The Bharateeya Diaspora across the globe has of late, begun to show its mettle in the political life of countries of its adoption. It is time to comprehend what it means and how to leverage it?
The Diaspora communities have emerged as one of the important element of foreign policy. They play a particularly important role in soft power diplomacy. The Chinese Diaspora has been a major factor in transformation of China into a modern industrial society. They are the single largest source of foreign investment in China. Jewish Diaspora has exercised powerful influence in shaping US and West European policies towards Israel. Bharateeya Diaspora has played a seminal role in pre and post Colonial India and the region.
Bharateeya migration to the modern countries of Kenya, Uganda, Mauritius, South Africa, and Tanzania started nearly a century ago during the British and French colonial rule. Most of these migrants were of Gujarati or Punjabi origin. There are almost 30 lakh Bharateeyas living in South-East Africa. Bharateeya-led businesses, ranged in the past from small rural grocery stores to sugar mills, are the backbone of the economies of these countries. In addition, Bharateeya professionals, such as doctors, teachers, engineers, also played an important part in the development of these countries.
The Bharateeya emigrant community in the UK is now in its third generation. The UK Census 2011 recorded 1,451,862 people of Bharateeya ethnicity resident in the UK. The main ethnic groups are Kannadigas, Marwaris, Tamils, Panjabis, Gujaratis, Bengalis and Anglo-Bharateeyas. The first wave of Bharateeyas in the United Kingdom worked as manual labourers. However, this has changed considerably. Third and fourth generation immigrants are on the whole proving to be very successful, especially in the fields of law, business and medicine.
United States of America
Emigration to the US also started in the late 19th and early 20th century. Most of these immigrants were Sikhs from the Punjab region. In contrast to the earliest groups of Bharateeyas who entered the US workforce as taxi drivers, labourers, farmers or small business owners, the later arrivals often came as professionals or completed graduate study here and moved into the professions such as academia, information Technology and medicine.
According to Statistics Canada, in 2011 there were 1,260,000 people who classified themselves as being of Bharateeya origin. They are mostly of Punjabi, Malayalee, Gujarati, Marathi and Tamil origin.The first known Bharateeya settlers in Canada were Bharateeya Army soldiers who had passed through Canada in 1897 on their way back home from attending Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee celebration in London, England.
From 1838 to 1917, over half a million Bharateeyas from the former British Raj were brought to the British West Indies as indentured servants to address the demand for labour following the abolition of slavery. The majority of the Bharateeyas living in the English-speaking Caribbean migrated from eastern Uttar Pradesh and western Bihar, while those brought to Guadeloupe and Martinique were mostly from Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. Bharat-Caribbean's are the largest ethnic group in Guyana, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago. They are the second largest group in Jamaica, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and other countries.
Malaysia has one of the world’s largest overseas Bharataeeya populations. Most Bharateeyas migrated to Malaysia as plantation labourers under British rule. They are a significant minority ethnic group, making up 8% of the Malaysian population. Most of these people are Tamils but Malayalam, Telugu, Punjabi and Gujarati- speaking people are also present. They have retained their languages and religion — 90% of ethnic Bharateeyas in Malaysia identify as Hindus. A significant number of the population is Sikhs and the rest are Christians and Muslims.
Bharateeya Singaporeans form 10% of the country's citizens and permanent residents, making them Singapore's third largest ethnic group. Although contact with ancient Bharat left a deep cultural impact on Singapore's indigenous Malay society, the mass migration of ethnic Bharateeyas to the island began with the founding of modern Singapore by the British in 1819. Initially, the Bharateeya population mainly comprised young men who came as workers, soldiers and convicts. By the mid-20th century, a settled community had emerged, with a more balanced gender ratio and a better spread of age groups. Tamil is one among the four official languages of Singapore.
There is a huge population of NRIs in the West Asia. They work as engineers, doctors, lawyers, labourers and for clerical jobs. Unlike in Europe and Americas, most of the countries in the West Asia do not provide citizenship or permanent residency to these Bharateeyas. NRI population in these GCC countries is estimated to be around 60 lakh (2007). Majority of them originate from Karnataka, Kerala, Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Goa. Similarly, Bharateeyas are the single largest nationality in Qatar, representing around 25% of the total population as of 2014. NRI population tends to save and remit considerable amount to their dependents in Bharat. It is estimated such remittances may be over USD 10 billion per annum (2007-2008).
