a sentiment adopted later by Sikhs for Justice. Of course the only historical global grouping that has been at it to subvert Hindu India for several centuries are the evangelists. They have manfully sought to save the indigenous everywhere from idolatry and have acquired full CIA and MI6 support for their continuing enterprise in the contemporary world.

However, it does remain mystifying how easy it is to continually mobilise Indian Ivy League and Oxbridge social scientists, almost to a man and woman, to effectively advocate the annihilation of the ancient civilisaiton of their ancestors, who have unconscionably survived the trauma of virtual physical and comprehensive intellectual enslavement for centuries. One recalls the forlorn petition of hundreds from the hallowed portals of American academia demanding Silicon Valley boycott India’s digitisation programme when Narendra Modi visited the US to promote it. I wrote the counter petition pointing out India’s digitisation programme preceded Narendra Modi’s accession to power and its potential benefits to the poor had been underlined before he sought to take it forward.

It is to be noted that a large cohort of anti-Hindu and anti-Modi Indian diaspora academics abroad are Bengali bhadralok, though a handsome contingent of south Indian Brahmins is also in intermittent high dudgeon.

It is not difficult to work out that the catalyst for the unreasoned Bhadrolok angst. It is due to mundane Bengali parochial resentment against north Indian dominance of national politics and the abysmal economic and moral predicament of their own state, which masquerades as commitment to revolutionary upheaval in India. In fact, it is not very different from the foundations of genocidal Dravidian hatred for all things Hindu. But on Ivy League salaries exceeding an annual $200,000+ it has been prudent for the irate Bengali babus to confine advocacy of mayhem in India to libelous petitions.

Indians, often driven from pillar to post in foreign lands, quickly exhibit a remarkable amnesia about their fate, leaving behind their dead and wounded to start afresh and achieve professional and financial success elsewhere. The professional and financial advance of such outsiders, especially of the wrong colour, ethnicity and idolaters to boot, seems to provoke some unease among less enterprising host communities. And Indian business communities’ resident abroad compound distaste for them with some sharp business practices and deceptions associated with small businesses operating on modest margins. This is one reason why a military coup occurred in Fiji when the Indian diaspora had the temerity to elect a government of their choice. It has now been completely forgotten that the illegal Fijian military coup enjoyed the empathy of London’s broadsheets, expressing understanding for the indigenous people against supposed Indian interlopers.

It was also Idi Amin, once London’s favourite African dictator because he overthrew the uppity nationalist Milton Obote in 1971, who expelled Indians from Uganda the following year, looted and sexually assaulted as they bribed their way to safety. In addition, it is now entirely erased from memory that the Indian refugees were unwelcome in the UK and only admitted to discharge an international legal obligation, were housed in squalid camps and racist street protests followed their settlement, indeed in cities like Leicester. Indians apparently have few friends abroad though they also become inveterate collaborators against their own community everywhere they surface for petty personal advantage, as the behavior of many in Britain amply demonstrates.

It would be appropriate to pause for moment to contextualise the fate of Indians abroad with a more positive depiction. They have, in fact, flourished everywhere they settled, from Southeast Asia and Africa to Europe and the US and even Latin America, where Indian communities are to be found. The Indian diaspora has prospered in Britain, a community of 2 percent responsible for 6 percent of national GDP. Their responsibility for criminality is so low it fails to register in national crime data, while Indian doctors keep Britain’s National Health Service afloat. The US is a particularly spectacular example of the success of Indian communities abroad though these migrants are overwhelmingly self-selected members of India’s domestic educational and social elite. They now lead some of the most important corporations in the US and are the majority heading constituents of the S&P 500. Their footprint in California’s Silicon Valley as entrepreneurs and professionals is too well-known to merit mention.

