Recognising the constructive role that the Diaspora can play in the growth of India, the Modi govt has announced measures to link it to its foreign policy outreach
As recently as couple of years ago, those who were shifted to other countries for greener pastures were considered as somebody who betrayed the nation. Thankfully, that mindset has changed and now they are regarded as assets and brand ambassadors of India. In the backdrop of this paradigm shift in thinking at the policy level of the government, the 14th edition of Pravasi Bharatiya Divas (PBD) conclave is going to be held from January 7 to 9 in Bangalore.
With roughly 25 million people of Indian origin now scattered across the globe – including more than 3 million in the US – the Indian Diaspora is making huge statement across the world. They are in the Parliaments of over 20 countries to big ticket industrialists, professionals and also top sports personalities. In the recent US Presidential poll, five Indian-Americans were elected to Parliament. Indeed, a remarkable feet. And Kamala Harris is already seen as next US President. In Singapore, Indians have the highest and fastest growing share of university graduates. More than 5,000 Indians serve as university faculty in the US. Senior executives in multinationals such as Citibank, HSBC, McKinsey, Pepsi, and Standard Chartered are of Indian origin. Overseas Indians in countries such as Canada, Mauritius, Singapore, and UK are leading political figures. While Indians in abroad have distinguished themselves in several fields, specific professions in certain countries are inexorably associated with Indians. Indians own around 60 per cent of independent retail stores in the UK, nearly 25 per cent of UK doctors are of Indian origin, and Indians operate almost half of all hotels in the US. This is a talent pool that can lend its intellectual capital to India, provide insights to Indian corporate boardrooms, and advise Indian businesses on global best practices.
Why Modi wooing them?
While the PBD is being organised since 2003, the Indian Diasporas are becoming important part of Indian foreign policy after Shri Narendra Modi took over the reins of government in 2014. Prime Minister has been meeting them in groups as well as addressing them from New York to Nairobi. He started with speeches at places such as New York’s Madison Square Garden and in Sydney, aimed at turning every Indian abroad into an ambassador. There he has been exhorting them to contribute money, time and technical expertise to his ambitious programmes, including cleaning up the Ganges river, making India garbage-free and building rural toilets.
In early 2016, a sell-out crowd of 25, 000 Indian origin Kenyans thronged Nairobi’s Kasarani Stadium to hear Shri Modi. They came up there in traditional Indian dresses. And in New York, hundreds of Indians lined up on the streets to catch a glimpse of Modi, shake hands and take selfies with him. One would not remember such scenes before Modi. “You play a key role in shaping a positive image of India not just in America but also around the world,” Modi told a rapturous crowd of Indians cheering and chanting at Madison Square Garden. These events have added a new dimension to India’s foreign policy, said Syed Akbaruddin, spokesman at India’s Ministry of External Affairs.
Rainbow of Indian Diaspora
It goes without saying that during the PBD, thousands of people of Indian origin from the US to Malaysia and from New Zealand to Fiji will gather to discuss the potential of a global community of Indians, to rejuvenate the bonds among overseas Indians. Economists believe that Indian GDP growth of 10 per cent per year will require an increase in annual investment from 24 per cent of GDP to 30 per cent of GDP, and a doubling of labour and capital productivity. The Indian diaspora can help close India’s investment gap, raise productivity, and can also contribute in a number of other ways that make it a significant partner in India’s development. “We are changing the contours of diplomacy and looking at new ways of strengthening India’s interests abroad,” said Shri Ram Madhav, general secretary of the BJP.
Voice of India
The thinking in Indian Foreign Ministry is that they (Diaspora) can be India’s voice even while being loyal citizens in their adopted countries. That is the long-term goal behind the Diaspora diplomacy. It is no secret that prior to Modi, Indian Missions abroad would organise formal receptions with a few dozen prominent Indians when Presidents or Prime Ministers visited. But Modi changed the rules of the game. There is now a consensus that the Indian Diaspora can play a constructive role in overall growth of India. That is why the Modi government has announced measures to link the Diaspora to its foreign policy outreach.
In recent years, several state governments have been making efforts to reach out to the Indian Diaspora. While the government began to host the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas, state governments too have been hosting summits with the aim of not just attracting investment from Indians’ abroad, but also to help strengthen linkages with their native regions. Some states have also set up separate departments to look into some of the demands and concerns of these Indians.
The state governments have acted in different ways, because their engagement with the Diaspora varies. Indian cities such as Hyderabad, Chennai, Ahmedabad and Mumbai benefited from remittances and FDI from a large number of their people present in the US, UK, Canada, the Gulf region and Southeast Asia. Hyderabad benefited substantially in the IT and IT enabled services (ITES) sectors, in particular with companies like Microsoft, which set up a second development centre in the city, the other being located at company headquarters in Redmond, Washington. Other firms such as Facebook have also headquartered their Indian operations in Hyderabad, along with many other large tech firms as well as small and medium enterprises. This is largely due to the Telugu Diaspora present in Silicon Valley, and other major hubs around the world. The same applies to Chennai and Bangalore, which are major tech hubs in India, with Chennai also being a manufacturing hub specialising in the automobile industry, again largely due to its Diaspora in Southeast Asia and other places with a shared cultural heritage. Similarly, the Punjabi Diaspora sends a sizeable volume of remittances, with a number of individuals also involved in philanthropic activities.
And as Modi government is reaching out to Indians living outside India, they are too responding positively. According to a report published in ‘Asia Wall Street Journal’ suggests that Indians working abroad sent whopping $72 billion in 2015, a new record for remittances. The massive Indian Diaspora has been generous in 2015 even as expansion in overall remittances globally has slowed, the World Bank said.
Modi is ensuring that he interacts with Indian community even in small countries especially where Indian Diaspora has strong presence since long like Fiji, Seychelles, Mauritius. He sees them as ideal migrants in their host nations, investing sweat and blood to develop those countries. The main effect of this effort has been to remind host countries that people of Indian origin are invaluable assets to them.
As the Indian diaspora is varied in its occupational and class composition, Modi could put to good use his governance mantra of “Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikaas” — take everyone along and work for everyone’s welfare. For example, when Modi visited the UAE in August 2015, he demonstrated commitment to the working class diasporas there and stated that India values them as much as the millionaires and billionaires among them. One only hopes that vibrant Indian Diaspora would be part of India’s development story as they are integral part of Modi’s foreign policy doctrine.
(The writer is a journalist and former media consultant with Embassy of UAE)