NRI, redux

Apropos the earlier post, Tunku Varadarajan just emailed me a link to a piece he has done in the Independence Day special issue of Outlook. The core of his argument:

India’s economy has emancipated the Indian abroad in other, smaller ways, too. Who has not travelled back to India recently—from New York, London, Vancouver or Dubai—and scratched his head over the question of what to take back to relatives in Delhi, or Chandigarh, or Thiruvananthapuram, or Nagpur. Once upon a time—and I speak from personal experience—one needed to do no more than go to the nearest supermarket and fill up a shopping cart with chocolate, cheese, ham and biscuits, all bought in bulk packs, to be lugged back home to people starved of exotic foreign food. The same was true of jeans and T-shirts, bras and sweaters. Not anymore. The clothes are now all made in India (or Mauritius, or Sri Lanka or Bangladesh—imagine taking home to your brother a shirt made in Bangladesh!). The foods are all available too—at a price, but available. No longer exotic, they’ve ceased to be gifts that enhance the status of the NRI giver.

In these ways—micro and macro—the Indian immigrant abroad no longer feels protective of, or patronising towards, the Hick at Home. This liberation has had intriguing consequences: it has allowed the unburdened immigrant to integrate himself more fully into the political life of his adoptive country (something Indian immigrants have been notoriously poor at doing). And in doing so, they have become—paradoxically—more effective in the service of their country of origin. Witness the role played by Indian-Americans in the lobbying for the recent US nuclear deal with India. American lawmakers (and an American president) paid them careful heed not because they were Indian, but because they were Americans who were pulling for India because the deal was good for America.

Comment, on this and the previous entry?

Exit Jaswant

This morning, Jaswant Singh told television channels, he received a call from BJP president Rajnath Singh asking that he absent himself from the morning session of the ongoing chintan baitak. “And then, around 1 o’clock, I was informed that I had been dismissed from even the primary membership of a party of which I was among the very first members — I was given no notice, no explanation, I was not even given the option of quitting on my own,” Singh said.

Any lingering optimism that the baitak, ostensibly to review the results of the recent elections and to suggest ways to revamp the party, would lead to something constructive can now be consigned to the dustbin. The ritual blood sacrifice has been carried out, and Rajnath Singh has demonstrated that notwithstanding a Vasundhara Raje or two, he is still the boss.

Talk of farce. Jaswant has been asking for the axe ever since he teed off on the party leadership, especially Arun Jaitley, with his famous ‘parinaam aur puraskar’ argument, where he publicly pointed out that Jaitley, the BJP’s chief poll manager, had been rewarded with the post of Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, the post Singh himself had held till his recent election to the LS. “Such statements,” Rajnath said then, referring not just to Jaswant but to the larger dissident group of Yashwant Sinha, Arun Shourie and Sudheendra Kulkarni among others, “had created the impression that  the party was disunited. That is not true.”

Damn right — it isn’t disunited, merely truncated. Sinha quit as party vice president; now Jaswant has been axed; Vasundhara Raje is in the midst of a coup d’etat; and Shourie is a prime candidate for the next round of blood-letting. In all of this, damned if you hear of any quality analysis of the election defeat, and of any Plan B to move the party away from the outdated ‘Ram for votes’ plank and into a more contemporary avtaar.

The next few days will likely bring much more on the topic; meanwhile, a Karan Thapar interview with Jaswant on the book that provided Rajnath his excuse, and the BJP another opportunity to demonstrate that its collective mind is shut air-tight, and that it offers no space for independent thought and opinion.

Move over Wimbledon…

…the IPL is here, is the message from Lalit Modi, who makes a case for his franchise having moved into the really big leagues.

Q: How much is the IPL worth now?

A: There are different numbers being put by different analysts. The latest number that we have got from a credible source, a sports media research agency in the US, has valued the IPL brand alone at USD 1.65 billon, which is now the fifth largest brand in the world of sports in two years of operation, just below FIFA and higher than Wimbledon and F1.

But I think that the valuation is in line. I think the brand worth and the only way is northwards because we have 1 billion alone in India, plus another half a billion to 600 million around the world who love the game of cricket. The IPL has actually become the number one cricketing property in the world and it is only growing.

