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Missed opportunities and the Gulf El Dorado

This must be one of those sweet ironies that life throws up from time to time. At a time when there is so much bad news emanating from India about hate attacks, rapes and lynchings targeting its Muslim minority, the World Bank has revealed that India stood first in in the world in terms of foreign remittances.

Thanks to its large and hardworking diaspora that is spread across 100 countries around the world, India received a staggering $69 billion ($68,968 million, to be specific) in foreign remittances in 2017 – ahead of China and other countries, and$6 billion more than what it had received in 2016. Remarkably, around 54 percent of these much-needed funds in foreign currency – $37 billion – came from five Muslim countries.

Out of $68,968 million, $37,042 million have come from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman and the UAE. The tiny Gulf state of the UAE, home to more than 33 lakh Indian expats, contributed $13,823 million in foreign remittances, followed by the $11,715 million. Interestingly, this surge in foreign remittances from Indian expatriates was registered notwithstanding the crash in global oil prices. The low oil prices have slowed down most Gulf economies, bringing to a grinding halt many of their big-ticket projects and leading to massive layoffs in every sector.

Even those who have been fortunate to retain their jobs have been forced to send back their families after the introduction of measures like ‘expat dependence fee’ in Saudi Arabia; value-added taxes (VAT); as well as rising school fees and rents across the region. As a result, supporting a family has become increasingly unviable.

The past couple of years have seen thousands of expatriate families packing their bags and going home for good after spending nearly a lifetime in the Gulf. My hometown of Hyderabad in India alone – just like the numerous other cities and districts of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh – has received thousands of such Gulf returnees. It is even worse in states like Kerala. For generations of enterprising Malayalese, the Gulf has been the El Dorado of their dreams. I am sure that the situation is not much different in other South Asian countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka.

While all Indians have benefited from the economic prosperity spawned by the Gulf boom, it has been a major source of economic sustenance for millions of Indian Muslims, especially in the South. In cities like Hyderabad, in particular, they have helped economically empower and educationally uplift the community after decades of chaos and deprivation following the collapse of the Nizam’s Hyderabad State (A G Noorani calls it the “destruction of Hyderabad” in his must-read tome by the same name).

After decades in the relative comfort and luxury of the Gulf, most expatriates find themselves at sea when they return home. Trying to keep up appearances throughout their diaspora existence, many of them realise to their horror that they haven’t managed to save enough to see through their retirement years. Their children find it particularly difficult to come to terms with the new realities back home.

Although with global oil prices once again stabilising – and thank God for that! – things have once again started looking up in the region, they may never be the same again. The Gulf may never reclaim its celebrated status as the land of gold and opportunity for South Asians ever again.

This is a disturbing state of affairs – especially for Indian Muslims given the situation being what it is back home. Religious minorities have been finding the going increasingly tough under the current order. In the past four years of the much-promised ‘achche din’, Muslims have been at the receiving end of every atrocity imaginable. And the more this regime fails and bungles on one front after another, the more it uses the various Hindutva outfits and rabble-rousers to target vulnerable communities.

For the sake of the economic contribution that Muslims have made to the country over the years through their hard-earned remittances, you would think they would be treated with greater dignity and empathy, if for nothing else. Forget about offering them special economic packages and educational sops to their children – as states like Kerala do – their very future in India has come under a cloud.

Interestingly, even as federal ministers as well as the party rank and file perpetually fulminate against Muslims, telling them to go to Pakistan or Saudi Arabia, the government has unleashed a diplomatic blitzkrieg as part of its efforts to woo Arab and Muslim countries. Apparently, the idea, on the one hand, is to encourage Muslim countries to invest in India and, on the other, to wean them away from the hated arch foe: Pakistan. It is an incredibly ingenious strategy and has already started bearing fruits. Pakistan has never been more isolated, both from its fellow faithful as well as its traditional, fair-weather allies like America and the rest of the West.

Doubtless, it was a masterstroke of genius that would make Chanakya – India’s answer to Machiavelli – proud. Something that Pakistan, divided as it appears to be due to the perceived civil-military imbalance, has so far appeared incapable of countering. Islamabad’s apparent ‘failure’ or lack of appetite to get involved in the Arab-Iran conflict in Yemen seems to have cost it dearly.

Be that as it may, if a visiting Indian leader gets a warm and rousing reception in Arab and Muslim capitals, nobody would be happier than Indian Muslims. What really gets your goat is the contradiction of perpetually targeting a helpless minority at home while pontificating about the evils of terrorism and violence, and hugging Muslim leaders. If this isn’t rank hypocrisy, dear leader, what is?

Let alone reining in motor mouths like Anant Kumar Hegde and Giriraj Singh, they have been rewarded with federal ministries. Someone like Yogi Adityanath, the Gorakhpur temple chief priest and a five-term MP, who has a number of criminal cases – including rioting, violence and murder – against him has been chosen to lead the country’s largest state. No wonder he has been on a killing spree since he took over in the name of ‘police encounters’. There have been as many as 1,300 fake encounters over the past one year, outraging even the government-appointed National Human Rights Commission. Not surprisingly, most of the victims happen to be from the minority community.

What kind of message are we sending to the world with such actions? And how we still lecture the world on the great Indian traditions of peace and non-violence with a straight face beats me. It is this sort of duplicity, coupled with the politics of hate and intolerance that the Sangh Parivar has turned into an art, which breeds terrorism in the first place.

When he swept to power in the summer of 2014, Indian Prime Minister Modi had been offered a historic mandate and rare opportunity to break free from his past and that of his party to make a new beginning for a new, inclusive India. He has squandered that opportunity. And how!

The writer is an independent writer and former newspaper editor.

Email: aijaz.syed@hotmail.com

Aijaz Zaka Syed, "Missed opportunities and the Gulf El Dorado," The News. 2018-04-27.
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , Foreign remittances , Military imbalance , Indian Muslims , Terrorism , Violence , Crimes , PM Modi , Giriraj Singh , India , Hyderabad , VAT