The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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There were only a very few contrary voices at the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas celebrations in New Delhi. Incidentally, they were both female and expressed similar concerns — how India has treated its minority communities in the recent past. Ms Nadira Naipaul questioned the home minister about the extent to which Muslims and secularists were also considered part of the Indian diaspora in the eyes of the Indian state. Ms Naipaul’s query was provoked by an eminent non-resident Indian’s impassioned image from the Ramayana: Hanuman tearing open his chest to show Ram and Sita embedded in his heart. She was assured by the home minister that India would never become a theocracy and that Gujarat was an “aberration”. Ms Devasmita Patnaik’s comment was addressed more directly to Mr Narendra Modi. It expressed open outrage at the extent to which the post-Godhra genocide was left out of the chief minister’s golden vision of an investor-friendly Gujarat. She had perhaps not bargained for Mr Modi’s reply that he thought “the same” as her about the matter. This incident also revealed the divisions within NRIs on this issue. Ms Patnaik, together with the few who spoke up for her, forms a minority within the Indian diaspora who could be talked down in no time at all.

It has now become accepted wisdom that only an apolitical and unified India could persuade NRIs to invest their wealth in its development. Bengal — understandably and quite justifiedly — continues to provide the best example of politics coming in the way of such development. Very few would question the nuisance value of bandhs. But the NRI meet in the capital has projected a vision of “development” — particularly in the prime minister’s inaugural address — which equates a “positive image” of India with the complete absence of any accountability to an international community (and its institutions of justice) regarding the political practices and principles on which the nation may be unified. What seems to be at stake here is no less than what the prime minister calls the “the reality on the ground”. The truth about India must be kept apart from propaganda — “sterile controversies and trivial issues” — largely manufactured by “the headlines”. A forum awash with nationalist sentiment and buzzing with business plans will naturally look askance at disruptive politicking, thankfully confined here to two female voices. The sangh parivar and its overseas friends have finally risen above politics.

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