“Bollystan — The Global India”
How is India projecting its growing global influence?
December 3, 2004
Countries that can leverage globalization — rather than being circumvented by it — can rapidly advance their growth and status. Whereas Japan seems to have peaked too early to become Asia's dominant power, some say that India has arrived too late, overshadowed by the Chinese juggernaut.
Yet, India can still rise in the ranks of the globalization game, particularly by using its diasporic agents to attract positive attention, investment and clout. Indeed, India will only become a global player with the support of its vast network of increasingly influential global Indians.
The world's largest democracy is even larger than most people might think. In addition to the one billion people living in India itself, over 22 million Indians reside in more than 100 countries around the globe. Indeed, the sun never sets on the Indian diaspora.
Increasingly linked by culture and technology, they form a Global India, which I call Bollystan. "Bolly-" connotes culture (e.g. Bollywood) and "-Stan" (Farsi for "land") represents the transcendence of borders and sovereignty.
Bollystan is globalization desi-style ("desi" is Hindi slang for "from our country"), the universal consciousness of a Subcontinent. To describe it simply as core nation and diasporic periphery, however, would be anachronistic.
With globalization the second generation has become its own core: confident, creative and productive — an engine of the new empire. Literature of the diaspora tops best-seller lists and fusion food is served at the trendiest restaurants in London and New York.
Bollystan's import-export marketplace of literary genius, spiritual essence, cinematographic border-crossing and, increasingly, political savvy, have done for India what nuclear weapons have not: They are making it a great power.
Instead of remaining geographically fragmented, the potent cocktail of technology and culture now enables Indians everywhere to exist in a real, imagined and shared space.
Indeed, Bollystan has the power to redefine geopolitics. The new maps of power must try to capture the subtlety of subcontinental stardom, stock markets and sex appeal. Cartographers beware: No longer should India be cleaved vertically, jettisoning two halves to opposite sides of office walls.
Like the Anglo-Saxons, Jews and Chinese, desis are building a networked civilization, an archipelago of nodes linked by mutual trust and a belief in knowledge and the virtues of technology.
As Joel Kotkin explained a decade ago, cosmopolitan groups "do not surrender their sense of a peculiar ethnic identity at the altar of technology or science, but utilize their historically conditioned values and beliefs to cope successfully with change."
Today, there are 10,000 or more overseas Indians in at least 48 countries. And more than a dozen countries have more than half a million persons of Indian descent representing a significant proportion of their population. Only China has a larger diaspora globally.
For India, the diaspora's potential as a diplomatic force multiplier is vast. Consider the many nodes already in place — settling and expanding.
Boasting several British Lords, chief justices across post-colonial Africa, the president of Guyana, a dozen Canadian MPs and increasingly high-level federal appointees in America, Indians are poised to capitalize on the double dip diversity of Western democracies.
In London, colonialism is being reversed, with Jack Straw convening minorities to discuss the "domestic echoes of foreign policy." Western diplomacy won't work anymore without plugging into Asians' knowledge and networks.
The rapidly growing prominence of Indian Americans demonstrates the sudden shift in the diaspora's balance of power from the U.K. to the United States.
Indian Americans (de-hyphenated, please, with flexible identity) are the wealthiest per capita ethnic group in the United States today, with a median income of $60,093 (double the American average) and boasting 200,000 millionaires.
Centered in the key technology and financial centers, Indians abroad have sprouted dozens of professional and social organizations. Consistent with other diaspora groups, accruing wealth is an essential first step to gaining access and influence in the democratic marketplace.
A half-century after Dilip Singh Saund, the first Indian American served in Congress, Republican whiz kid Bobby Jindal won a seat in the House of Representatives from Louisiana in the recent U.S. election.
In Washington, USINPAC is using power lunches to become a power broker, recruiting the likes of Hillary Clinton for the Senate's growing "Friends of India" caucus.
Crossing party lines, dozens of Indians had formal roles in the recent Republican and Democratic national conventions and have raised millions on both sides of the American political aisle.
Arnold Schwarzenegger supports a constitutional amendment to allow immigrants to run for president — India's present could even be America's future.
In a world where tribes can become violently tribal, Bollystan is nothing if not a role model. What more appropriate civilization to reinvent the "topology of political space," in the words of James Bennett, than that of the Indus entrepreneurs who have shrunk the world byte by byte?
Secularism, pluralism, tolerance, diversity — the increasingly confident Indian experiment can teach the dozens of ongoing blue-ribbon inter-faith dialogues run by Saudi princes and American think-tanks a thing or two about so-called universal values.
At this year's Pravasi Bharatiya Divas (PBD) in New Delhi, a now annual conference to commemorate Mahatma Gandhi's homecoming from South Africa, then foreign minister Yashwant Sinha unleashed praise on the diaspora's "computer geeks."
More finely, he called upon non-resident Indians (NRIs) — India's "informal ambassadors" and "expatriate-patriots" — to "redeem the pledge" in honor of Gandhiji's famous return to India. The message was clear: Remember where you came from.
But the PBD affair reveals the philosophical, political and economic struggles of conceiving and building Bollystan as a networked, borderless global Indian polity.
