By TP Saran
A strong India is good for Indians, the diaspora, and the world too. As far as the global Indian diaspora (now numbering nearly 25 million) is concerned, its hope is to see an even stronger India emerging out of the general elections whose results are due out next week. Since Prime Minister Modi assumed his post in May 2014, India has made significant progress in many areas internally. But as important if not more so has been the upstaging of its image at the global level. To a large extent this is due to the personal diplomacy of PM Modi vis-à-vis both the big and smaller powers, but also because whereas other countries have been struggling to achieve sustainable growth rates, India’s has remained consistently between 6-7% – with fluctuations of course, but that’s true for all countries. This has allowed India to be more assertive and with greater determination through a leadership imbued with a holistic vision that derives from a deep understanding of the country’s historical greatness and civilisational continuity, thus restoring to the country its dignity with a new sense of direction and purpose. That is the only way to earn the respect of its people and the world.
On the eve of what may be a new era for India, it is perhaps opportune and necessary for us to reflect on its relations with our country. So far these have rested on the solid historical association between our two countries, what with nearly 70% of our population being of Indian origin.
In this respect, two points need to be remembered. The first is that Mauritius was the first country of the mass migration of Indentured Labour from India, where the ‘Great Experiment’ was successfully field-tested as it were, starting on November 2nd 1834, before spreading to other sugar producing countries of the British Empire.
The second is that our own struggle for independence was heavily influenced and inspired by India’s fight for independence. Several of our social and political activists and leaders of that period had either studied in India, or were deeply rooted in Indian culture and had personal contact and/or friendship with some of their Indian counterparts. This no doubt played a part in the policy of mutual goodwill and support that has so far been a mainstay of our continuing solid relationship with India.
However, one cannot escape the reality that there is a generational shift in our interaction with India: the baby boomers who are at the helm of the country today do not have the same emotional ties that the previous generation of leaders had. The same is also true as regards current Indian leaders. As for the younger generation, in spite of the fact that many of them have studied in India, most likely the idea of India is separate from things Indian: one may enjoy Bollywood films and songs, like Indian food and take to other aspects of Indian culture such as clothing style, yoga and other wellness therapies, but this is not necessarily matched by a corresponding appreciation or understanding of the larger dimensions of the complex interaction between sovereign states.
The pressures of the rapidly globalizing world are such that economic and geopolitical considerations have become more of a priority in this interaction. However, from the simple import of goods and services from India in the beginning to becoming an effective conduit for channelling significant amounts of investments into India from all over the world thanks to the India-Mauritius Double Tax Avoidance Agreement (DTA), we have kept consolidating the economic relationship between the two countries. Had we gone a step further to signing and implementing the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation and Partnership Agreement between the two countries, economic relations would not have stalled at disputes over the misuse of the DTA by a few shrewd tax avoiders hailing from India. This does not mean we should not be helping India track those indulging in malpractices to her detriment. As well as doing that we could also concurrently work together at unfolding higher opportunities for both countries.
For it must never be forgotten that once we had we gained our independence, Mauritians of Indian descent have always had an unflinching attachment and affinity towards India and the essential values she stands for. This was the basis of the lasting socio-economic relationship that was crafted despite the geographical distance created by the separation, in bad times as in good. Leaders of society from across the ocean have oftentimes proclaimed the special ties which bind us together in an evolving world.
All this has taken place against the background that over the past decades, the proximity of Mauritius with India in the social, cultural, and economic spheres has gone on increasing. Many came from India to Mauritius from time to time, to lift up our drooping spirits when social well-being was at a low and the political outlook was grim, in the face of local leaders ever keen to marginalize the population of Indian descent by either pushing them down the economic ladder or by exploiting the inherent linguistic and provincial diversity of the community for personal gains. When India made progress on the international front, it struck a chord within us as something worth emulating, and keeping up the hope that we could do just as well.
We should therefore see our relationship with India in this larger perspective too, instead of the more limited emotional focus which we have tended to colour it with so far. For through the diaspora India can spread its soft influence, which is more likely to have a long-term impact than the cyclic, temporary and variable compacts and obligations that drive economic, ideological and political interests.
Our relationship with India has not changed with the circumstances. There has been an abiding conviction that India would go on progressing. Given where India was at the time of her independence and where she stands today in the league of world nations, a lot of ground has been covered that was unthinkable when she made the leap to her ‘tryst with destiny’. This is the fruit of the farsightedness of a few Indian political leaders. Despite the severe handicaps and social constraints standing in the way of social and economic progress, India took up the challenge to operate within the framework of democratic institutions, and has given the lie to the colonialists who had thought that Indians would not be able to govern themselves and India would break up.
Mauritius also has to wake up to confront the test of a more competitive and challenging global economic landscape. We are fully conscious of the fact that the ‘special relationship’ between the two sovereign states will be increasingly defined by the changing socio-economic and political developments in the two countries as well as in the global politico-diplomatic arena. This is not to say that there have been any significant changes every time an alternative political regime has been elected to power in the two democracies. Indeed, it is quite remarkable how changes in governments in India, accommodating either the Congress or the BJP, have had very little impact on the relationship between the two countries.
We have no reason to doubt that whatever the result of the Indian elections, this relationship will ever be maintained.
* Published in print edition on 17 May 2019