ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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The Xenophobia of Patriots

In sports, politics or public life, what separates ultra-hyper patriotism from sheer xenophobia is often a razor’s edge.

Quite a few individuals in India have spouses or partners who were born in foreign countries. Long ago it was near impossible for officers of the Indian Foreign Service (IFS) to marry a non-Indian. K R Narayanan, later to become the President of India, had to obtain an individual personal dispensation from the then Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, to marry a Burmese national, Ma Tint Tint, who later adopted the name Usha. Another of India’s distinguished diplomats, the late Madanjeet Singh, UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador, was in a similar predicament when he married Dhyanawati, the daughter of an Indonesian diplomat. These two are just illustrative instances. Over the years the restrictions have eased and both men and women officers in the IFS have indeed married non-Indians.

In the present Lok Sabha – again to give just two examples – Members of Parliament (MPs) from the Trinamool Congress and the Congress have non-Indian partners/wives. The Trinamool MP is Sugata Bose, an eminent historian, currently employed by Harvard University. A grandnephew of the legendary Subhas Chandra Bose, he has been in a long-time live-in relationship with his partner of Pakistani origin, Ayesha Jalal, a brilliant academic in her own right, daughter of a Pakistani diplomat and grandniece of the acclaimed Urdu writer, Saadat Hasan Manto. The Congress MP is Gaurav Gogoi, son of the incumbent chief minister of Assam, Tarun Gogoi. Gaurav Gogoi’s wife is of British origin. All the four persons referred to, in a sense, occupy (or have occupied) relatively “sensitive” positions compared to someone who is in no way connected with either the executive or the legislature. Also perchance all four are men, and do not belong to a religion of non-Indian origin.

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