Engaging Global Indians
(My Remarks at the Plenary Seminar of the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas, Toronto. June 10, 2011)
I suspect that I am on this panel because I have had the experience of engaging global Indians in diverse situations in different times. I have dealt with the impoverished Indian farmers in Burma after the Indian exodus of the sixties, I have witnessed the military coup in Fiji against the Indians who made those islands a paradise on earth, I have been in Kenya where the Indians had virtual control over the economy, I have seen the emergence of Indian Americans as a powerful force in the United States since the eighties and I have engaged the largely professional Indian expatriates in Europe. As someone who lives in Kerala, I cannot be unaware of the problems and prospects of the Indians in the Gulf.
One conclusion I have reached from this experience is that there is no single formula that India can deploy to engage the diverse Diaspora it has around the world. India’s policies and approaches have also evolved over the years. In the early years of our independence, India had left Indian immigrants to find their feet in foreign lands with no expectation from them and no promises. India was a passive witness to the upheavals in Kenya, Uganda and the Caribbean, though India warmly welcomed those who returned to their motherland. In the second phase, India began to realize the value of engaging the Indian community abroad to seek technology and investment. That was a period of discovery for both India and the overseas Indians, but the bewildering diversity of demands on their side and limitations of action abroad by India led to a searching of souls by both. Today, we are in the third phase, in which the expectations on both sides have been toned down to a realistic level and India and her children abroad have begun to work in a cohesive manner.
India is today aware that engaging the global Indians should not be single dimensional. There are limits to the extent of investments that they can bring in. Other than the expatriates in the Gulf, the community will not make remittances to India. Demands for dual citizenship have been partially met. Welfare measures have been drawn up for those in need, particularly in the Gulf. The engagement is now deeper, multidimensional and mutually beneficial. The institutional framework has been established by the sagacious Indian leadership, particularly the Minister responsible for Overseas Indian Affairs.
Two major developments have helped to create the right atmosphere for engaging the global Indians for the benefit of the country. First, India’s unprecedented economic growth and its influence in the world have given global Indians greater pride and incentive to be partners in the great game. Their opportunities back in India have grown to such an extent that the thought of return to India is no more far-fetched. This does not mean that there will be a massive return to India. The psychological sense of security about a safe and prosperous homeland gives them greater confidence. I remember that during the Fiji crisis, Indians came to me not for Indian visas, but for Australian and American visas. India does not bewilder them anymore.
The second reason is the political and economic instability in certain parts of the globe. The power and economic centres of the world are shifting. During the recession in developed countries, India presented a relatively stable trajectory of growth. Some regions, who were considered stable and steady sources of energy, are witnessing dramatic changes and democratic aspirations. India presents an alternative in the event of instability and uncertainty and this creates a stake for the community in India’s growth and development.
The new situation has transformed the chemistry between India and the Indian community abroad. Today, Indian communities abroad are seeking innovative ways and means to participate in the exciting events in India. Tomorrow I shall be at a meeting of Indian professionals from Kerala in Chicago to draw up a programme to give professional support to the Government of Kerala. This initiative has come without any prodding from Kerala itself. This is just one example of how global Indians are seeking to network in India for mutual benefit.
India is also in the process of orienting its policies for the benefit of Indian communities abroad. Memories are still fresh about the role played by Indian Americans in finalizing the nuclear deal and in taking India-US relations to a higher level. The growth in this relationship will serve the interests of the Indian Americans. Similarly, the growth in cooperation with Canada is of benefit to the Indian community here. There is a greater emphasis today on developing close ties with countries which have large Indian communities in the developed and developing world. Strategies are being worked out to turn the Indian communities abroad as a powerful resource in our foreign policy. The maturity that has developed between India and the Indians abroad will be of immense benefit to both.