Modi opens a goodies bag and doors to India for Diaspora

Letter from New Delhi

Opening a bag of goodies for NRIs, Modi opened the doors of India to wildly cheering Indian Americans in New York

In his first direct address to the Indian Diaspora, Prime Minister Narendra Modi opened the doors of India for their active inter-action. After outlining the challenges and opportunities in India, he ended his landmark address in New York’s Madison Square Garden with some long awaited goodies for them:

1. Holders of PIO (person of Indian Origin) Cards would get lifelong visas instead of a 15-years’ visa.

2. People staying in India for a long period would not have to report to their local police stations.

3. PIOs with Non-Indian spouses will not face problems.

4. PIO and OIC (Overseas Indian Citizen) cards will be merged with a modified new system. The OIC card allows a lifelong visa for PIOs.

5. US tourists will be given visa on arrival in a few months. This was announced in the budget.

6. Visa delays will be reduced by expanding their outsourcing services. This is to redress a long standing complaint of PIOs.

After announcing these measures, he asked, “Happy?”

While most of these measures were loudly cheered, especially the lifelong visa for PIO cardholders, no visits to police stations and reducing visa delays, the merger of PIO and IC cards is not widely welcomed as per recent media reports. The merger of two cards will create great confusion and the rationale of creating a new card is not widely understood, claims a spokesman for Global Organisation of People of Indian Origin (GOPIO). The OIC card helps PIOs to connect emotionally with their land of origin. The Indian Constitution does not allow dual citizenship but OIC card is a unique step by the government and just another name for lifelong visa, claims GOPIO.

This process has already started with a new bill to replace these two cards with a new one. The bill has been passed by the upper house and will be debated in the lower house. So it remains to be seen what shape the new system acquires.

The other hot issue which the Prime Minister did not touch was the voting system for Indian citizens living abroad as they can now vote only if they come personally to their constituencies. In this age of electronic communications, and the fact that India is a super IT power, it should be quite simple to devise a method of electronic balloting at all Indian missions abroad.

Overall, the Diaspora had plenty to roar during Modi’s speech and by God, they did! Enthralled, a rapturous crowd shouting ‘Moo-dee’, ‘Moo-dee’ with ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’ at the end, Modi invited the Diaspora to keep one foot in India. He started off by thanking his supporters who had contributed and travelled to India to work during his campaign. He paid a glowing tribute to their hard work in USA which resulted in their success. Pointing out the future, he said, Mahatma Gandhi made the freedom struggle a mass movement. Let’s make development a mass movement.

He invoked Gandhi a number of times in his 45-minute speech in involving each and every Indian in freedom fight by working hard and honestly at his job and keeping everything clean. Mahatma Gandhi never compromised on cleanliness. “He gave us freedom. We should pay tribute to him by delivering a Clean India,” said Modi.

He tugged their heartstrings when he said, “I have reached here by selling tea. I am a very small person… I am small that is why I have the intent to do big things for small people.” — his reply to people who ask him to talk of his “bada vision” (big vision).”

His refrain of India’s 3Ds – democracy, demography and demand – came over loud and clear to position India as the future of development. Ending on a high note, he declared, “There is no reason to be disappointed. India will progress very fast and the skills of our youth will take India ahead.”

* * *

Will the real Gandhi stand up in Sir Ben Kingsley?

With Indian DNA and African roots, no wonder the actor excelled

Indian origin and Africa roots connect Mahatma Gandhi and the actor who played his role in the epic film of his name. On Gandhi’s birthday, 2 October, this is an interesting Indian-Africa link to explore as Sir Ben Kingsley’s father came to Britain from Kenya. What’s more, his name at birth was – hold your breath! – Krishna Pandit Bhanji.

Kingsley’s father, Rahimtulla Harji Bhanji, was born in Kenya. A Gujarati Indian Ismaili Muslim, Rahimtulla was a qualified doctor. Kingsley’s paternal grandfather was a spice trader who had moved from India to Zanzibar, where Kingsley’s father lived until moving to Britain at the age of 14.

Kingsley was born in Britain and his mother, Anna Lyna Mary was an actress and a fashion model who appeared in films in the 1920s and 1930s. Kingsley began acting as a teenager. He changed his name to ‘Ben Kingsley’ soon after gaining fame as a stage actor, fearing that a foreign name could hamper his acting career. He chose Ben as a tribute to his father, who had been called Ben in college.

Kingsley worked fairly consistently in television since 1966, joined the Royal Shakespeare Company a year later and made a name for him on stage. He had only one film, ‘Fear is the Key’ to his credit when he landed the leading role in Richard Attenborough’s ‘Gandhi’ released in 1982. This universally acclaimed role was to rocket his career path to greatness as he won the Oscar for the best actor.

Like Mahatma Gandhi, Ben returned to his roots in India to act in this epic film. He put in a lot of effort to prepare for his role by watching documentaries of Gandhi, losing weight, shaving his head, sleeping on a mat on the floor of his five-star hotel room, learning how to sit on the floor, how to work on the spinning wheel, among other preparations. He actually lived the part by giving up alcohol and meat during this time. It was so thorough that when he dressed up as Gandhi and went to visit a village location for a shooting stint, a crowd gathered and mistook him for the real Gandhi and actually touched his feet! He was overwhelmed.

All this came gradually and after hard work. He spent three months learning how to work the spinning wheel as he struggled with threads that kept entangling. He hired a yoga teacher to learn how to sit on the floor like Gandhi. Once he was having a beer in the bar of Delhi’s Ashoka Hotel where he was staying and someone objected how Gandhi could drink. So he stopped drinking alcohol until the film was over.

All this was amply rewarded with the accolades he received not only for this but for other equally outstanding performances. He is also known for his performances in the films Schindler’s List (1993), Sexy Beast (2000), Lucky Number Slevin (2006), Shutter Island (2010), Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010), Hugo (2011), and Iron Man 3 (2013). Besides the Oscar, he has won a Grammy, a BAFTA, two Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild awards. To top them all, he was knighted in 2002.

Recently, Hollywood compiled a list of 50 Greatest Actor Alive and Sir Ben, aged 70, is listed at number 41. His citation says it all, “Sir Ben Kingsley is an inspiration to aspiring actors: aside from being a class act, a thorough professional and skilled thespian with a collection of memorable and powerful performances, he’s also a shining example of how Hollywood stardom can be late coming. Kingsley was 38 when he appeared in ‘Gandhi’ (1982), his breakthrough role and only his second feature film credit following several years of strictly television and stage work.”

In playing his breakthrough role of Gandhi, what perhaps helped him was his Indian and African connection.

Kul Bhushan worked as a newspaper Editor in Nairobi for over three decades and now lives in New Delhi


* Published in print edition on 3 October 2014

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