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Doubtful Decisions And Dual Loyalties

Jawaharlal Nehru said that the first loyalty of Indian communities abroad should be to the country of their adoption. The much-publicised Pravasi Bharatiya Divas, or Indian Diaspora Day was in direct contradiction to those words of wisdom.

Doubtful Decisions And Dual Loyalties
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-0001-11-30T00:00:00+0553

This piece was originally written in 2003

The much-publicised Pravasi Bharatiya Divas, or Indian Diaspora Day, was celebrated this month with the government playing host to hundreds of overseas Indians.

The objective of the conference was to affirm that the Indian people and government now acknowledge that the Indian diaspora has become a significant factor in the country's external relations as well as domestic politics.

The diaspora is being perceived as a possible source of influence and inputs, both abroad and in India, serving Indian interests.

A number of policy decisions were announced, indicating the government's appreciation of the incremental role being played by Indians abroad. One of the most important decisions was granting of dual citizenship to certain categories of Indians living abroad who have acquired foreign citizenship.

The government had earlier decided to issue persons of Indian origin (PIO) cards to overseas Indians. During the last four years, the government had also extended privileges and facilities with regard to grant of visas and education in technical and professional institutions for children of non-resident Indians (NRIs) and so on.

The decision to grant dual citizenship has been opposed on various grounds, which are rooted in some fundamental questions.

The first question is how granting Indian citizenship to PIOs who have acquired foreign nationality would serve India's substantive interests. What are the motivations of Indians abroad for demanding dual citizenship and of the Indian government for granting it?

The presumption or anticipation is that giving dual citizenship to Indians will give them a greater sense of identity with India. Secondly, privileges such as travel, acquisition of property and extension of educational facilities would result in their becoming more obligated and involved in the developmental and economic progress of India. Thirdly, grant of such citizenship will increase their commitment to India in the countries where they reside.

This raises the question why such decisions should be on a quid pro quo basis. Is citizenship an issue to be settled on the basis of a bargain?

The objectives behind the decision can be met without the grant of dual citizenship if the government is sufficiently flexible in providing facilities to PIOs and the latter are sufficiently emotionally committed to their linkages with India and India's causes.

The fact that the Indian community abroad insists on dual citizenship implies that they predicate their involvement with India on New Delhi granting them privileges of citizenship despite their having acquired foreign citizenship voluntarily. This does not show much of a commitment or involvement with India.

The other reason why this is an avoidable gesture is because it is being granted on a selective basis. It is not being extended to all Indians who are foreign nationals living in all parts of the world. Out of 20 million Indians living in different parts of the world, dual citizenship is likely to be granted to 4.5 to 5 million Indians living in Western Europe, the U.S., Canada and other prosperous countries like Japan and Australia.

PIOs in other parts of the world will not be eligible for this facility. Then, again, the grant of dual citizenship is a conferment of facilities and privileges without obligations on the part of Indian beneficiaries abroad.

They will not be part of political processes of India. There will be no obligation on their part to serve the Indian government if it becomes necessary. They can detach themselves from obligations towards India by claiming their basic national identity with a foreign country.

Leaving aside some marginal economic and social benefits, the grant of dual citizenship results in the phenomenon of ambiguous loyalty amongst those who get it.

The resentment and angst the large numbers of PIOs in other parts of the world would feel about this selective grant of dual citizenship can create tensions in Indian communities abroad as well as problems for India's foreign policy. This is apart from the fact that a fair segment of Indian public opinion does not see any justification for the grant of dual citizenship.

Out of 184 countries that are members of the U.N., only about 40 countries allow dual citizenship to their communities living abroad. Apart from aberrations resulting from dual loyalties, travel and property facilities resulting from the grant of dual citizenship can create problems of security and socio-economic tensions within India.

This is particularly so in a poor country like India where the proposal would give benefits to well-to-do Indians living abroad whose only merit is their having gone abroad and become rich.

This decision is rooted in many of the political parties in India, particularly the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), depending on funds from foreign nationals of Indian origin living in the more prosperous countries of the world. India could have avoided this decision, which is based essentially on narrow short-term motivations.

A majority of the Indian community in the Gulf is unhappy with the decision regarding selective grant of dual citizenship.

Two other decisions announced also smack of ad-hocism and lack of reason. The "Pravasi Bharatiya Samman" was awarded to a number of persons of Indian origin. No doubt all the awardees are eminent in their respective spheres of achievement, but an award by the Indian government to a PIO should primarily be for activities by the individuals concerned that have served India's cause or Indian interests.

PIOs, who might have established educational institutions in India or contributed to the social and developmental projects benefiting the people, should have been chosen for the honour. There is no rationale for conferring this award on persons like Nobel laureate V.S. Naipaul who have lived all their lives abroad and whose only claim to the award was their international stature.

Then there is the decision to give facilities to children of PIOs to get admission in Indian technical and scientific institutions. This will be at the cost of Indian students who have to face tough competition to get admission to these institutions.

How justified is it to extend this facility to children of PIOs who are in any case well to do and live in countries where such facilities are available? The obvious reason behind the decision is to help children of PIOs who are not sure of making it to foreign institutions through competition.

Another question requiring an answer is the quantity and extent to which the Indian diaspora has contributed to India's economic development in terms of investment, building of infrastructure or augmenting India's economic growth.

Barring a few individual cases of NRIs building educational institutions in some places near their alma maters in India, one has not seen any significantly broad trend of NRIs and PIOs being involved in the building of India. Had there been some emerging trend over the last decade, the hoopla at the disapora conference here would have been justified.

Vast sections of PIOs even from North America and Western Europe -- the major beneficiaries of the Pravasi Bharatiya exercise -- had kept away from the conference and were critical of its proceedings as being a purely partisan exercise by the BJP.

It is a pity the government forgot Jawaharlal Nehru's advice to the Indian communities abroad in the years following the country's independence to integrate themselves fully with the people of the countries of their adoption, as their first loyalty should be to the country of their choice.

Pravasi Bharatiya Divas was in direct contradiction to those words of wisdom of Nehru.


J.N. Dixit was a former foreign secretary. This piece was originally written in 2003

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