The shindig was further proof that Modi’s popularity among Indian expatriates remains untouched by the events at home, be it an election rout in Bihar, a mini rebellion in the Parivar, or accusations about the anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat.
Since 2002, Modi has received unstinting support from the diaspora. Its contribution legitimised his candidacy for prime ministership and, indeed, helped him sail to victory. Many Indian expatriates generously donated to his election war chest, campaigned for him and, those who could, travelled to the homeland to vote for him. To these legions of admirers, he was undeniably the country’s redeemer.
There are many theories explaining the diaspora’s adulation for Modi, most of which focus on his ostensible record as an able administrator. These hypotheses contend that the diaspora prefers Modi because it wants the so-called Gujarat development model replicated across India. But the truth is far from that. In reality, the diaspora is more Hindu than the Hindus in India. It adores Modi not because he has come up with any grandiose ideas, but because for it he is the Hindu Hriday Samrat (Emperor of Hindu Hearts).
Hindu revivalism in diaspora
As per the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs, the 25 million-strong overseas Indian community is spread across every major region of the world. Even officially, the community constitutes a diverse group of people from different regions of India, speaking different languages, and of different faiths. But for the purpose of mobilisation at least, the community is increasingly being defined by religion – a cultural form of Hinduism that has been coloured with the political ideology of Hindutva.
In the West, particularly in the United Kingdom, Hindu revivalism among the diaspora began gaining strength after the Ayodhya movement. The destruction of Babri Masjid created a chasm between the Hindu and Muslim communities in Britain. As Hindus across class and caste divides started supporting the cause of the Hindu right, fundamentalist forces consolidated their hegemony of so-called Hindu interests.
In the summer of 1995, senior Bharatiya Janata Party leader LK Advani visited Britain to garner political and financial support from the Hindu diaspora. During that trip, he was the chief guest at the opening of the Swaminarayan Temple, the biggest Hindu temple outside India. The same Swaminarayan Mission helped organise Modi’s Wembley show on Friday.
While communal forces – under the guise of cultural and religious fronts – exert influence over the community, progressive voices have been isolated among the diaspora. In different parts of the world, Hindutva organisations, led by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, have been mobilising the Hindu diaspora. (The RSS has branches outside India known as the Hindu Swayamsewak Sangh.) As a direct result of this mobilisation, a form of Hindu culture is shaping community gatherings abroad and the diaspora has got divided on communal lines to such an extent that it constitutes a core support base, both politically and economically, of the Hindutva forces in India.
The effects are showing at home. Many Hindu diaspora groups, who classify themselves as developmental organisations, have catalysed fundamentalist movements in India by raising money to support violence against religious minorities. These groups are particularly dominant among the Gujarati diaspora.
Rescuing the 'Hindu nation'
Diasporas usually enjoy a superior social status in their homelands. This is equally true for India. Due to its access to wealth, the Hindu diaspora has been able to influence the interests of their homeland kin and their voting behaviour. It has helped develop the myth that Hindus are the oppressed majority in a secular state and, using this victim card, promoted an aggressive form of nationalism.
To rescue their “Hindu nation” from “secular forces” the groups took the political route, and the results emboldened them.
Today, Hindu fundamentalism is gaining strength in India through exclusionary principles whereby all non-Hindus and dissenting Hindus, branded as Hindu traitors, become second-class citizens. The Hindutva forces are exploiting religion to foment communal violence and these forces of bigotry are being patronised by the Hindu diaspora. As the spectre of this Hindu extremism, it carries the potential of threatening the stability of the region and the world at large.
The growing intolerance against the minorities might have cost Modi Delhi and Bihar and disillusioned many of his supporters at home who had innocently believed in his “development agenda”, but at the same time it improved his popularity among Hindu diaspora groups.
There is an intimate symbiotic relation between the Hindu diaspora and Hindu extremism in India. The Hindu diaspora wants to undermine the secular and inclusive character of India and instead promote the notion of “Hindu Rashtra”. As long as Modi’s Hindu nationalist credentials are intact, he will continue to be a rock star among his frenzied Hindu diaspora fans.
The writer is a Professor of Peace and Conflict Research at Uppsala University, Sweden.
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