Since the time of the deep financial crisis (1979) when it had to sell its gold to honour global commitments, the Indian Federal Government has fallen in love with the People of Indian Origin (PIO) or the Diaspora in general and Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) sending home money in particular.
The love of the Diaspora has intensified since the launch of the annual Pravasi Bhartiya Divas (PBD) held from January 7 to 9 to signify the return of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (who later became Mahatma Gandhi and Father of the Nation) from South Africa in 1915 to lead his country towards political independence through peace and non-violence.
There is good reason for this romance. Indians have become popular, powerful, rich and famous in almost every country of their domicile. But most important of all, the Diaspora’s remittance to India last year was a whopping US$ 58 billion, out of which the South Indian state of Kerala alone received US$ 10 billion. A World Bank report said this represented 4.2% of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
New Zealand can be proud of its Indian Diaspora. As well as the first and only Governor General of Indian origin (Sir Anand Satyanand) who retired in July 2011, many Indians are a part of the success stories as businesspersons, professionals and others.
It was little surprise therefore that the theme of the 10th edition of PBD was ‘Global Indian: Inclusive Growth.’
Inaugurating this year’s PBD on January 8 in Jaipur, he said that people in India speak in different languages and follow different faiths.
“But Indian culture has a tradition of assimilating and accommodating diverse traditions, customs, beliefs and peoples. That is what makes Indian society and civilisation endure and flourish,” he said.
He described ‘Global Indian’ as a symbol of this diversity of an ancient land.
“Your individual prosperity and personal achievement are a symbol of what a diverse people like us can achieve,” he said.
Dr Singh said the past decade was marked by visible accretion in the influence and impact of the global Indian across the world.
“We have witnessed a steady growth in their numbers, levels of prosperity and their skills. The government and people of India recognise and greatly value the important role played by Indian communities living abroad.
“We believe that the Indian Diaspora has much more to contribute to the building of modern India,” he said.
The Indian government machinery including the Chief Election Commission has consistently refused to provide opportunities for NRIs (those with Indian passports) to vote in the General, State and Municipal elections, simply because such NRIs would become ‘ordinarily non-resident’ and hence disappear from the electoral roll.
However, the increasing importance of the NRIs and their increasing pressure to reacquire electoral franchise has compelled the government to amend the Representation of People Act (1950) to allow them to vote.
Although Dr Singh claimed this to be a “major step to enable Indians resident abroad to participate in the election processes,” it is still cumbersome. Eligible Indians must be in India, present in their respective constituencies on the day of polling to participate in the democratic process of election. There is no facility, proposed or existing, for such Indians to vote in their country of domicile through the Indian diplomatic mission.
While the Federal and State governments would offer incentives and concessions for the Diaspora to display its truly ‘Global Indian’ profile in India, it must be remembered that they would stop at some point and would not stretch themselves jeopardising the local Indians, more pointedly, their voting power. Therefore, cries of ‘Dual Citizenship,’ ‘agricultural and dairy concessions’ under a Free Trade Agreement would be nothing but unrealistic and wishful thinking.