In the contemporary globalised world, Indian Diaspora plays a crucial role in ensuring meaningful engagement between the nation-states
Dr Amit Singh
Redefining Engagement with the Indian Diaspora is the theme of this year’s Pravasi Bharatiya Divas (PBD). On January 9, 1915 after spending more than 20 years in South Africa, Mahatma Gandhi returned India and rejuvenated the freedom struggle. Hence, from January 9, 2003 onwards the Government of India (GOI) under the leadership of the then Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee started celebrating PBD to mark the contribution of overseas Indian community in the country's development.
Historically, overseas Indian community funded the activities of Indian National Congress and the Indian National Army in gaining India’s Independence. In the 1990s, when the Indian economy was in doldrums and the western countries imposed economic sanction against the nuclear explosion, it was mainly the Diaspora that came to rescue the declining Indian economy.
Moreover, in the contemporary globalised world, the Diasporas have emerged as a powerful factor in developing relations between the nation-states. The Diaspora is also playing a pivotal role in India’s ‘soft power’ diplomacy. Therefore, the Government is trying to rejuvenate ties with the ‘old’ Diaspora i.e. the People of Indian Origin (PIOs).
In 2000, the Government set up a High Level Committee on Indian Diaspora (HLCID) for assessing the issues concerning Indians overseas, suggesting new policy and organisational frameworks, and recommending a country-specific agenda to intensify India's engagement with its Diaspora. On recommendation of HLCID, the Government implemented numerous policy initiatives, including the decision to celebrate PBD and instituted Pravasi Bharatiya Samman. The most significant initiative announced by Prime Minister Shri Vajpayee at the inaugural PBD-2003, that the PIOs in certain countries would give ‘dual citizenship’.
In 2004, Dr Manmohan Singh government adopted two significant measures–established separate Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs (MOIA) and introduced the Overseas Citizenship of India Scheme in August 2005 in response of ‘dual citizenship’. During the 10th PBD in 2012, the government announced voting rights to NRIs and they have franchised their rights for the first time in the last General Election of 2014. However, many in the PIOs community believe that the GoI totally ignored Indian Diaspora, except when it occasionally addressed certain issues based on its own convenience. These trends also manifest during the racial attacks on Indians in Australia and some other countries when New Delhi watched the whole episode as mute spectator and engaged only in lip service to pressurise Canberra. Another example of GoI’s apathy to the Indian Diaspora is during Malaysia’s unrest in 2007, when Hindu Rights Action Force (HINDRAF) internationalised the wretched condition of the ethnic Indians in Malaysia; the GoI’s initial response was tight-lipped.
From January 2003, onwards India hosted 13 PBDs but it seems to be merely a yearly ritual and annual jamboree of Diaspora as anticipated by most of the PIOs. During the initial age of PBD, there were plenty of expectations from the GoI especially towards the plight of PIOs, which India did not address. Therefore, lesser participation of the overseas Indians in the PBD is witnessed in recent years. Nowadays, the Diaspora has realised that the event is more about ‘Bharat’ rather than the ‘Pravasi’.
The report of the HLCID is also an imperfect document and needs to be revised. The GoI action and reaction related to the concerns of PIOs in the host countries is a need of the hour. The time has changed; hence, a more pro-active Diaspora policy is required. India could have the obligation to address the concerns of the ethnic Indians anywhere in the world, without jeopardising their relations with the host countries. Only then, the condition of PIOs as well as India will improve globally, as PIOs constitutes more than 75% of the Indian Diaspora. This is an opportune time for New Delhi to substantially recalibrate its Diaspora policy that redefines its engagement with the Indian Diaspora. This recalibration can pay rich dividends to its foreign policy objectives in the global politics.
(The writer is Assistant Professor in University of Delhi)