During World War II, in 1942 to be precise, US President Franklin D Roosevelt signed an executive order forcing some 116,000 Japanese Americans (of which over 60 per cent were US citizens) to relocate or move from the west coast to `war relocation centers’ in the country’s interior.
The reason was this. Post Pearl Harbor, many Americans believed Japan was about to launch another full scale attack, this time on the west coast. To quote an American Lieutenant General who administered the `internment’ program, "There is no way to determine their loyalty...It makes no difference whether he is an American citizen, he is still a Japanese. American citizenship does not necessarily determine loyalty..."
It took four decades to right the slight. In 1988, President Reagan signed an apologetic legislation which said the government actions then were based on "race prejudice, war hysteria and a failure of political leadership."
Help Us Stay Home, In Britain !
The Japanese American Internment is a prominent 20th century case study in the fundamental issue of citizenship and patriotism. And it often reminds me about Indians and our own fuzzy sense of citizenship and everything that goes with it.
Here is an instance. Some 30,000 Indians in Britain are requesting the Indian authorities to protest a British government move that affects their status under the Highly Skilled Migrants Programme (HSMP). The UK move may be unfair but it baffles me (if I were to believe the reports) that these chaps expect our PM to request Tony Blair to give them safe haven and potentially, citizenship, in the the UK !!
I would divide my America bound acquaintances, friends and relatives into roughly two categories. First are those who seek specific opportunity, find it at a location that is not pre-determined and then `settle’ down. Their return is always open-ended, so to speak. These are a minority. The second are those for whom countries like America are fixated, pre-programmed destinations regardless of what they do in India and how.
What About Patriotism ?
For many first generation settlers in the US, the 80s and 90s have been kind. Having acquired a two-car garage house, lawn mower and a sound understanding of local baseball, they ponder about what to do next. Should one stay on ? Will the children adapt back in India ? Will there be opportunity ? What about bureaucracy, bad roads, cheating taxi drivers and pollution ?
Ah, in passing, they might ask of themselves: should we become US citizens ? If we do, then what does it really mean? Should we give up Indian nationality just like that, just because we are getting citizenship here ? What about patriotism ? Or is it, in any case, restricted to cheering when Rahul Dravid scores a century ?
Okay, how many folks do you think really understand the following: ""I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the USA against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by law.."
How Many Even Ask ?
I would like to guess but will pass. I don’t know whats more worrying, whether they do or they do not. Actually, it is my submission that only 5 per cent of self-exiles actually ask questions. To the credit of this 5 per cent, as I have seen in some cases, they can go through considerable heartburn. The other 90 per cent I would argue, do not even pose these questions. Of course there are many who steadfastly maintain Indian citizenship. We would all know some of them.
I always wonder why Indians (sure, maybe many Chinese do as well) find it so simple to switch nationalities ? Or is it that it does not matter when you are in the flow, student to H1B (or equivalent) to Green Card to citizen. Where is the time or energy to ponder where you really belong !
In which case what must be done about it ? Rather, should something be done or is it another issue best left to market forces ? I am not sure about this. Looking inward, I would argue that the case for patriotism is weak. What I am not sure is whether its getting weaker or with economic development, stronger ?
A Case For Patriotism
Why did I start with the example of the Japanese-American Internment ? Because the argument of economic good and meritocracy scoring over cultural diversity and ancestry can fade over time. Neither the host country or the immigrant can be sure that this sort of symbiotic relationship will stand the test of time, in the truest sense. No one is suggesting a repeat of the Intermnent. And yet we had the veil issue in Britain.
My fear is that young Indians with their fuzzy outlook on nationalism can be victims. Most don’t know (or care) what they sign up for. But for those still to do so, I would still make a strong case for patriotism. To be more appropriately inculcated, if possible. Not one that is necessarily borne out of economic soundness.
PS: This is another Business Standard instalment. Yes, I have been a little pre-occupied and perhaps lazy. I have been busy, among other things, fighting a fresh round of battles with our domestic airlines !