When India gained independence in 1947 the seeds were sown for a new world order. An ancient civilisation was shaking off its shackles and springing back to life. For decades though India was portrayed as a nation of beggars and snake charmers by the Western media. In fact the whole world seemed to have this image of India. An ancient civilisation which had led the world in mathematics, science, astronomy and a people who had found solutions to some of the most complex issues facing mankind were reduced to being known as a nation of beggars. India’s ancient scriptures like Ramayana and Mahabharata were termed ‘mythologies’, meaning they were a figment of someone’s imagination! Many Indians still refer to these scriptures as mythologies. A country that produced Srinivasa Ramanujan (1887-1920), who baffled the greatest mathematicians in Cambridge, was portrayed as a nation of snake charmers!

When we were growing up in Kenya, anthropologists were a big thing. We would read hardbound books with glossy covers and titles like, ‘The Savages of Limpopo! ‘. An American or British anthropologist, quite often a woman, would come to Africa to study some tribe and catalogue its strange ways of life. They completely failed to understand the strong ecological and nature-friendly culture of the African tribes. And the missionaries were never far behind, eager to bring the Good News to the backward tribes. One constant hero of the time was archaeologist and anthropologist Louis Leakey. Every other year he would make a sensational discovery, conveniently in East Africa where he was based. It would be the ultimate proof of the beginning of the Human Race. The excitement in the world press would be palpable! However a few years later Leaky would come up with another ultimate find. A colonial power needs these fellow travellers to justify its seizing of other people’s land. To sleep with a clear conscience a coloniser has to convince himself that they are actually doing the natives a favour by enslaving them. To most of us growing up in Kenya a book with a glossy cover would be seen as presenting nothing but the absolute truth. We were unaware of writers and their biases and agendas.

For those of us growing up in the late 60s it was the comics coming from Dundee in Scotland that excited us. Dennis the Menace, Desperate Dan and many others. Sometimes there were bumper issues which was a special treat. Collecting these comics was a popular hobby. We looked forward to Saturdays when they used to arrive in our city of Kisumu. We became familiar with the English language from reading those comics rather than at school! To understand the power of colonial propaganda and its portrayal of Indians as beggars, the following account serves as a good example:

Soon after Kenya’s independence in 1964 India gifted a Speaker’s Chair to the Kenyan parliament. After the handover ceremony many Kenyan MPs made fun of India. They wondered if India could really afford to give such a donation. Like a majestic elephant, India ignored all the insults and quietly laid the foundations for a mighty nation. Slowly but surely India has emerged as a significant world power. India is one of the few countries to have designed a supercomputer. It has successfully completed a mission to Mars in its first attempt. The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has launched satellites for 20 countries including US and Canada. The industry is worth $200 billion. The first incontrovertible evidence of water on the moon came from Chandrayaan, an Indian craft that carried NASA instruments.

A nation which was left in dire poverty by occupying powers had immense obstacles to overcome. A country seemingly divided by languages, ideologies, social conflicts, separatists, land disputes, lethargic and corrupt institutions, entrenched bureaucracy, criminal mafia gangs, droughts and famines. The list of woes facing India were endless. Sections of the media in the UK did not expect India as an entity to survive for long. However, India managed to overcome these challenges thanks to its democracy and some remarkable men and women as well as saints and sages. One of those great men was a Gandhian by the name of Vinoba Bhave. He persuaded the wealthy landowners to voluntarily give away their land to the poor. The Gramdan Movement resulted in entire villages being gifted to the landless. Jayprakash Narayan, an outstanding individual, carried on Vinoba Bhave’s work. In other countries this land conflict caused peasant revolt, the rise of Communism, and led to millions of deaths.

