Every year India celebrates Kargil Vijay Divas on July 26 to commemorate and celebrate the supreme sacrifice of young men and officers of the Indian armed forces who laid their lives in defence of the Indian nation against a calculated aggression by Pakistani-trained terrorists and regular armed forces.
There is something inherently unique about the Kargil war and the latent desire of remembering our fallen heroes in this war, especially among the global Indian diaspora, which is relatively unseen with other previous wars that India had fought and won.
It’s important to note that India has fought much bigger, more ferocious, and equally decisive wars in the past than what our collective consciousness remembers of the Kargil war.
Indo-Pak war of 1971 was of a far bigger scale, requiring the mobilisation of a much larger number of soldiers across two different sectors of the country, and eventually carving out the independent nation of Bangladesh.
Rarely do military operations, especially those within the developing world, result in the creation of an independent nation.
In fact, within the Indian strategic community, the heroics of 1971 India-Pakistan war are embedded with more excitement and respect, as it was the only occasion when the United States had come close to threaten India militarily.
For the uninitiated, surprised and infuriated by the blitzkrieg of the Indian armed forces in the eastern frontier in 1971, the US dispatched a powerful naval task force (Seventh Fleet) into the Bay of Bengal to prevent India from overrunning Pakistan.
As is evident historically, India had then stood her ground, and the world has had to accept the reality of India’s strategic military victory that led to the creation of a new independent state.
December 16 was declared as the original Vijay Diwas to commemorate India’s victory over Pakistan, much before Kargil Vijay Diwas emerged on the collective consciousness of the Indian nation.
However, not many in the present generation of the Indian population, especially within the Indian diaspora, would remotely remember and celebrate the original Vijay Diwas, as we fondly remember the Kargil Vijay Diwas.
What is so uniquely special about the Kargil Vijay Diwas, especially for the Indian diaspora around the world?
Intuitively, there seem to be three factors in play that has catapulted Kargil Vijay Diwas in our collective consciousness like never before.
Firstly, the Kargil War was the first war to be televised across India through emergent broadcast journalism.
It was for the first time that Indian people were served with images of India’s armed personnel reflecting their steely resolve to defend every inch of India’s territory – the supremely pure form of patriotism.
Secondly, fought in 1999, this war not only has a timing which is recent in public memory, but it also coincides with a period in Indian history when India has emerged as the world’s topmost source of international migrants.
It is to say that India has topped the United Nations (UN) list of people living abroad at 17 million. It roughly corroborates to one-in-twenty migrants worldwide are born in India.
In 2017, India was the largest country of origin of international migrants at 17 million with China at the distant fourth position with 10 million people living abroad.
Significantly, the United Nations started tracking migrant origins only in 1990.
According to many estimates, the number of international Indian migrants has more than doubled over the past 25 years, growing about twice as fast as the world’s total migrant population.
The above analysis points to the fact that a majority of the Indian diaspora around the world have left mainly Indian shores during and after the decade of the 1990s.
A majority of this segment of the Indian diaspora was the one who had witnessed the first televised Kargil War in their living rooms and is naturally expected to carry fond memories.
Thirdly, several scholars of politics and international relations have discoursed on the emergent concept of “absentee patriotism” among diasporic communities.
A South Africa-based anthropologist Anand Singh, in his research paper titled Absentee Patriotism: India, the Indian Diaspora and the Pravasi Bharati Divas has argued that increasing numbers of migrants continue to show affinity to either their countries of birth or their ancestral homelands.
Such affinity is often demonstrated in the ways that they maintain their ethnic identities while rebuilding their lives and futures for their successive generations in the countries to which they relocate.
While scholars identify several means of showing attachment to their countries of birth cum ancestral homelands by way of regular visits or remitting parts of their earnings, either to support families or to develop their countries as features of ‘absentee patriotism.’
It is argued here that these diasporic communities also look toward other symbols of nationalism such as remembering their fallen heroes as another feature of absentee patriotism.
Such latent feelings within the broader Indian diaspora, of absentee patriotism further exalt the status of Kargil War in their collective consciousness.
Indeed, we live in interesting times in human history dominated by the unprecedented shrinking of the world by the advent of modern technology and the ease of people’s movement across international borders.
Till the direction of the world is drastically changed by Trump-esque politics around the world, the diasporic communities, and in particular the Indian diaspora, will continue to remember and celebrate every opportunity such as the Kargil War that allows them to express their self-identity.