Take the Overseas Citizenship Act, which could eventually make India the only nation besides the United States to offer voting to its diaspora around the world (though India's is five times larger).
Is the Indian government offering just a glorified Person of Indian Origin (PIO) card with tax breaks for the new Rajput Princes in Oceania, Scandanavia and the Americas — a limited, post-remittance economy of continued central management?
Or is it genuinely committed to a high-tech joint venture in binding cultural loyalty across the oceans? India's government has given an inch, but a chorus of NRIs wants the whole yard. For the people of India, democracy — even the world's largest — it is not enough.
But India has enough voters already. What is needed, then, is to amplify Bollystan's hard-wiring, bringing in a gargantuan diaspora with the potential to contribute more to India's global potential than its own government, and bring out the best of India in the process.
Indeed, unable to justify either the caste system or other fundamentalisms overseas, the diaspora directs its energy to stonewall perilous populism in favor of charity, social development, health and education.
After India's nuclear test in 1998, even winners of New Delhi's Bharat Samman awards — Shashi Tharoor and Megnand Desai — were left with a bad taste in their mouths.
The Nobel committee spoke up too, bestowing its Economics prize to Amartya Sen, who shames India's militarism in the face of staggering poverty and illiteracy.
Some fear that Bollystan could thus become a political Pandora's Box: a fraternal civil war, defying the predictability of any Bollywood script, yet potentially as gory as any Greek tragedy.
NRIs have gone from "not required Indians" or "not really Indian" to a driver of innovation within India. Philanthropic ventures abound and need to be scaled up by all means.
Thousands of teachers, doctors, social workers and students of Indian origin have completed stints building schools, working in hospitals and advising NGOs all across the country — but there is as yet no Bollystan Peace Corps.
The scale of India's challenges, however, demands just that. Worldwide, Indian-owned tourist agencies could promote "homecoming" packages. Consultants can offer pro-bono services and scientists, researchers and engineers could increase subcontracting of research to Indian institutions.
So the Global India must be, at a minimum, a two-way street: exporting its principles and products and attracting its diaspora's experience. In Jagdish Bhagwati's words, the brain drain must become a "brain bank" or "brain exchange."
India has been energized and inspired by a widely cited Goldman Sachs report that India could be the largest economy aside from the United States and China in 30 years, but Prime Minister Manmohan Singh knows that his government cannot do it alone.
During his recent visit to the United Nations, he urged Indian Americans in New York to "contribute more directly to the quality of teaching and research, of infrastructure and our services sector," with the aim to make Indian education, healthcare, financial services and tourism all world class.
If, as Singh noted, Indian Americans "help to make America competitive, your minds are at the cutting edge of research and your services in a wide variety of professions enhance the quality of life in this great country," then why can they not do more for India itself, which genuinely needs these innovative boosts?
Remittances (at $18.2 billion) are already five times greater than FDI inflows into India — and jumped by a huge 30% from 2002 to 2003.
But as Harvard economist Devesh Kapur has argued, "more than financial remittances, if you think of long-term development, it’s going to be social remittances — the flow of ideas — that’s going to really matter."
India can keep exporting raw talent and labor with plenty left to spare, yet in the last three years, 25,000 technical professionals have returned to Bollystan's motherland.
Tycoon Sam Pitroda, whose WorldTel pioneered the ubiquitous STD/ISP telephone booths, is now laying fiber-optic cable in Tamil Nadu and Gujarat. The brain drain's out-of-place self-Orientalization has become an enthusiastic brain exchange — and ideology is no longer an excuse.
Ultimately, however, it is culture — not politics — which lies at the heart of Bollystan. Here Bollystan can make India shine more than any BJP electoral campaign. United by a love of Hindi Bollywood blockbusters, Bollystan is becoming a co-production, an even thicker cultural glue.
NRI investments are fueling the rise of satellite Bollywoods in England. If anything, culture has become a pillar of global presence.
The mere presence of Indian populations overseas boosts demand for and interest in Indian cultural exports and products. With a global viewing population of billions, it's no surprise that Amitabh Bacchan topped BBC's online poll to name an "actor of the millennium."
In the absence of rules for governing this unprecedented mass of humanity, Bollystan is emerging organically, a diasporic salad bowl of ethno-commerce and a new model of culturally transcendent sovereignty.
The Bollystan stamp is ubiquitous, but subtle — expropriating and morphing Indian-ness at every turn. Bollystan no longer implies a unidirectional cultural flow. After all, the saying goes that India does best what it regulates least: produce movies, microchips and Miss Universes.
So does Bollystan threaten the centrality of India itself? Salman Rushdie has claimed that in the relationship between identity and space, a diaspora needs a geographic locus and point of reference. The promise of Bollystan, however, lies in moving beyond the either/or identity proposition.
Bollystan is cosmopolitanism's inversion: instead of one person being at home anywhere, it is re-rooting desis everywhere in a real and imagined shared cultural space.
Director, Global Governance Initiative Parag Khanna is director of the Global Governance Initiative and a senior research fellow in the American Strategy Program at the New America Foundation. He is also the author of “How to Run the World: Charting a Course to the Next Renaissance” (Random House, 2011) and “The Second World: Empires and […]