Significance: Recently, Delhi hosted a PIO (person of Indian origin) parliamentary conference. There were 285 parliamentarians of Indian origin and at least 125 of them attended the conference. Out of the 285 parliamentarians, 70 are ministers, speakers and even Prime Ministers in their respective countries. In the US alone, there are four members of the House of Representatives and a Senator of Indian origin.
Early Migration: According to Indian Diaspora report, early Indian migration is a subject of debate among scholars. There is, however, a general agreement that it took place both by land and sea routes. Different views have been expressed about the causes of Indian migration to the other parts of the world. There is considerable merit in the view that the primary motive for migration was economic. Indians spread initially to the countries of Africa, South East Asia, Fiji and the Carribean. This was mainly in response to the enormous demand for cheap labour that arose after the British abolished slavery in 1833-34. By the second half of 20th century, it was replaced by the emigration of highly qualified professionals to the developed countries of the West, and to West Asia and the Gulf in the wake of the oil boom.
Today, the Indian diaspora numbers over 25 million, reflecting the full multiplicity and variety of the rich social, ethnic, religious and cultural tapestry of the land of its origin.
Major Issues pertaining to the Diaspora:
- Consular and Other Issues: The main grievance for the diaspora is the ill-treatment, harassment and demands for illegal gratification it encounters at the hand of our customs and immigration officials at the points of entry. Another important issue that diaspora face is related to the fraudulent encashment of fixed deposits in Indian banks.
- Culture: NRI and PIO believe that India’s rich culture should be transferred to the diasporic community. At present, it seems to be fading away from the migrants who were once original inhabitants in India. Indian Council for Cultural Relations has the primary duty to promote India’s cultural relations with foreign countries. Present activities and allocations are not strong enough to meet and fill the cultural void faced by these nations.
- Economic Development: Indian Diaspora has the distinction of being the second largest diaspora in the world with a huge purchasing power. It gets benefits from the remittances particularly from the Middle East and the developed Western Countries, however, there is widespread disparity associated with the state of Indian diasporas and their economic well-being. India has to utilise the specialised consumption demands which are generated by the Indian diaspora in a particular country. For example, Alphonsa Mango was introduced and subsequently got popular in Britain after the presence and demand of Indian diaspora.
- Education: All overseas Indians, both NRIs and PIOs are unanimous that education has the most crucial role to play in forging ties with the Diaspora and India and in developing ties between the different segments of the Diaspora. Educational institutions play a vital role in creating sense of belongingness, cultural and linguistic identity and a balanced allegiance to the host and home country.
- Health: There are several constraints on the health sector in India like that of a budgetary constraint. The role of NRI/PIO doctors has not adequately been tapped up in such a situation. Tertiary health care remains woefully inadequate in India as most of the government support goes to the primary and secondary healthcare system. Indian government have to coordinate with the diaspora to bring in state of the art hospital care facilities and diagnostic facilities as well.
India’s Diaspora Policy: India needs a strong diaspora policy which evolves over the challenges faced by the current generation. The theme for 2017 Pravasi Bharatiya Divas is named as Refined Engagement with Indian Diaspora which is exactly what India needs. The Nehruvian model of engagement with the Indian diaspora involved having them eschew any strong bond with India and to completely merge with the local culture. The present Indian government, judging by its actions, is in direct contrast with this line of thought.
The implication of Nehru’s views was that the diaspora could not expect India to fight for their rights and therefore India’s foreign policy was accordingly structured as a model of non-interference whenever the emigrant Indians got into trouble in Sri Lanka, Myanmar, etc. This naturally reflected the ethos of post-colonial independent India that was trying to make its presence felt in the international politics of Cold War era. With India’s rising economic power and military might, things have changed drastically. This has become further accentuated due to the high remittances that Indian diaspora contribute.
India’s non-alignment posture also precluded it from taking any sides in conflict zones. But since 1990, India has been engaged in major evacuations of Indians from conflict zones, the highlight being the Yemen rescue in 2015. Under the current government, proactive outreach towards the diaspora has reached heights not seen before. The only thing that is relevant is whether a person is Indian or not. That is enough for him to get help from the Indian government. Moreover, the merger of Person of Indian Origin (PIO) and Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) cards have brought the relationship closer.
Assuring the Indian diaspora of help in all circumstances could become a double-edged sword. It has severe implications on the existing capacity that is already under strain. Also, the need for a strategic diaspora evacuation policy from conflict zones in a world becomes imminent where crises materialise without warnings and give very little reaction time for governments. The lack of standard of operating procedures, evacuations could prove extremely difficult in spite of past successes for India in the future and this could lead to a loss in trust for Indian diaspora in the Indian government.