Q: So, a third successful year and you are going to go northwards of USD 1.65 billion, aren’t you?

A: The target is to beat the NFL, which is at USD 4.5 billion.

Money is one yardstick to measure the size of a brand [and given Modi’s mindset, it’s not particularly surprising money is the only measure he recognizes or talks about] — but I am not sure it is the only one.

For instance, I have a problem with this presumption that every person in India is a cricket fan — a fallacy we regurgitate endlessly with the whole “one billion fans” thing. Additionally, as of last year there were an estimated 130 million television-enabled households in the country (in other words, that many households with access to cricket) — of which just over half, or 71 million, were cable-enabled (that is, with access to the IPL).

Further: it is generally accepted that IPL-1 had a greater viewership than the second edition. Here are some figures (admittedly, audience measuring is not even close to being an exact science in our country) . And here’s some stats for Wimbledon, from the same year. And from my archives, a story datelined May that compares the IPL with another major sports franchise.

Not meaning to knock the IPL and its money-making capacity — long may it grow. But these manifestations of Modi’s Napoleon complex spark a smile. [Hat tip Vivek Shenoy for the link]

I’m moving to Satara

Married 21 years. No kids. I’ll take it in cash, thank you. [Courtesy Amit Varma]

The devalued NRI

When Shatrughan Sinha was Minister for Health in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee cabinet, he had in course of an official tour landed up in New York. I got a call, asking if I was free to go across and meet him. ‘Shotgun’ is always great fun, so I landed up at the Waldorf on a Saturday morning — and was met by an apologetic minister who said his schedule had been shot to hell, he had a roomful of folks waiting to meet him, and would I be okay with coming back next day, for lunch.

So back I went, on Sunday — and in his typical style, he began talking nineteen to the dozen before I had even settled down. His grouse? Indian American ‘community leaders’ who take themselves too seriously. His words: “Arre, yahan to if three Indian Americans meet in a coffee shop they form an association; the man who is paying for the coffee becomes president, and his best friend becomes the secretary. And the next thing you know, they come to us demanding time, saying they are the president of this or that association, and then sit here taking up our time, talking endlessly about all sorts of irrelevant things…’

There was much more in that vein, all centered around the point that the ‘community leadership’ in the US comprised of first generation folks who, for all their success, found themselves little fish in a very large ocean and thus formed these associations in a bid to carve out some relevance for themselves. [He took pains to suggest that he held the second and third generations in far greater respect, because they pinned their identities on their achievements and not on various titles they had conferred on themselves].

Once he gets started on subject, he rarely lets go — through most of that lunch, he talked of how this was in fact detrimental to the community — too many voices, not enough sense, so the mainstream tends to tune out, was the thrust of his diatribe.

All of this came back to mind while systematically deleting Rajan Zed’s avalanche of emails, and while reading Swapan Dasgupta’s think piece in the ToI just now. Here’s the crux:

The average NRI’s fall from grace in India has been precipitate. The vacuous condescension that marked earlier attitudes has been replaced by desperation to find some accommodation somewhere. The big NRI players have no problem — they have seen their social worth in the West keep pace with India’s soaring reputation as a rising power. But the small fish whose tie and a twang once enabled him to lord over his less fortunate brethren in India has seen envy replaced with disinterest.

To the NRI confronted with a precarious descent into obscurity, there is only a small solace: interventions on the net. Taking advantage of a more connected world, the professional NRI (who knows no other identity) has stepped up his battles to cast India in his own confused image. No Indian website is free from the voluminous but pernicious comments of the know-all, ultra-nationalist NRI banging away on the computer in splendid isolation. From being India’s would-be benefactors, the meddlesome NRI has become an intellectual nuisance, derailing civil discourse with his paranoia and pseudo-superiority. It’s time he was royally ignored.

Lots of NRIs among the Smoke Signals regulars — curious to know what you think, of the leadership, the spokesmen who profess to speak for you, and related issues.

PS: I could inflict on you another flood of Flintoff stories — which seems to be all that the British media can talk about, a day ahead of the final Ashes Test. But I won’t — too boring. And not much happening in the cricket world otherwise [plus another episode to write for tomorrow], so blogging apt to be sporadic today. Later, folks…