9.2.1 The Indian Diaspora and its Relations with India
Before outlining India’s diaspora infrastructure, this chapter will briefly elaborate on different terms that have developed to describe people who trace their origin to modern-day India. Some of these terms are colloquially used, some have different meanings in official policies and legal documents, making it difficult to assign singular meanings and definitions. Policy and legal definitions are important to understand specific benefits, collected data, and official narratives.
The most common term used to describe diasporic Indians is Non-resident Indians, or NRIs.Footnote 1 Originally deriving from a tax category, the term used to refer to Indian citizens living in India for less than 182 days each year. In this sense, it is often used to distinguish Indian citizens living abroad from those who have acquired a different citizenship, who are referred to as Persons of Indian Origin (PIOs).Footnote 2 As an overarching category to include NRIs and PIOs, government documents and policies refer to the Indian diaspora, Overseas Indians, or its Hindi equivalent Pravasi Bharatiya (Naujoks 2018a).Footnote 3
As seen through the policy eyes of the Indian political system, overseas Indians fall into three broad categories:
NRI temporary workers, mostly in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries;
NRI and PIOs in the US, Canada, Australia and Europe;
PIOs in countries where large-scale emigration took places roughly 150 years ago (Mauritius, South Africa, Fiji, Malaysia, Singapore, etc.), often referred to as the “old diaspora” (Dubey 2011; Lal 2018).Footnote 4
According to UN data on international migrants, India is the largest source country of emigrants. About 17.5 million persons born in India are now living abroad, followed by 12 million Mexican and 11 million Chinese emigrants (United Nations 2019). This number includes both first generation NRIs and PIOs, but not overseas Indians who were born abroad. The Indian government estimates that in the end of 2018, out of 31 million overseas Indians, 13 million were NRIs and 18 million PIOs (Fig. 9.1).
Note: Per definition, UN emigrants also encompass all first-generation emigrants who obtained citizenship in countries of destination, hence becoming PIOs. Second generation Indian citizens abroad are NRIs but – generally – not migrants, according to UN statistics.
Figure 9.2 illustrates the distribution of Indian emigrants across the major 15 countries of destination. These 15 countries collectively account for 95% of all Indian migrants in the world, excluding though the majority of persons of Indian origin. GCC countries host half of Indian migrants (51%), which explains why the Indian policy framework has a strong emphasis on migrants to this part of the world.Footnote 5
Note: This refers exclusively to Indian emigrants captured in UN data, not the broader definition of Overseas Indians (Fig. 9.1). The dotted line displays the cumulative share of the host countries in all Indian emigrants. Thus, the eight major host countries collectively account for 80% of the entire Indian migrant population. Countries highlighted in a dotted pattern are West Asian countries.
As shown in Naujoks (2010), India’s ‘world view’ of its diaspora has undergone a tremendous change, which in turn led to the adoption of a host of diaspora polices. Until the mid- to late 1990s, state institutions had a negative policy attitude, which can be paraphrased as follows:
The diaspora consists of three elements. First, those who left under colonial rule and who live in remote places like the Caribbean, Africa and Fiji, where they face significant social difficulties from the indigenous population, which is why India should not try to reach out to them. Second, highly-skilled migrants residing in industrialized Western countries, most of whom obtained free education in India and deserted India for their personal benefit, without caring about the progress of the country. Third, laborers who move temporarily to the Gulf countries and whose remittances are critical for their communities of origin.Footnote 6
As the High-level Committee on the Indian Diaspora (2002:xi) concluded: “Barring some high profile names in the Information Technology and entertainment sectors abroad, the Diaspora has been largely out of public sight and awareness.” This paradigm changed through a complex interplay of internal and external, objective and subjective factorsFootnote 7 to a perception that can be described as follows:
The enormous Indian diaspora covers all continents and over 100 countries. The diaspora in the Western countries is rich and makes India proud. Indians abroad are shining ambassadors of the great Indian civilization. They are remitting moneyFootnote 8 and are an asset to the country—they are a veritable ‘brain bank’ from which the country can make withdrawals.