In 2009, it was estimated that there were over 390,894 Australians of Bharateeya origin, of whom 308,542 were born in Bharat. Before roads and road transport were developed, many Bharateeyas had come to Australia to run camel trains and Many Punjabis took part in the rush for gold on the Victorian fields. Bharateeyas also entered Australia in the first half of the 20th century when both Australia and Bharat were still British colonies. Sikhs came to work on the banana plantations in Southern Queensland. Some of these Bharateeyas, the descendants of Sikh plantation workers, now own banana farms. The current wave of Bharateeya migration is that of engineers, toolmakers, Gujarati business families from East Africa and relatives of settled Bharateeyas.
Bharat-Fijians number 3,13,798 (37.6%) (2007 census) out of a total of 8,27,900 people living in Fiji. They are mostly descended from indentured labourers, girmitiyas or girmit, brought to the islands by Fiji's British colonial rulers between 1879 and 1916 to work on Fiji's sugar cane plantations. Music has featured prominently in Bharat-Fijian culture, with a distinctive genre emerging in the first decades of the 20th century that some claim influenced early jazz musicians. Many have left Fiji in search of better living conditions and social justice and this exodus has gained pace with the series of coups starting in the late 1980s.
Diaspora Studies have become a distinct area of scholarship in the last few years and have attracted scholars from several behavioral science disciplines. Politics, economics and a combination the two have fuelled extensive study of Diaspora groups and their impact on countries of their adoption and operation. The commonly accepted definition of Diaspora identifies it as a group of people living in a host country that recognises its separateness based on common ethnicity/nationality and maintains some kind of attachment to the home country or country of their origin. Diaspora is also defined as a dispersion of a people from their original homeland, and the community formed by such people outside their homeland. Although ethnic groups have mobilised within the strife torn areas of the West since World War-I and II, after the end of the Cold War with the increase in general trend toward multiculturalism and globalisation, organised Diaspora groups increased dramatically to become prominent players in the policy process. But this involvement in the policy process appears to be a recent phenomenon. In a sharp contrast to this phenomenon in the West, Bharateeya Diaspora in Asia and South-East Asia has been one of cultural communication and socio-business interaction. Hence, the political presence in this region is much older than in the West.
Diaspora can be sorted into categories of victim, colonial, labour, trade and cultural Diasporas, and at times one Diaspora group can fit into more than one of these categories. As a result, Diasporas can include ethnic, national, religious, and racial groups, and people can belong to or identify with more than one Diaspora group. Diasporas, especially the Bharateeya Diaspora, are known to be dynamic and often self-identified. Usually, events affecting their countries of origin have caused persons of a given ethnic descent living in another country to self-identify themselves as members of their home country’s Diaspora although they had not formerly considered themselves as such. They then become politically active in support of some cause affecting the country of their origin.
Over the years, Diasporas have emerged as a strong economic and political group all over the world. The emergence of global media, financial tools, convenient cultural access, remittance flows, and new technologies of communication and travel have effectively helped Diaspora assimilation dynamics, identity construction and reconciliation, blurring the concepts like ‘domestic’ and ‘foreign’ and ‘citizen’. This has resulted in providing a transformational means to accelerate mobilisation of Diasporas. While their actual mobilisation characteristics vary extensively, some Diasporas have demonstrated the ability to exert sufficiently focused, organised, and powerful influence to make them significant actors in local and international affairs. The Jewish Diaspora’s political and economic influence in the US is a subject of independent study. The Chinese and Bharateeya Diasporas are good examples of Diasporas with economic power, while the Sri Lankan Tamil Diaspora can be cited as an example for the influence and impact it had over the events in the country of its origin and even a part of the region.
A new dimension in the study of Diaspora in recent years has been the factor of brain drain, especially in reference to specific countries like Bharat. More than half of the foreign students who pursue graduate education in the US reportedly do not return to their countries of origin, which created shortages of skilled and educated citizens in their home countries. As a result, many of these countries have begun to change their policies on dual-citizenship, education, and internal affairs.
But in recent times with the advent of liberal economic policies the concept of “brain circulation”, or a reversal of the “brain drain” (talented immigrants returning to their home countries), is widely evident among Bharateeya and Chinese Diasporas. This is something the Bharateeya Government is capitalising on by encouraging large numbers of Bharateeya engineers and entrepreneurs to return home and work. These “returnees” bring back technology, capital, managerial and institutional expertise.
For example, Bharat established the Ministry of Overseas Bharateeya Affairs and has granted her Diaspora special status as Persons of Bharateeya Origin (PIO), besides the existing Non-Resident Bharateeyas, or NRIs. Until recently, PIOs and NRIs maintained their connection to Bharat through social, cultural, religious and financial ties. But now, Bharat sponsors annual conferences to network among members of the Diaspora and discuss the various issues facing PIOs and NRIs in the countries of their adoption. Most notably, Bharat provided that PIOs and NRIs are eligible for dual-citizenship with Bharat in order to create stronger ties with her Diaspora.
