After attacking Raghuram Rajan as mentally un-Indian (he is a US green card holder) and unfit to be governor of the RBI, Subramanian Swamy has demanded the sacking of chief economic adviser Arvind Subramanian. Arvind’s supposed sins include his being a long-time US resident working for the International Monetary Fund, and making “anti-India” suggestions on patents to the US Congress. Finance minister Jaitley, who did not defend Rajan against Swamy’s attacks, strongly defended Arvind. So did many other BJP stalwarts. Swamy reluctantly suspended his demand for sacking, but remained unapologetic.
It is disgraceful for Swamy to question the patriotism of Indians who have US green cards, have worked for foreign organisations, or have criticized Indian government policies in foreign forums. Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen, a green card holder, has often castigated Indian policies and worked for agencies like the World Bank. Is he unpatriotic and unfit to advise India?
The infotech industry has been set up by Indians who worked abroad, often obtained green cards or US citizenship, but then used their talents to promote the Indian economy. Vishal Sikka, head of Infosys, is a US citizen. Does this make him an American agent?
The CEO of Tata Motors is Guenter Butschek, a German. He succeeded Karl Slym, a Briton. Are they are plotting to make India a European slave? The head of the Tata Group, Cyrus Mistry, is an Irish citizen. Does this make him a European agent undermining India?
Swamy’s ultra-nationalist pulp defies decency. Moreover, he is undercutting Narendra Modi’s passionate wooing of the Indian diaspora. The diaspora includes green card holders and foreign citizens, but Modi welcomes them as part of a global Indian tribe that transcends passports and visas.
Once, the RSS saw multinational corporations as variations of the East India Company. Vajpayee liberalized that notion. Modi has gone much further. He sees that today the biggest MNCs are headed by members of the diaspora. Microsoft is headed by Satya Nadella, Google by Sundar Pichai, Pepsi by Indra Nooyi and MasterCard by Ajay Banga. It’s silly to view them as white imperialists.
Globalization has erased narrow identity notions. Ratan Tata’s acquisitions made his Tata group the largest private sector employer in the UK. Nobody there interpreted this as foreign agents taking over white British companies. Cricket teams in the IPL (and football teams in West Bengal) are full of foreign players. They are not foreign agents.
The Constitution mandates Indian nationality for a few top posts. Beyond that, governments need the best global expertise. India had global celebrities like Rosenstein Rodan and Ian Little advising the Planning Commission in the 1950s. Paranoia about a foreign hand was Indira Gandhi’s invention.
The world over, companies and governments now hire the best talent, regardless of nationality. Swamy may call Rajan un-Indian, but Rajan is an Indian citizen. By contrast, the Bank of England governor, Mark Carney, is a Canadian.
The diaspora is aghast that Swamy questions its integrity even as Modi woos it. Narayana Murthy of Infosys says India must institute dual nationality, encouraging simultaneous Indian and US citizenship. That will end Swamy’s narrow chauvinist hounding. India has been moving gradually in that direction with its Overseas Citizens of India scheme.
Wooing the diaspora means going for the world’s best in expertise, not the best in saying “yes sir.” By definition, the best are individuals with strong, independent views, not yes men. You do not get to the top of the diaspora by donning khaki knickers and saluting.
Governments will naturally select people with whom it has common ground, but they must allow space for disagreement too. The fact that Arvind Subramanian, or Amartya Sen, or any globalized Indian has criticized past Indian policies is a sign of vigorous intellect, not lack of patriotism. To expect the world’s best minds to toe the Indian government line before foreign audiences or politicians is to insult their intelligence and integrity.
The irony is that Swamy himself has never been a yes man. As a young economist, he says, he was offered a post at the Delhi School of Economics, which was later cancelled by the government because he was critical of the government’s economic and nuclear policies. This narration is contested by his critics, yet his maverick independence is not in doubt. After joining politics, he fought with the BJP, formed his own party, and has only recently returned. If he thinks such independent thinking does not disqualify him from high office, why complain about Arvind Subramanian?