With an estimated 31 million India-born people living abroad either temporarily or permanently, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi views the Indian Diaspora as a significant and valuable diplomatic asset.
This is why he makes it a point to hold large, often times rock-concert like events with people of Indian origin when he travels abroad. He has done this on his travels to the United States, where in 2014 he attracted 19,000 people to Madison Square Garden in New York; to Britain; Australia; the United Arab Emirates; and just last week during a trip to the Netherlands, where he stopped on his way home from visiting the US and Portugal.
Modi will keep this practice alive when he arrives in Israel this week for the first ever visit of an Indian prime minister.
Israel, obviously, cannot compete with countries like the US, which has an estimated 4.5 million Indian-born people living there; or Saudi Arabia, with 4.1 million; the United Arab Emirates with 3.8 million; or the United Kingdom, with 1.8 million. Still, with an estimated 80,000- 85,0000 non-resident Indians or persons of Indian origin, Israel is in the list of top 35 countries around the world with a significant Indian Diaspora.
Modi is expected to address 4,000 to 5,000 of these people when he holds a largescale event for their benefit Wednesday evening at the Tel Aviv fairgrounds.
“One thing our prime minister likes to do is connect with Indians overseas, not just Indian nationals, but people of Indian origin,” India’s ambassador to Israel, Pavan Kapoor, told The Jerusalem Post
in a recent interview.
Modi’s logic in holding these events, he said, “is that as part of his travels, he wants to connect with everyone, and there are people who obviously retain some connection with India. He wants to reach out to them and say thank you for their contribution, for the ways they are helping build relationships with other countries. He always sees these people as friends for our country.”
Modi said as much last week when he met an arena full of Indians at a sports center in The Hague, where thousands of people chanted “Modi, Modi,” when he entered.
“The embassy staff, the officials they are called ‘Rajdoots,’” Modi told the crowd, representatives of the second- largest Indian population in Europe, after Britain.
“But you, the Diaspora, are the ‘Rashtradoots.’ Indians in Europe must be connected. Every citizen is India’s ambassador.”
According to Kapoor, Modi sees Indians abroad as bridges between the countries where they are living and the country of their birth, and he would like to use the Israelis of Indian descent in a similar capacity.
Kapoor divided people of Indian origin in Israel into five different categories: the Cochin Jews; the Bene Israel; the Baghdadi Jews of Bombay and Calcutta; and the Bnei Menashe. In addition, there are about 10,000 Indians working or studying in Israel in various capacities, with 9,000 of them working in the care-giving sector.
While acknowledging that Indians in Israel are not as tied to India as are those in Britain or the US, he did say many of them are very culturally connected to the country of their birth and appreciate the Indo-Israel relationship.
The embassy is organizing the Wednesday evening event, and making buses available to transport people from all over the country – from Beersheba in the South to Haifa in the North – and from the large concentrations of the community in cities such as Ashdod and Jerusalem.
Noah Massil, a writer and poet in Jerusalem, immigrated to Israel from Bombay in 1970 and has been very active in the Indian scene here since.
He said he is going to Modi’s event for a number of reasons.
“First of all, India is the only country in the world where there was never antisemitism,” he said. “We were there for 2,300 years and they treated us as equals. We lived there in peace.”
Secondly, he said, he wants to identify with the country, “to show that we, the descendants of India, have not forgotten.
We’re not like many of the German Jews who hate the Germans and don’t want to even buy German cars. We are the opposite. We want more contact – I go there every year. We are very proud.”
Finally, he said, he wants to attend the event because he likes Modi and supports his policies both inside India and the way he has opened up India’s relationship with Israel.
Another Israeli born in India, Linda Rivkind, also plans to attend the event.
Rivkind, who was born and raised in Calcutta and moved to Israel in 1971, said she has retained an emotional connection to the country so much so that she applied for Overseas Citizenship of India, a document that allows its holders visa-free travel to the country and the ability to stay there – and work – for any length of time.
India does not, however, allow dual citizenship, so this does not give the right to vote or the right to purchase agricultural property.
“I have a few friends who are going,” the Tel Aviv resident said when asked why she wanted to attend the Modi event. “I want to see the atmosphere.”