The perception of the temporary Gulf migrants has not changed significantly, although there is a greater awareness to safeguard their rights and working conditions. This paradigm shift took place in many different strata of public life. The new views are expressed in statements from the political sphere, as in, “if there is an Empire today on which the sun truly cannot set, it is the empire of our minds, that of the children of Mother India, who live today in Asia, Africa, Australia, Europe, the Americas and, indeed, on the icy reaches of Antarctica” or the political party BJP, which led the ruling government coalition from 1998–2004, during which several new diaspora policies were established, “believes that the growing achievements of the vast Indian diaspora are a matter of pride and a source of strength for India.” Hegde (2018, 77) argues that the Indian establishment revised and institutionalized the relationship with India’s influential diaspora spread across the world in an effort to redesign its global image as a serious economic player and technological powerhouse. This remarkable paradigm shift may be dubbed as ‘from the invisible diaspora to the diaspora empire’ and ‘from the traitor tune to a pride paradigm’ (Naujoks 2010). In the light of the newly perceived value overseas Indians bring to India, a large set of diaspora engagement policies have been adopted.Footnote 9
9.2.2 India’s Diaspora Infrastructure
India’s government institutions are geared towards specific components of these three categories of overseas Indians laid out in the previous section. In 2004, India established a special Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs (MOIA) that had different joint secretaries and divisions to cater to different categories of overseas Indians. Gamlen (2014, 2019) shows that diaspora-related government offices have spread rapidly in the past decades. Whereas in 1980, only a handful of countries had established such institutions, by 2014, over half of all states in the United Nations had one. However, in 2015, the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi merged the MOIA with the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), where the bulk of issues related to diaspora and NRI affairs are handled now at the ministerial level.Footnote 10 Within the MEA, the diaspora infrastructure is housed in the Overseas Indian Affairs division that includes the Protector of Emigrants, which focuses on (mostly temporary and low-skilled) labor emigration. Until 2004, the Protector of Emigrants was housed in the Ministry of Labor.Footnote 11 Then it became an integral part of the newly created MOIA, before moving with the entire overseas Indian portfolio to the MEA in 2015. The Protector of Emigrants focuses on protecting less-skilled labor emigration to the Gulf region and elsewhere. The other sections of the MEA’s overseas Indian division focus on the other two segments of India’s diaspora population. The MEA overseas embassies and consulates in 160 countries, as well as honorary councils in an additional 36 countries that cater to the needs of India’s overseas population.
The work by the MEA is flanked by several independent or semi-independent bodies. Especially, the India Centre for Migration (ICM) and the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR). The ICM is supposed to act as a government-controlled think tank that undertakes research and studies on migration of Indian workers for overseas employment and supports informed policy making (MEA 2019c). Lastly, the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) under the auspices of the Ministry of External Affairs is India’s primary agency to formulate and implement policies and programs relating to India’s external cultural relations.
The MEA runs Indian Workers Resource Centres (IWRC) in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Malaysia. They provide 24x7 helpdesks for both intending migrants and overseas Indians and an electronic platform attends to queries in 11 Indian Languages. These centres abroad are integrated with five domestic Migrant Resource Centres (MRCs) based in Kochi, Hyderabad, Gurgaon, Lucknow, and Chennai.Footnote 12
As India has a decentralized structure of federal governance, some of India’s states also created institutional and regulatory frameworks for diaspora and migrant populations. At least the states of Gujarat, Kerala, and Punjab pursue particularly active policies relating to their expatriate population.Footnote 13
Since 1998, the Gujarat government maintains a separate Department for Non-Resident Gujaratis under which an autonomous Gujarat State Non-Resident Gujaratis (NRGs) Foundation aims at promoting social, cultural and linguistic bonds among the global Gujarati family, exploring the possibility of how NRIs and NRGs can play a vital role in the development of the state and identifying the areas in which the government can be of assistance to NRIs and NRGs.
In Kerala, the Department of Non-resident Keralites’ Affairs (NORKA) was established in 1996 and 6 years later, its field agency Norka-Roots. Also in 1996, the NRI Sabha (assembly), Punjab, was founded as a non-governmental organization whose primary object was to strengthen the ties between the Punjabi diaspora and the people and culture of their motherland, and to help with their grievances, especially those concerning properties issues. Despite its set-up as an NGO, the NRI Sabha is chaired by the state government’s Commissioner for NRI Affairs. Its chief patron is the Chief Minister of Punjab ex-officio, while its elected president has to be a former NRI, which includes foreign citizens of Indian origin. Furthermore in 2007, the Government of Punjab established a Department of NRI Affairs. In addition to the three states mentioned above, various other states have created Non-resident Indian (NRI) centres and cells to facilitate the relationship with overseas Indians and to address their problems.
9.2.3 Key Diaspora Engagement Policies
Over the past 20 years, Indian state institutions have established a wide spectrum of diaspora engagement, as well as labor migration policies and programmes.
