India’s New ‘Tryst with Destiny’

A strong India is good for Indians, the diaspora, and the world too

As India completes 66 years of Independence and enters the 67th year of its ‘tryst with destiny’ proclaimed by Jawaharlal Nehru, its first Prime Minister, 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 and holding political power continuously since Independence in 1968. The only other country where people of Indian origin have held political power for any length of time is Trinidad and Tobago. 

Our own struggle for independence, like that of many other former colonies, 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 ayurvedic therapies of wellness, 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. Further, nowadays corporate interests weigh heavily in the scale, and we have seen in the recent past how the issue of the Double Taxation Agreement Treaty between India and Mauritius had been ventilated in the Indian press. On the other hand, over and above bilateral relationships, there are also regional interests that India is pursuing through, for example, the IOR Business Forum. Indian business already has a presence in Francophone Africa, and we may have to revisit our perception that Mauritius offers advantages for India in this respect.

However, if it is any comfort, there is a renewed interest in and commitment of India to the worldwide Indian diaspora which now stands at nearly 22 million. We should 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 Indian 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.

India has celebrated its 67th Independence Day under the threat of terrorist attack announced publicly in a rally in Lahore by the chief of the LeT group in Pakistan, Hafeez Said. This was shown on Indian television. The latter have also reported repeated incursions inside the LOC (Line of Control) that separates the two countries in Kashmir, with the killing of five Indian soldiers by Pakistani troops about two weeks ago. Further, there have been provocations by the Chinese in Ladakh and other areas, and the Opposition in India has accused the UPA government of taking a soft line vis-à-vis these recurrent aggressions.

The point about mentioning these incidents and the Indian response is that the Indian State is being seen as weak and wavering. This feeling is strengthened by the fact that, despite its ambition to become an Asian superpower, its rating as BRIC member is facing a fall as FDI flows into it are slowing down considerably. All countries, democratic and non-democratic, are having to fight scams, frauds, corruption scandals and so on. The list for India, with one scam every single month since January 2013 – as a comprehensive article in India Today has expounded upon recently — is particularly damning and has soiled the image of the present UPA government considerably. Unfortunately, the insipid speech of India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, at the Lal Qila (Red Fort) yesterday morning, with nigh a word about foreign policy especially towards China, has completed the picture of a weak India at this crucial time when general elections are due in less than a year’s time, in 2014.

As mentioned above, all countries have their share of social, economic, political and other upheavals – the US, for example, with its massive subprime crisis and the Snowden episode, China with its melamine-tainted milk scandal and political intrigues such as the murder associated with Bo Lai. But these have in no way diminished their image as strong powers. Why? Because they are led by fearless leaders who are articulate, and who do not hesitate to boldly come out and take position, and action, for their respective countries on critical issues especially where their national security is threatened.

Unfortunately, Indians themselves do not see their country’s leadership being as determined. As diaspora Indians look up to India for more than just cultural linkages, a weak India serves neither Indians nor the diaspora. But the latter at least have an alternative – forged through their sweat and blood, for Jawaharlal Nehru did warn them that India could only go so far in defending them and their interests. But what about Indian nationals who have no choice but to remain in their country?

India needs to assert itself very strongly and with great determination through a leadership that will restore to the country its dignity and imbue it with a sense of direction and purpose. That is the only way to earn the respect of its people, whether within India or the diaspora. A strong India is good for Indians, the diaspora, and the world too.

Jai Mauritius. Jai Hind.

* Published in print edition on 16 August 2013

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