Freedom of thought has deep roots in India going back thousands of years. The Jains call it ‘Anekantvad’, meaning that truth can be arrived at from different angles. This acceptance of plurality has meant there has never been religious persecution in Indian history. Many persecuted groups have found a safe refuge in India.
Even though India embarked on its long journey with hope it still needed some small victories to reassure itself. The only opportunity for this was in the field of sport, so India winning gold medals in hockey at the Olympics was a big deal. In Kenya similarly an unknown Kenyan, Kipchoge Keino, won a gold medal in athletics at the Mexico Olympics held in 1968. Kipchoge defeated the American favourite and world record holder Jim Ryun. It was a euphoria moment that is etched in the memory of most Kenyans.

Yes, we could beat the unbeatables! Earlier, the Sikh brothers Joginder and Jaswant Singh won the famous East African Rally in 1965. Pitted against the best European drivers with huge backup support, the Sikh brothers managed an improbable victory. The whole nation was in a collective trance of bliss. The launching of India’s national airline, Air India with its Maharaja Mascot, was another spirit-lifting event for a long suppressed nation. On June 8th 1948 a Lockheed Constellation L-749A named ‘Malabar Express’ took off from Mumbai bound for London.

A major role in the emergence of this new India is the Indian diaspora community. During the British Raj Indian’s were brought in to help run and develop Britain’s many colonies. In East Africa the Indian diaspora have deep roots. The Indian Rupee was the currency of Britain’s East African colonies and protectorates between 1906 and 1920. Gujaratis, Punjabis (Sikhs and Hindus) and Goan Christians helped build the East African railway and develop Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and other neighbouring countries. In Kenya the Asian community is now officially recognised as one of the many tribes of the country! The Gujarati community of East Africa has played a huge role in the prosperity of the State of Gujarat. South Africa has one of the highest numbers of Indians. They were brought to the country as indentured labourers. Indians were also taken as indentured labourers to the West Indies where they form almost 50% of the population in countries like Guyana and Trinidad. In Fiji, Surinam and Mauritius it was the same situation. The United Arab Emirates has a huge Indian diaspora population both skilled and unskilled. The fact that a traditional Hindu temple is under construction in Abu Dhabi is a clear example of how the diaspora community is acting as a bridge between India and countries with huge Indian populations.

The founding fathers and mothers of India placed great emphasis on an English-based education system. It opened up opportunities for Indians to settle in many countries. Those who worry about the national language Hindi should know that Hindi cinema and its songs have a huge hold on people from Russia to Nigeria!

Devastated by two world wars, Britain welcomed Indians to fill the huge labour shortages. A significant change occurred from the 1980s when highly skilled and trained Indians started migrating in huge numbers to the USA. People moaned that this was brain drain that would cost India dearly. I had however always believed that with a huge pool of talent India would quickly replace those who left. In the USA a massive pool of Indian academics, scientists, doctors, entrepreneurs and IT specialists are making a huge impact on the dynamics between the two countries. Indians head Google and Microsoft, the two giants in the market who are shaping the world. According to Fortune magazine Indian Silicon Valley entrepreneurs generated wealth of around $250 billion. The creator of the Pentium chip, on which 90% of computers run, is Vinod Dham. The founder and creator of Hotmail is Sabeer Bhatia. Vic Gundotra is known as Google’s ‘social tsar’ and is the man behind Google+ social network. Ajay Bhatt, a computer architect, is credited as being the father of USB standard, something that almost every computing device uses in one form or the other. Ruchi Sanghvi was Facebook’s first female engineer. She and her team worked on the first iteration of what was to become the mainstay of Facebook, the news feed. Padmasree Warrior is another female engineer who became a senior vice president and chief technology officer at Motorola. She went on to become their chief executive vice president in 2005.

