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Thursday, Sep 19, 2019

New Delhi must grant dual citizenship to its diaspora

If the Chinese diaspora could contribute in making China the superpower that it is today, there is no reason why India too cannot pull off a similar miracle with its diaspora’s participation.

analysis Updated: Jan 21, 2019 08:03 IST
S Venkat Narayan
S Venkat Narayan
A crowd of US-based supporters await the arrival of Prime Minister Narendra Modi for a community reception at Madison Square Garden in New York, 2014.
A crowd of US-based supporters await the arrival of Prime Minister Narendra Modi for a community reception at Madison Square Garden in New York, 2014.(AFP File )
         

The 15th Pravasi Bharatiya Divas (PBD) convention kicks off today in Varanasi. Nearly 6,000 overseas delegates are flocking to the holy city to celebrate their Indian connection for three days. This is a good time to look at the evolving relationship between India and its 31.2 million diaspora living in 208 countries across the globe. About 70% of them live in nine countries, the US being home to 4.46 million, followed by Saudi Arabia (4 million), Malaysia (2.4 million), and the United Arad Emirates (2.8 million).

The migration of Indians is at least 2,000 years old, and began during emperor Kanishka’s reign (first century AD). In 1834, the British began exporting bonded labour from India to Mauritius and its other colonies. Known as the old diaspora, these overseas citizens of India (OCIs) number about 18 million, and are citizens of the countries they live in. The remaining 13.2 million are those who migrated from the mid-1960s. Most of them retain their Indian citizenship, and are called non-resident Indians (NRIs).

How’s the diaspora faring? Quite well, actually! 28 of them have gone on to become heads of state or government in 11 countries. Pravin Jugnauth (Mauritius), Mahathir Mohamad (Malaysia), António Costa (Portugal), and Leo Varadkar (Ireland) are among them. Dozens with Indian roots are and have, in the past, been ministers, more than 130 are parliamentarians, and a score are mayors in over two dozen countries. And they send home $70 billion annually — more than any other diaspora in the world.

In the US, the Indian diaspora constitutes the wealthiest community and will continue to remain so for decades to come with an average median household annual income of $100,000 — twice the amount an average American household makes. Globally, the Indian diaspora wields enormous political influence and economic power. Their collective investible assets are at least one trillion dollars — more than a third of India’s GDP. But is India using this valuable asset adequately?

Sure, a good bit has been done for them during the past two decades. In 2000, the then Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, set up the LM Singhvi-led high level committee on Indian diaspora. It made many recommendations in February 2002, including granting conditional dual citizenship. Some of them were accepted and are being implemented, but in a diluted form. A lot more needs be done to engage the diaspora in India’s growth story in every which way.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses thousands of enthusiastic overseas Indians during his visits abroad, and invites them to participate in India’s development programmes. Now, India needs to take its relationship with the diaspora to the next level.

India should consider granting dual citizenship to its diaspora, just as 114 of the 194 United Nations member countries have done. The US, the UK, France, Russia, Germany, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and the Maldives are among them.

The diaspora is allowed to vote in 115 countries. India allows NRIs to vote too, but expects them to fly to India to exercise their franchise at their own expense. Barely 10 to 12 thousand of them have vote. In this day and age, when billions of dollars get electronically transferred from one country to another, India should allow its diaspora to participate in elections through electronic voting. The OCI card is no magic wand either.

There are a dozen countries, including France, that give representation to their diaspora in the Upper House of their Parliaments. India should do this, too. India should evolve a suitable mechanism to enable its diaspora to pick and send their representatives to the Rajya Sabha and state legislative councils. For example, there can be one lawmaker each for every million overseas Indians. The diaspora in the US and Saudi Arabia can send four representatives each to the Rajya Sabha, followed by three from the UAE, two from Malaysia, and so on.

The diaspora’s contribution to China’s stupendous rise is a fine example. When Deng Xiaoping launched economic reforms after Mao Zedong’s death, the Chinese diaspora provided the lion’s share of inward foreign investment. Entrepreneurs from among the diaspora served in the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference and the National People’s Congress, cultivating relationships all the way up to Deng.

China’s ability to grow at double digits became possible by building an export machine based on foreign investment. Over half of China’s foreign direct investment during the first two decades came mostly from its diaspora. China went from a net capital importer with wages half the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) average, to an economy that today has wage levels twice the ASEAN average.

India wants to double its GDP to $5 trillion in the next six or seven years. This can happen faster if the diaspora is actively involved. If the Chinese diaspora could contribute in making China the superpower that it is today, there is no reason why India too cannot pull off a similar miracle with its diaspora’s participation.

Another high-level panel should be appointed to find out how China and other countries are using the communities in their diaspora to achieve their economic goals and make recommendations that can be sincerely implemented.

S Venkat Narayan is a senior journalist

The views expressed are personal

First Published: Jan 21, 2019 08:03 IST