Here’s Why The NRI is Disappointed With Modi in 2019
There is no Modi at Madison Square and at Wembley in 2019. In fact, he is nowhere on the horizon now.
I have been travelling across the United States of America this entire week. The conversation often gravitates to the impending union election in India. I had a similar experience in 2014 and now when I look across this timeline, the contrast is stark. The adulation and the fan following back then was simply breathtaking. The entire NRI community, especially the software and the business groups, was gung-ho. A Gujarati Superman was ready to take over and make India great again.
There were a few skeptics, but they were tucked away in colleges and universities. These were scoffed at for being Harvard educated, liberal peaceniks. The Bhakts wanted a strong leader, incorruptible and unapologetic. One who wore his nationalism easily, who brooked no indiscipline, was an unapologetic reformer and spurned socialism and its legacy. Modi fit that bill in 2014. He was the middle-class champion, one who focused on the urban sector and rubbished tax spends on wasteful rural employment guarantees and minimum support prices to farmers. He had no time for secularism, climate change and similar romantic ideals.
In 2014, Modi himself serenaded the desi American, spending lots of time and money in North America. He filled large stadiums with screaming fans. Here was an enchanting rockstar who could sway middle-aged audience like the musicians who were idolised by their American born and raised children. NaMo carried the same swagger, attitude and appeal of these singers and Hollywood stars. Armed with a new visa, here was this colossus who was frequenting Obama’s White House, an awe-inspiring feat for new Americans who retained deep-rooted respect for proximity to power and wealth.
2019, unfortunately, is such a different story all together. The Americans had, in the meantime, elected a President who spoke the same language as Narendra Modi. Only this time, even as Trump did all that Modi himself had promised, the impact of the divisiveness for the NRI was personal. Trump denied them visas, vilified immigrants, made citizenship enormously difficult and cut down social expenditure. With tacit approval from the very top, racial attacks started increasing almost every day. Their children became vulnerable, and in a cruel turn of fate, they were being called ‘Pakis’.
Back in India, the God of big promises got involved in everything petty. Beef bans, Anti-Romeo squads and ‘ghar wapsi’ (reconversion) programs were launched and the NRI was facing embarrassing questions by colleagues and neighbours. Attacks on Christians went up, US-based charities that were earlier celebrated were now being denied licenses. For example, the Ford Foundation bank accounts in Delhi were sealed. For the South Indian NRI population, the Hindi chauvinism that the saffron squad unleashed was discomforting too. The Citizenship Bill that Modi pushed for was straight out of Trump’s speeches against migrants.
On the economic front, the promised reforms in labour laws and land acquisition had been hurriedly buried. India was again on the path of socialism with larger than ever outlays for rural employment guarantees, large increases in farm subsidies and support prices. To add insult, instead of repealing the reservation policy, here was Modi announcing a ten per cent hike to the existing level of 50 percent. Reservation was one policy that the predominantly ‘upper-caste’ NRI always blamed for them having to leave the fatherland. It was now going up further under their hero and saviour.
Though the NRI benefitted when sending money home, a steadily falling rupee was a blow to the ego. The losses that hit them hard were by way of falling real estate values in their investments back home. The stock market was erratic and over the last year, would incur big losses for all investors. The big MNCs, employers of most of these NRIs, began investing in other markets; Vietnam, Costa Rica and Indonesia started gaining at India’s expense. The Modi government’s claims—that India was attracting unprecedented foreign investments and was the fastest growing economy in the world—belied facts.
The NRI’s biggest bewilderment came from demonetisation. Their democratic ethos could not come to terms with a whimsical, dictatorial and anti-institutional action like the sudden withdrawal of currency notes at midnight. The chaos that followed made them squirm in embarrassment while they read their newspapers discuss India in the same vein as various tin-pot dictatorships where the dictators would dismiss the Central bank boards, fire its Governor and carry out some bizarre idea pushed by dubious Godmen.
The final straw was when Modi became unwelcome at the White House. Unlike a gracious Obama, the new White House resident mocked Modi in the Senate and on television. Trump even refused a most prestigious invite to the Republic Day celebrations in Delhi and visited other smaller nations. Accustomed to being hailed by previous Presidents for their technological acumen, the NRIs now are face-to-face with über-nationalist, majoritarian xenophobia. MAGA became the looming unveiled threat, and banners screaming MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN started popping up uncomfortably close-by, in neighbourhoods that were safe and welcoming earlier. MAGA is a dreadful threat, quite like the ‘Go to Pakistan’ slogan that Modi Bhakts were using against dissent back home in India.
There is no Modi at Madison Square and at Wembley in 2019. In fact, he is nowhere on the horizon now. The Godmen who supported him enthusiastically in 2014, and who have large followings in the US, have gone quiet. Their reputations have suffered, particularly because of their support to demonetisation and in at least two cases, on account of their cavalier attitude towards forest cover and river beds. Modi also is no longer the Superman he was billed as, having allowed sundry money launderers and former playboys of corporate India to escape the law and find safe havens.
Some diehards still swear by their fading hero. They do want him to get another chance. What is the alternative, is their meek query? But then they look around and find the same lame argument being made by their majoritarian white supremacists for re-electing Trump. What is the alternative to Trump, they ask? Isn’t he good for the economy? The only one who can take on the Chinese threat? He will get the jobs back and the factories re-opened. Somehow all that sounded a clarion call then, rings hollow today. While they watched the Indian elections with hope and excitement in 2014, they now watch in despair and in doubt.
Dr Amir Ullah Khan is an Indian economist. He is a Professor at the MCRHRDI of the Government of Telangana.