It’s not just the technology industry that is being headed by Indian origin people but even companies that are big in the property and retail sectors. The following is a list of international companies that are being headed by Indian origin CEOs:
Sundar Pichai CEO, Google; Satya Nadella CEO Microsoft; Rajeev Suri CEO of Nokia; Sandeep Mathrani CEO of WeWork; Nikesh Arora CEO Palo Alto Networks; Dinesh Paliwal presently serves as CEO and president of Harman International. Sanjay Kumar Jha started off as the Chief Operating Officer of Qualcomm and later became the Chief Executive Officer of Motorola Mobility; Shantanu Narayen is presently an executive and the chairman and CEO of Adobe Systems; Indian origin Francisco D’Souza was born in Nairobi Kenya and is a member of Cognizant’s Board of Directors and its CEO; Sanjay Mehrotra is the CEO of Micron Technology, Inc but had previously co-founded SanDisk and served as its CEO and president till 2016. The Forbes list of ‘America’s Richest Self-Made Women 2019’ has three women of Indian origin. President and CEO of computer networking firm Arista Networks Jayshree Ullal; co-founder of IT consulting and outsourcing firm Syntel Neerja Sethi and CTO; and co-founder of streaming data technology company Confluent Neha Narkhede.

12% of the scientists and 38% of the doctors in the US are Indians. NASA has 36%, or almost 4 out of 10 scientists who are Indian. Almost 60,000 Indian physicians practice in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia—a workforce equal to 10% of the physicians in India and the largest émigré physician workforce in the world. There are also a huge number of Deans and Presidents of Colleges and Universities.

Two of the most powerful positions in the UK are being held by Home Secretary Priti Patel and Chancellor of Exchequer Rishi Sunak. The richest family in the UK are the Hindujas. The biggest employer in the UK is Tata, employing around 73,000 people. Putting the bitter experiences of the past behind, Britain and India are forging a strong bond. The British people have welcomed a huge number of the Indian diaspora community. They have gone out of their way in helping to settle tens of thousands of refugees from Uganda as well as people from all over the world.

The Taoiseach, or the leader of Ireland, Leo Varadkar’s father is from the State of Maharashtra. Prime Minister of Portugal Antonia Costa has relatives living in Margao, Goa. Prime Minister of Guyana Moses Nagamootoo and Prime Minister of Mauritius Pravind Jugnauth also have Indian ancestry.

A total of over 30 million Indian origin people live outside India. Around 17.5 million Indians sent remittances worth $80 billion to India in 2018. This makes India the highest recipient of remittances in the world. This figure is probably on the lower scale as it does not count the colossal amount of money spent by the diaspora community in internal tourism and real estate investment. The present Indian Government has recognised the full potential of the Indian diaspora. It has embraced this huge powerhouse simply by signalling that India will stand by them.

The diaspora community has introduced Indian plant-based cuisine, yoga, classical music and dance forms to the countries they have settled in. They are doing great charity work and are high achievers. They have the lowest crime rate. East European countries are likely to be the next destination of the Indian diaspora community. Bulgaria, Hungary, Czech Republic, Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus, Russian Federation, Slovakia, Romania, and Poland all have huge interest in Indian culture and religious traditions. As their economies grow they are going to need IT specialists and entrepreneurs. However, all these countries have had an Indian origin presence for almost 1,500 years. They are the Roma people who travelled from India. They brought with them music and a flamboyant lifestyle. There is a striking similarity between the flamenco, the southern Spanish dance style and Indian classical dance form Kathak. It is believed that the Romany people brought Kathak to Spain. Roma people are the largest minority in Europe numbering around 12 million. Romany language has mainly Sanskrit origin words! The English word ‘pal’, meaning friend, comes from the Romany Sanskrit origin word meaning brother!

The Anglo Indian community is another group of people who have an Indian connection. They are the children of the British Raj, of British men marrying Indian women between the 18th and 20th Century. Famous Anglo Indians include Ben Kingsley of the Gandhi film and Cliff Richard

India is on course to have a great presence and influence on the world stage. The wheels were set in motion for this scenario on the day India got independence! India’s strength will be that it will always adhere to the idea of ‘Vasudev Kutumbakam’, the world is a family.

It has been said that, of the world’s recorded civilisations, virtually all have died not from enemy action, but from spiritual decay, and the progression has always been the same: from bondage to spiritual faith, from spiritual faith to great courage, from courage to liberty, from liberty to abundance, from abundance to apathy and, from apathy, once again to bondage. A phase through which many nations are going through at the moment.

Nitin Mehta
9th May 2020

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