For decades after India’s independence in 1947, the country was seen throughout the world as desperately poor, weak, and engulfed by a huge number of problems. Many in the United Kingdom and other Western countries believed that India would break up and also face mass starvation. Further, it did not help that India remained neutral and refused to side with the West during the Cold War between the Russia-led Communist bloc and the US-led Western block. The only individual that the West seemed to connect with was Mother Teresa and her work with the poor in Kolkata. India’s problems were compounded by severe droughts or floods almost every year.
From Europe to the Middle East to Africa, India was seen as a place of desperate poverty. No one had the patience to empathise with a country that had just received freedom after almost a thousand years of occupation. India had been robbed of all its legendary wealth. It started with nothing in 1947. The 1962 war with China cemented the image of India as a weak, struggling nation. Socialist policies and state intervention in every aspect of life stifled entrepreneurship and encouraged massive corruption and bureaucracy. Only two things about India interested some in the West. The first was India’s spiritual heritage; spiritual leaders like Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, AC Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, and Acharya Rajneesh had a huge following in the West, including members of the Beatles and other famous musicians. The other was Indian cinema of the 50’s and 60’s. The Russians, many African countries and even the Chinese loved Indian film from the time.
On the international stage and the diplomatic front, India continued to be on the sidelines. Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh personified the image of India as a lightweight by keeping a low profile and hardly saying a word. In other words, he did not have the gift of the gab. On the other hand, we had people like Mani Shankar Iyer who spoke the Queen’s English and hoped to impress the Europeans with their immaculate suits and manners. This sycophancy did not do much for Indian interests.The only person who stood up to the West with some grit was Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. After Kenya won its independence in 1964, the Indian government presented the Kenyan Parlament with a Speaker’s Chair. When the handover ceremony took place, several MPs made fun of the gift. Many wondered if India could really afford to donate a chair. Such was the situation then.
All this changed with the entry on the scene of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The first winner was his body language. Standing tall and walking with confidence, he began to win over world leaders. PM Modi on the international stage is an undisputed leader to whom the world listens. The Lutyens are baffled as to how the Prime Minister has transformed India’s image. He is ably supported by the soft-spoken but firebrand Dr Jaishankar.
Something similar has been achieved by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in the UK. The youthful Sunak has flabbergasted the country with his chutzpah and his deft problem-solving abilities. At a recent religious event in Cambridge, he proudly acknowledged his Hindu faith and the fact that Lord Ganesh sits in his office. He also served langar or prasad to devotees just as PM Modi had previously done. We now have two Hindu Prime Ministers from two different countries! Both PM Modi and PM Sunak as well as the numerous Indian-origin CEOs of huge corporate bodies in the United States have galvanised Indians all over the world. We can achieve anything!
Currently, there are three Indian-origin Republican party candidates who are vying for nominations for next year’s presidential elections in the US. Nikki Halley, whose real name is Nimrata Nikki Randhawa, is of Sikh heritage. Hirsh Vardhan Singh and Vivek Ramaswamy are the other two. Elon Musk, the richest person in the US, has declared his support for Ramaswamy. The Tesla CEO called entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy a “promising candidate” for the 2024 US presidential election. We might see an Indian-origin President head the most powerful nation in the world! Sunak has proved that anything is achievable. He has and will Inspire Indians all over the world.
Indians are now regarded with great respect all over the world. India’s soft power has also won over many countries. The free distribution of Covid vaccinations and India’s willingness to share its digital knowledge ushered in a new approach to diplomacy. India Stack is a digital project that was conceptualised and first implemented in India, where its rapid adoption by billions of individuals and businesses helped promote financial and social inclusion. The ubiquitous Aadhar Card is the mascot of this technology. Armenia, Sierra Leone, Antigua, Suriname, Papua New Guinea, as well as Trinidad and Tobago, have taken up India’s offer to freely transfer this technology.
Countries including Britain and France have also accepted India’s United Payments Interface System. UPIS is a way to move money from one bank account to another using a single window. One can send or receive money or scan a quick response (QR) code to pay a person, a merchant, or a service provider, shop, pay bills, and authorise payments. Even vegetable vendors in India now accept digital payments. Prime Ministers Modi and Sunak have inspired Indians all over the world. Let us all propel India and its cultural and spiritual values to reach all corners of the world. The stars have aligned for this auspicious moment in history and each of us should contribute to changing the course of history.