These visits saw huge events involving ethnic Indians – both citizens and non-citizens – in London's Wembley stadium and New York's Madison Square Garden. It's obvious that Modi's overseas supporters value the freedoms and democratic rights that their adopted societies have given them. It is instructive to look at India in light of some of these rights.
Illegal immigration is a mainstream electoral issue in the domestic politics of both United States of America and United Kingdom. It is well documented that many Indians are illegal immigrants in both these countries as per their immigration laws. Yet, both the countries allowed the Indian prime minister to independently host public gatherings organised by cultural, religious and ethnic outfits run by people of Indian origin.
In both nations, Modi stressed on his audience's “Indianness” over their British-ness or American-ness, even when talking about the success of non-resident Indians. It is this that the Indian media gushes over and the British and American media largely ignores. The point to note is that no one questions the loyalty of Indian tricolour waving British citizens in Wembley.
Let's bring this situation closer home, to our neighbourhood where Bangladesh is a most pliant cooperator in what India defines as its fight against terror. It has unilaterally delivered on much of government of India's security wish-list. But is it possible to imagine the following scenario?
Bangladesh's Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina comes to Delhi or Kolkata, gets some consortium of Bangladeshis to organise a public meeting at modest-size Talkotra stadium of Delhi or super-size Salt Lake stadium of Kolkata where Bangladeshis – both legal and illegal in government of India's eyes – turn up. Some wave Bangladesh's flag. Event organisers include Islamic community groups of Bangladeshis in India.
The sheer absurdity of the scene reveals the double standards of many proudly cheering the Wembley spectacle on Indian TV from their sofa-sets. Forget Bangladesh, it's as absurd for Nepal. No country that could independently assemble 5,000 people would be allowed to do this. Let's not even go into disloyalty questions that would be prime-time news.
Like legal or illegal immigrant Indians in the UK or the US, most Nepalese or Bangladeshis in India are economic migrants. The democratic rights in the UK that enable Indians to cheer Modi's India vision are absent in India. While Indians in UK can have dual loyalties and extra-territorial loyalties, no one is India can, without being called "anti-national", if not an outright traitor.
Gujaratis and Punjabis in UK are electorally important for David Cameron. The presence of illegal immigrants amongst these communities and his party's hard-on-illegal-immigration image doesn't stop him from allowing Modi to speak directly to a massive Indian gathering. The Bangladeshi community in the UK and the US also includes illegal immigrants. At the same time, both these countries freely allow Bangladeshi political parties to operate what are practically overseas branches with hundreds of members. Considering Nepal or Bangladesh, are the corresponding scenarios even thinkable in India? Should pride about largeness of a democracy come from population size or expanse of rights?
The United Kingdom is also home to technically-NRI Kashmiri and Khalistani groups seeking independence. Kashmir and Khalistan do not have any direct bearing on UK's integrity concerns. However, the Scottish independence movement is a concern for Westminster's ruling establishment. The UK has engaged with it democratically – by a free referendum and not with Section 144, strip-searches, sedition charges, fake encounters, unmarked graves, disappearances, midnight-knocks and a legal-constitutional bar on independence-seeking entities to contest democratic elections on their professed platform. Does India share these democratic values with the UK?
Modi's Hindi speech at Wembley was translated in English for Cameron and others. Potential immigrants to the US and UK are more likely to get non-Hindi mother-tongue assistance at visa application centres and consulates in India than at their own government's passport office. In many UK hospitals, Gujaratis can ask for assistance in Gujarati – something unthinkable in Delhi.
In India, an Air India flight between Kolkata and Chennai has no safety instructions in Bangla or Tamil. A Telugu MP is not allowed to speak in Telugu in the Indian Parliament without permission. Apparently, it's unfeasible and costly to have translators. Contrast this with crores spent every year by Ministry of External Affairs to promote Hindi abroad. It has recently agreed to foot many crores bill if Hindi becomes a United Nations official language. Linguistic equality is a pre-condition of a plural and democratic polity. English-majority UK provides more services to its Punjabi speakers in Punjabi than Hindi-minority India does to its own Punjabis.
Sometimes the largeness of a small democracy exposes the smallness of a large one.
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