Firewall Indians against nativism

Suman K Jha | Updated on November 24, 2020 Published on November 24, 2020

Why national parties should show the way

Name an Indian city that is the symbol of India’s global ambitions, and is also the destination for aspirational Indians. While there would be many contenders for this, one shouldn’t be surprised if a large number of Indians vote for Bengaluru as India’s “own global city”. Not only has it emerged as India’s knowledge economy-driven capital city and IT/biotechnology, R&D, Start-up centre, it is also often called “our own Silicon Valley”.

Little surprise then that Prime Minister Narendra Modi, speaking at a virtual session while opening the Bengaluru Tech Summit 2020, noted: “In the industrial era, change was linear. But in the information era, change is disruptive and big… In the industrial era, boundaries mattered. But the information era is about going beyond boundaries… India as a country is uniquely positioned to leap ahead in the information era. We have the best minds as well as the biggest market. Our local tech solutions have the potential to go global. India is at a sweet spot. It is time for tech-solutions that are Designed in India but Deployed for the World.”

What is true for Bengaluru as the IT capital of the country, also applies, to a large measure, to urban IT centres like Hyderabad, Chennai, Gurgaon, Pune, and NOIDA (UP). Together, these centres, powered by the brightest Indian human minds, are scripting a unique Indian success story, something that has adapted effortlessly to the requirements of a post Covid-19 world.

Even if there’s a global wave of de-globalisation in the post-Covid world, and Aatmanirbhar Bharat aspires to make India self-reliant, India’s resolve to emerge as a powerful global force, which will also act as a counterweight to China’s rise, has only got strengthened. India’s IT centres will be important contributors to this vision.

Disconcerting trend

In this backdrop, the rise in nativism in many States is disconcerting. What is more worrying is that in many such cases, the move has been mooted by the State units of national parties, namely the BJP and the Congress. Karnataka is a case in point.

Karnataka’s — or Bengaluru’s — pull factor is not just due to the strong presence of the IT and biotechnology sectors. Recent reports suggest that if Tesla were to open an R&D centre in India, Bengaluru would be its first choice. This shows Bengaluru’s global profile.

But how does the ruling party in the State — the BJP, in this case — respond by way of a legal and regulatory architecture? It suggests a Kannada-first policy. If reports are to be believed, proficiency in Kannada will be one of the pre-requisites for government jobs in the State. Given its populist appeal, it’s sure likely to be extended to the private sector. But, does it really fit into Bengaluru’s global profile and aspirations?

What is extremely disheartening is that from States in the North like Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Rajasthan, to those in the South like Karnataka, in addition to the ones that have always championed the cause of nativism like Maharashtra, have joined the nativist bandwagon.

State after State is “reserving” jobs for locals. The idea that one, unified India is, gets mocked and dwarfed in the process. Slogans like “Ek Bharat, Shreshth Bharat” are rendered meaningless in the wake of this rise in nativism. Adapting to the post-Covid global realities, the Union Government has called for “Make in India, for the World”. Any inward-looking policy in a given State can only jeopardise any national vision.

If a regional political party comes up with a nativist slogan, it’s understandable. But when State and regional units of national political parties indulge in this, this is simply not acceptable. Madhya Pradesh’s is a good case study. The short-lived Kamal Nath government of Congress tried to pander to nativist tendencies. This was taken forward more forcefully by BJP’s Shivraj Singh Chouhan. Both Chouhan and Kamal Nath are known to have national profiles. Indulging in any divisive, inward-looking politics by them, then, is dangerous and disingenuous.

Seamless movement

After seven decades of Independence, any movement of ideas, goods and services and human resources throughout India should be seamless and unhindered. Migration is a key feature of the idea of India that we have built and inherited. Of course, there are certain obligations for those going to other States for employment opportunities or education.

For instance, it’s only natural if they are expected to respect local customs and traditions. Some voluntary initiatives are under way to teach migrants local languages. One such initiative in Karnataka encourages outsiders to learn Kannada. Any voluntary initiative or effort is welcome. The moment it becomes binding or a pre-requisite for outsiders, it becomes problematic.

Our politics, whether at the national level, or in various States, are often marked with fissures and disagreements. Agreeing to disagree is a fundamental feature of a democracy. But surely we can have some agreements on issues of national importance. It’s time that our political parties evolved a consensus on how to firewall Indians from nativist politics. The idea of ‘One, Unified India’ is non-negotiable. The sooner everyone agrees on this, the better it’s for all stakeholders. This will also enable India to unitedly make a global mark in the new post-Covid world order.

The author, a JNU alumnus, is a former journalist

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Published on November 24, 2020
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