People of Indian origin also have a significant presence is premier science research institutions like the space agency NASA to say nothing of American universities. Of course there are other highly successful communities settled in the US, from Korea, China, Japan and elsewhere and India has a sizeable population that cannot but produce a large pool of talent. Alas, Indians in the US are also propelling Chinese science and technology working in their enterprises as mere employees. By contrast, it is the Chinese who have been successful in capturing the entire value chain of entrepreneurial activity through ownership patterns and interpenetration with giant nationalist corporations. India has neither a national policy nor any notable success in dominating such lucrative value chains.

Despite all the self-doubt and unfulfilled dreams Indian citizens are relatively secure in a world of perennial turmoil and human suffering. The most populous country in the world, China, is truly a horrific place to live in, its huge material advances notwithstanding. Political repression and complete lack of freedom are the norm and crass material aspirations have driven life out the human soul in China. The Middle East is a place of death and destruction, with no country escaping the travails of conflict and economic collapse. A great many African countries are unstable and encounter internal conflict and contemporary Rwanda’s success was preceded by an unparalleled genocide of its Tutsi people.

Latin America also has more than its fair share of troubles, with intermittent economic collapse owing to unsustainable indebtedness though Argentina, so richly endowed with natural resources, was wealthier than Italy in the 1930s. India’s neighbourhood is currently experiencing a distressing economic collapse, which is partly the outcome of chronic misgovernment and the seduction of China’s costly belt and road initiative loans. In addition, some of the world’s dominant economies, including China and the US, are exhibiting signs of long-term structural dislocation and financial disjuncture and others, like the UK, Spain, Italy, Greece, are facing forbidding policy challenges and their people severe socioeconomic distress.

By contrast, India is fortunate to be one of the fastest growing economies of the world and government spending on welfare has reached welcome unprecedented heights. Its future prospects are very encouraging despite severe domestic and external security challenges and the $10 trillion GDP goal is achievable and $5 trillion indubitably so in the near future. The government’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic was astonishingly adept given the sheer scale of the task and complex variability of geographical terrain. Indian infrastructure development, the one essential dimension of progress, is advancing apace under a hugely capable minister with an indomitable spirit of optimism.

Recent evidence suggests the Indian economy is undergoing a profound structural transformation; the new is overtaking the old and there is pain, always associated with new beginnings. The number of unicorns developing in India is impressive and something major is surely afoot. The bold and thoughtful attempt to reform Indian agriculture has, hopefully, only been postponed. But India is also undergoing a massive domestic political transition, consigning some well-established players to history and that is prompting self-destructive no-holds-barred dissent. Sadly, the losers show no respect for the democratic prerogative of an elected incumbent government to implement policy and take to the streets to cause chaos.

In the end, the real strength of India lies in its ancient culture, which is to mostly live and let live and an instinct of forgetfulness and forgiving though these are not invariably positive sentiments. Its institutions do indeed creak and often rightly provoke despair, but they prevent decision-makers from embarking on dramatic policy gestures like Mao’s catastrophic Great Leap Forward in the late 1950s or Sri Lanka’s Mahinda Rajapaksa’s hugely consequential misguided bio-fertiliser policy recently and eager acceptance of Chinese loans. India is apt to make serial smaller errors, but they are usually remediable and less costly.

The most ambitious recent policy was demonetisation in 2017 that, at worst, cost the economy 2 percent of GDP. However, India does indeed have a system of multiple checks and balances that do frustrate and slow the pace of change. The courts are periodically arrayed against the government, the administrative apparatus wayward and the regions in perpetual revolt, but, as a result, India’s rulers cannot advance with hasty ambitions unchallenged into the dangers of the unknown.

In sum, though unduly purposive and rapid advance are usually absent in India and although Narendra Modi is seeking to quicken the pace somewhat, the Indian tortoise moves forward slowly even as it stumbles. It is not an impatient hare that exposes itself to potential fatal injury by jumping headlong into a watercourse.

The writer taught international political economy for more than two decades at the London School of Economics and Political Science. Views expressed are personal.

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