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The Right to Speak: Diaspora Voices in Native Politics

A community that is present in the interstitial spaces of cartography is diaspora. This community resides on the precarious precipice of belonging and alienation, often victim to prejudices and nostalgia. The political position is even more problematic—should they, and if yes, how should they interact with the political contours of their home nation. The question acquires more complexity when one observes their active involvement in national elections. In the singular, exclusive identity called “citizenship,” where does one situate multiple diasporic identities? Moreover, how is one supposed to react to their comments and criticisms on national political jumble?

Following Dhruv Rathee’s analysis of the Indian political scenario, a dormant controversy surrounding diaspora voices has resurfaced: who has the right to speak about a nation’s state of affairs? Rathee’s German residency has sparked backlash against the YouTuber for claiming to voice his concerns for national welfare while choosing to situate himself away from the country itself. However, this debate sparks the question of authority vis-à-vis an individual’s geographical location.

In today’s interconnected world, the authority of diaspora personalities to participate or comment on the politics of their native states is a matter of contention. Some argue that distance breeds detachment, rendering their opinions irrelevant or ill-informed. Secondly, they are also accused of unwarranted interference, especially when they don’t even cast their vote. However, this view overlooks the valuable perspectives and insights that they can bring to the table.

Credits: Vuk Valcic

Firstly, it’s crucial to acknowledge that physical distance does not imply emotional or cultural detachment. Many members of the diaspora maintain strong ties to their homeland, staying informed about political developments and engaging in discussions with fellow citizens. Their experiences of living abroad often provide them with a broader perspective, enabling them to compare and contrast different political systems and policies. This comparative insight can be invaluable in identifying areas for improvement within their native states.

Furthermore, diaspora personalities often possess unique skills, networks, and resources that can contribute positively to the political discourse back home. Whether through financial support, advocacy efforts, social media activism, community organisations, or knowledge exchange, their involvement can catalyse positive change and progress. By leveraging their connections abroad, diaspora individuals can also facilitate international cooperation and collaboration, bringing global attention to local issues.

Several diasporic individuals who contribute to national interests or political affairs need to be introduced:

  1. Rana Ayyub: An investigative journalist and author, Ayyub’s work focuses on human rights issues and political developments in India. She provides critical commentary on contemporary Indian society and politics. For example, her work, Gujarat Files: Anatomy of a Cover Up deals with the background of and her experience in cataloguing officials’ interviews about the Gujarat riots of 2002.
  2. Mira Nair: A renowned filmmaker and director, Mira Nair’s work often explores themes related to Indian society, culture, and politics. Through her films, such as “Salaam Bombay!” and “The Namesake,” she offers commentary on various aspects of Indian life and politics.
  3. Partha Chatterjee: A political theorist and historian, Partha Chatterjee is known for his influential work on nationalism, post-colonialism, and democracy in India. He has written extensively on issues of identity, citizenship, and power dynamics in postcolonial societies, offering critical insights into Indian politics and society. His book, A Possible India: Essays in Political Criticism offers a detailed and critical analysis of Indian politics over fifty years since independence.
  4. Ashis Nandy: A prominent social theorist and cultural critic, Ashis Nandy has made significant contributions to the understanding of Indian politics, psychology, and society. His work often explores the intersection of culture, identity, and politics, challenging conventional wisdom and offering alternative perspectives on contemporary issues. His works offer a critique of Hindutva, State violence, European colonialism, amongst others. His contribution to Indian Politics is reflected in his work, Creating a Nationality: the Ramjanmabhumi Movement and Fear of the Self (1995), and in Talking India: Ashis Nandy in conversation with Ramin Jahanbegloo (2006) by Ramin Jahanbegloo.

Where on one hand, the criticisms of these diasporic voices are dismissed under the sole reason of geographical distance, the political parties have their fair share of engagement with the diasporic communities. This is an imperative aspect that cannot be overlooked. Despite the fact that diasporic members typically do not participate in elections due to India’s lack of provision for dual nationality and restrictions on overseas voting methods, their involvement remains significant. With an estimated 32 million Indians and people of Indian origin scattered worldwide, from Singapore and Malaysia to the U.S. and Canada, this demographic holds considerable political sway and financial resources.

India ranks among the top recipients of foreign remittances, having received approximately $100 billion in 2022, marking a 12% increase from the previous year, according to the World Bank. While foreign political funding raises concerns, analysts suggest that NRIs (Non-Resident Indians) contribute to parties by assisting in funding transportation and banners, as well as mobilising volunteers.

One cannot deny the involvement of diasporic agencies in national affairs. In such a scenario, dismissing their voices of criticism is an act of refusal to accept critical analyses. It is the ideas that need a thorough hearing instead of the individual’s spatial location or electoral rights.

Ifrah Fatima is a student pursuing English Honours from Jamia Millia Islamia.

Edited by: Zakia Tasnim Ahmed

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Written by Ifrah Fatima

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