Why NRIs are Modi’s best bet?

British Queen Elizabeth II with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi

NRIs: Modi’s trump card and his biggest fans because they are not involved….writes Bikram Vohra

Modi greets the people after delivering his address, at Wembley Stadium, in London
Modi greets the people after delivering his address, at Wembley Stadium, in London

The great Indian diaspora of 32 million has turned out to be Narendra Modi’s trump card. Since most of us NRIs would be loath to return to the motherland and are frightfully happy abroad we salve our guilt of departure by displaying breathless patriotism from a distance.

This canned excitement was visible at Wembley when the prime minister addressed his largest audience outside India. Even though the Bihar battering ram may have caused heavy bruising the cheers of 40,000 NRIs will be a soothing calamine for him. He loves this celeb on the stage show.

That’s the NRI for you. Over 400 Indian associations have come together to pay homage.  We become more Indian than the 1.2 billion homesteaders and grasp at any activity to underscore this chauvinism. For us a man like Modi is a marketable symbol of the country we have left except for a mandatory annual two week visit softened by gifts, criticisms and fear of upset stomachs and the current epidemic after which we can retrace our footsteps and scamper back to adopted lands.

Modi addressing the diaspora at Wembley
Modi addressing the diaspora at Wembley

A Modi comes as a salvation making us feel good about being Indians abroad. We do not have to apologise for him. He hits the right buttons. He is articulate, he is sartorially elegant, he is religiously eclectic, choosing houses of worship with a populist eye, he has a Marcus Antonius inflection in his words and so, in capsule, NRIs have found their pop star poster boy. A better bet than the parade ground sergeant major fierceness of Indira Gandhi or the soggy sandwich blandness of Manmohan Singh, this man knows how to package himself. Modi does not embarrass us…on the contrary he injects NRIs with a shot in the arm…improves the morale.

By that token we are also cheerfully not immediately or directly affected by his decisions at home and his popularity ratings can do a roller coaster for all that matters. But the ‘brothers and sisters’ rhetoric while finding itself sliding in India through diminishing returns is still powerful enough for the Modi concerts to trigger a stampede. An evening out. A chance to say, we were there. Maybe get lucky, touch his hand. The carnival atmosphere is a pastiche of a T20 cricket game, a high voltage Bollywood night with theatrics and special effects that enthral…and to join 40,000 fellow NRIs in singing the national anthem becomes an emotional peak that drenches us with liquid nationalism.

Modi at Wembley
Modi at Wembley

If you are not involved you can afford to extend largesse. So what if the price of dals has gone through the roof. The escalating cost of onions has no effect. Broken or delayed promises leave us untouched. Diesel is up, what me worry. You want to rape, pillage, do the dirty, eat beef, string up someone, have a communal conflict, knock yourself out. I live 5000 miles away. Corruption, crime, caste wars, stupid legislation, all of them merely muddy rivers passing us by. Let the media there calculate what Modi has spent or brought to the table from his 27 trips. We couldn’t care less.

Consequently, the remoteness of the travails of India is much less a point of passing interest than the value of the rupee to the dollar.

As we build our ‘little Indias’ in foreign lands (ghettos and grand palaces) there is a need to ease the discomfort of being alien, for whatever our level of success, we do not belong. We know that. What better way to find comfort than in posturing.

Modi slakes that thirst and such a wickedly well choreographed entity has been a long time coming.

Wembley was a sterling example of the NRI or Indian origin inspired party night. Mr Modi’s PR team has perfected the art of filling the stadium. Anywhere. They pre-sell to associations exploiting the Indian obsession for Presidents, Secretaries and Treasurers, each a massive tribe unto itself. Nearly a hundred thousand voices will ring out with the ‘Jana Gana mana…’ rendition and millions will watch the superbly orchestrated show and shed a tear for the country we have left behind and the man whose solo performance is all that counts. We saw Modi LIVE on stage.

Back home his ratings rise with each such performance because the shrieking, shouting, cheering thousands send out a signal: look, the world loves him, what’s wrong with you people, even the citizens of each country he visits are intrigued. Nobody i9n the world can match him. The image of heroic entries and exits endures. It’s an incredible, almost diabolical, way of buying time.

Will this bandwagon lose a wheel? After all how many times can you hear basically the same speech. Not so. It’s now competitive and with Indians resident in every country in the world except Cuba (or so it was some years ago) Mr Modi can do Australia, all the GCC, Russia, Hong Kong, the Far East, the Caribbean, Canada…truly, its only just begun…

UK Parliamentarians and Lords calls on  Modi at Wembley Stadium in London
UK Parliamentarians and Lords calls on Modi at Wembley Stadium in London