The general elections in UK may have registered barely a ripple in Bharateeya political consciousness signifying a fairly good measure of the growing confidence of today’s Bharat. Yet, the general elections in the UK may be justifiably termed important for a singular reason—and one is not referring to Britain’s first hung parliament since 1974, with no single party winning a majority on its own. Among the candidates who stood for UK Election 2010, 89 were of Asian origin, a new record. The last election saw 15 Asian-origin candidates elected MPs, again a milestone for Bharateeya Diaspora’s electoral achievement. The 2010 general election, though, is likely to be remembered especially for the fact that eight Bharateeya origin candidates have been elected—some of them have entered ministerial careers.
Mauritius, often dubbed a ‘mini-India’, not least because of the overwhelming inhabitation of the Bharateeya Diaspora, is one of those few overseas lands where the Diaspora wields overwhelming political power. Diaspora’s political dominance in Mauritius is hardly news, given the island nation’s political dispensation, whose cultural links to Bharat spawn a variety of diverse fields. That is indeed, another element of the Diaspora’s political journey.
Cut to across the Atlantic, and the Caribbean has seen a unique Diaspora political triumph, with Shrimati Kamala Persad-Bissessar, of Bharateeya origin, becoming the first female Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago. Interestingly, she emerged victorious over the party’s founder, Basdeo Panday, who is himself a (former) Bharateeya-origin Prime Minister of the island nation with a one of the most significant Bharateeya Diaspora communities.
Further to the west of the Atlantic, Bharateeya-Americans are emerging as a formidable force on the American political arena, powered by their inarguable economic success, enterprise and hard work, family values and adherence to tradition and culture—the envy of the American political and social milieu—and equally envied ability to seamlessly assimilate into their adopted environs. Hitherto noted more for their economic achievements and hard work, Bharateeya Americans, especially those of the second-generation, are increasingly becoming politically assertive, a fact that has not gone unnoticed, nor its political propensity unfelt.
American citizens of Bharateeya origin have now begun to take more active interest in their country’s public life, inspired no doubt by Bharat’s growing global profile and the camaraderie between New Delhi and Washington, in the backdrop of shifting global geopolitical scene. Bharateeya-Americans are also now not shy of using their undisputed economic clout to lobby the US government and political power centres to influence Uncle Sam’s policies, especially with regard to Bharat’s long-term interests. While the Barack Obama administration has already created a record of sorts by appointing many successful Bharateeya-American professionals to positions of administrative responsibility in the US government, people of Bharateeya origin have also entered political waters.
As we have seen in the case of China, Diaspora can play a very important role in Economic Development and transformation of a nation into a modern industrial society. About 68 per cent of total foreign investment in China during late 80s and 90s came from overseas Chinese. Diaspora is a major source of remittances. Bharat received over US $56 billion in 2011. The remittances contribute a little over 20 per cent of the GDP of Kerala. Punjabi Diaspora contributed to the Green Revolution by facilitating purchase of farm equipment. Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led NDA Government’s initiative of ‘Make in India’ and other economic schemes should reverse the trend of brain drain, capital outflow and technology deficit to allow greater participation of the Bharateeya Diaspora in the new growth story.
It is an undeniable fact that the success of the Bharateeya Diaspora, especially in the political arena does cast its influence on the country of their origin, Bharat. Admittedly, electoral success in their adopted lands has been a fairly recent phenomenon for the Bharateeya Diaspora, one whose contours and emerging dynamics they have to master. Bharateeyas had earlier registered phenomenal success in East Africa, though the location and geopolitical trajectory of that region limited their overall impact. More success was to follow in the UK, first in enterprise, and now, recently, in the political arena too. Places like the Caribbean, the East (Fiji, for instance) and Mauritius are a different story, as it is predominantly the Bharateeya Diaspora, whose inhabitation, presence and endeavour that has shaped those lands. The impact of the Bharateeya Diaspora has certainly been greater on America, a function of NRI/PIO’s high level of education and consequent success within the US. Clearly emerging is the fact that if Bharat wants to enhance its comprehensive national power on its way to its desired global power status, the country has to leverage the strategic impact of its Diaspora in the future. Policy changes in Bharat and global trends could trigger off a potentially large increase in migration from Bharat. For us to leverage our strength overseas, we need to embrace some politically significant policy changes at home.
Seshadri Chari (The writer is former editor of Organiser, was engaged as consultant with UNDP and worked in Southern Sudan. He is member of National Executive, BJP)