We have been guilty of what philosophers call a category mistake. Perhaps the strategic advisors have got the meaning wrong, or perhaps they have been brought up on the textbooks that are prevalent in the state of Gujarat, but to any average Indian gharwapsi does not translate into re-conversion. This would be not even a narrow translation of the terms. In fact, it does great disservice to reduce the nation to only one of its parts and so if one wants to declare oneself as truly a desh bhakt then one has to work with a larger meaning of the term. If conversion is all one wants then the appropriate term is mandir wapsi. For gharwapsi, we need to look beyond this limited meaning. Rabindranath Tagore’s Ghare-Bhaire (Home and the World) is a good place to start this search for a fuller meaning. For Gurudev, the idea of ghare means the nation and all its peoples.

Let us, however, begin this simple search with the common sense meaning of ghar. Any Indian will tell you that the most widely accepted meaning of ghar, across the many languages of India, is home. She will also tell you that any Indian home is made up of several rooms, only one of which is the prayer room. This is a special room built to house the family deities and where regular pujas are performed. The other rooms house different activities, a bedroom for sleeping, a drawing room for entertaining guests, a kitchen for preparing food, and a bathroom for the daily routine of ritual ablutions. Each room has a different purpose. Each purpose is necessary for the proper functioning of the home. When taken together the rooms define the background life of its residents, give it meaning and infuse it with contentment. Prayer, washing, sleep, and celebration of a diversity of activities that make up the full person.

UR Ananthamurthy, that great defender of writing in the bhashas, added to an Indian ghar a backyard and a front yard. A ghar by even the narrowest definition is thus a place of many rooms, an aggregation of multiple logics, a space for a diversity of living under a common roof. Someone sleeps, another cooks, while still another receives guests with all the courtesies of an Indian household. For URA, the front yard is where matters of the world are discussed, where transactions on things that matter are conducted with people from other ghars, while the backyard is, in contrast,  a place for gossip, the more intimate area where residents and their guests share the aches and pains of age and emotion. It is this broad definition which we must use when we use the idea of ghar wapsi to avoid the category mistake. A nation that values and nurtures its heterogeneity, this diversity of rooms and functions, can thus only lay claim to being the asli ghar. All else is nakli. But this is not the nation that the Sangh combine wants.

Return of the native

This should not deter us. To strengthen this broad meaning of ghar, let me present some of the aspects of wapsi that I want. The first gharwapsi campaign that the government must support is to bring back the black money locked away in Swiss banks which the Bharatiya Janata Party told us was sizeable enough to wipe out our national debt. This is wealth legitimately generated by the people of India but, by being kept in Swiss vaults, remains unavailable for the improvement of the livelihood opportunities of the average Indian.

The BJP promised us that within a 100 days they would work for its wapsi but as we approach nine months of the National Democratic Alliance government, one is beginning to suspect that this was an empty promise. The ex-CAG could perhaps help us calculate the presumptive loss to the exchequer of not bringing this money back. This campaign of the ghar wapsi of black money, the thousands of crores mentioned in BJP election meetings, is one that would enjoy widespread support. It would unify the nation. It would strengthen our economy and insulate us from the shocks of the global economy. But it is not the gharwapsi that the Sangh combine seems to want.

The second gharwapsi campaign that the NDA government must undertake is to bring back all those of Indian origin who have given up their Indian nationality to become citizens of another country. They have left their home in India and built a home in another country. These highly skilled persons of Indian origin, but holding the citizenship of another country, must be encouraged to give up that adopted citizenship and return to Bharat Mata. An attractive wapsi programme must be designed for them so that their assets, and knowledge, and global networks, are available for national development since one cannot be a citizen of one country and still pledge loyalty to India. Yet, in contrast to their commitment to the idea of gharwapsi, the NDA government is going overboard to appease these foreign citizens and by doing so discounting the worth and loyalty of their own citizens who have stayed back.

By rewarding the foreigners i.e., not just giving them privileges but promising to amend the citizenship Act for them so that by merging the PIO and OCI schemes they can come close to having dual nationality, the government is undermining the idea of strengthening the nation. In other words, the gharwapsi crusaders are saying to the citizens of another country but are Indians in origin “enjoy all that privileges of your new citizenship but we will still give you many of the benefits of the citizenship that you have given up”.

A house for appeasement

The Sangh combine must resist this policy of appeasement. We want inclusive government as promised and not exclusive policies as practised and thus the Sangh combine must make every effort to bring back home all pravasis rather than give them dual nationality.

This campaign will truly benefit the nation with billions of dollars and with the most entrepreneurial minds available to us. It will help India to achieve its Millenium Development Goals. But this is not the gharwapsi the Sangh wants since the programme they have initiated is targeted at the very poor and the illiterate, so that they remain available, as Dr Ambedkar pointed out, as an assured stock of caste-based labour. The gharwapsi programme is not for the rich and overseas Indians who have skill sets the nation needs as it transits to becoming a middle income country. For them it is ghar bidaai.

The third gharwapsi campaign that the Sangh must initiate is to get Indian corporates to invest in India. They must formulate an economic policy which entices corporates to bring back the huge investments they have made outside India and in the process build up the capital stock of goods and machinery in India. Such return of capital that has flown from India will help ease the employment crises that the young in India face today. It will truly allow us to emerge as a nation and as a powerful global economy with all round development.

For example, the one billion dollars pledged by the State Bank of India to the Adani group for the development of mines in Australia would, if invested in India, under an environmental framework similar to that operative in Australia, would bring huge benefits to the vulnerable communities that have been displaced by the extractive industries in India. But again this is not the gharwapsi that the Sangh combine has in mind. There is no protest about Indian capital going abroad. As the Reserve Bank of India governor said a “make for India” would be a more successful policy than a “make in India”.

The backyard policy

While the above three campaigns of ghar wapsi are front-yard campaigns the fourth that, I would like to suggest, is a backyard one. One of the most important activities that can be undertaken under this idea of returning home is to restore, or at least rehabilitate, the homes of the millions of Indians displaced by big dams and the mining sector. For people who have lost their ghars because of these projects and have not been fairly compensated or given proper rehabilitation, a campaign of gharwapsi, offering both dignity and livelihood security, is a campaign that is truest to the meaning of homecoming.

Even if we did not do any of the above three campaigns suggested earlier and concentrated on righting the historical wrong done to such displaced communities, especially the Adivasis and Dalits who have had to bear the brunt of development, we would then have a reason to applaud the loftiness of the gharwapsi campaign. However, the opposite may happen. The new laws being proposed to make it easier to acquire land, deemed important for the national purpose, by using the ordinance route, will have the reverse effect. It, in fact, amounts to ghar nikaalna.

With these new possibilities we must work hard to restore the larger meaning to the term gharwapsi. By doing so, we would convert a bigoted usage into an inspired one. We must try and persuade the grey eminences who run the country from Nagpur that what we have offered above is a richer meaning of the term. If they are truly interested in strengthening the nation then these are the campaigns that they must endorse. In my father’s house, there are many rooms.

This article originally appeared on The Tribune.