Participation and Representation
While there is no specific consultative or representative mechanism between the central government and overseas Indians, since 2003, the Government has held a large diaspora conference – the Pravasi Bhartiya Divas, one of the objectives of which is to consult with the diaspora and emigrant workers.Footnote 14 At the regional level, in the state of Punjab, the NRI Sabha is set-up as a consultative body that includes government officials, as well as elected NRIs.
Before 2010, with the exception of Indian diplomats and other limited categories, Indian citizens living abroad were not allowed to cast their vote in elections back home. However, a 2010 amendment of the Representation of the People Act allowed NRIs to be included into voter rolls. However, NRI voters needed to return physically to India on election day to cast their vote and could not use postal ballot, voting at voting stations abroad or other remote procedures. As expected, this leads to no significant NRI voter turnout. In the end of 2017, the Government introduced the Representation of People Act Amendment bill 2017 that would allow NRIs to avail themselves of proxy voting. However, the bill lapsed with the dissolution of the 16th Lok Sabha and has since then not been reintroduced. It is interesting to note that the major political parties have affiliate groups, namely the “Friends of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)” and the “Overseas National Congress.”
Overseas Indians have long served as a textbook example for the positive relationship between migration and development in migrants’ countries of origin (Hunger 2004; Kapur 2010; Naujoks 2013). For this reason, for the past 20 years, economic policies with regard to overseas Indians have long been a central area of government intervention.
As there are restrictions for both, foreign direct and portfolio investments, it is important to note that India has created a range of special rules and facilities for NRI investors (Naujoks 2018a).Footnote 15 Even though India receives the largest amount of remittances, in absolute numbers, there are no policies on remittances.Footnote 16 However, India created special savings accounts for NRIs. In the 1970s, the government of India felt the need to stock up the country’s foreign-exchange reserves. For this purpose, it authorized special deposit schemes for NRIs. From the 1990s onward, the policies kept in focus that a high volatility of such deposits could be detrimental to the country’s economic stability, which is why it was sought to attract stable deposits. In order to increase the attractiveness of such schemes, accounts could be denominated in foreign or domestic currency. They also had a higher than normal interest rate and accounted for certain tax exemptions (Naujoks 2018a). While there are no financial incentives for overseas Indians to buy real estate, India has adopted legislation that allows non-resident Indians to purchase real estate. Whereas India’s FDI policy does not allow any FDI into firms engaged in real estate, FDI can be allocated to build townships, housing, and infrastructure. However, while certain conditions apply to non-diaspora FDI—such as the minimum area to be developed or to invest at least USD five million within the first 6 months of the project—these restrictions do not apply to investment by NRIs (Naujoks 2018a).
In addition, when the Indian economy was in urgent need of foreign exchange India issued three foreign-currency diaspora bond schemes. In total, India received USD 11.3 billion in foreign exchange from the three schemes, which were launched in order to help the country over the balance of payment crisis in 1991, strengthen the country when it suffered from sanctions imposed by the U.S. and the World Bank in response to India’s nuclear tests in 1998 and smoothen the effects of an adverse global economy in 2000 (Ketkar and Ratha 2010).
Indian transnational diaspora organizations have been involved in promoting social and economic development in India (Agarwala 2018). For this reason, the Indian government seeks their contributions and offers organizations to register on a voluntary basis with Indian missions. However, given India’s mistrust of any foreign contributions, diaspora organizations’ engagement in India is highly regulated by the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act, 1976.Footnote 17 It channels charitable contributions from NRIs into local development projects that are suggested and implemented by state governments. Furthermore, India signed double taxation agreements with more than 130 countries.
In order to meet the diasporic demand for dual citizenship and within the state’s economic engagement strategy with the diaspora, India created two special membership statuses. In 1999, the Indian government launched the Person of Indian Origin Card (PIO card), and in late 2003, legislation on the Overseas Citizenship of India (OCI) was adopted as another membership category and operationalized in 2005.Footnote 18 In January 2015, the PIO card scheme was formally absorbed by OCI. By the end of 2017, almost 3.2 million persons of Indian origin had obtained OCI, about half in the U.S. and Canada, and 20 percent in the U.K.
Cultural and Educational Policies
The Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) is the main institution to promote Indian culture abroad. Whereas the ICCR deliberately provides cultural assistance to diasporic cultural needs, its endeavors are by no means limited to diasporic communities around the world but aim at fostering the cultural relations and mutual understanding between India and other countries. The ICCR runs 30 Indian Cultural Centers around the world and it funds chairs for Indian culture in other countries. Its website informs that in countries that have a sizeable ethnic Indian population, the centers focus on teaching Indian dance, music, languages and yoga, and organize national days and festivals. Further, since 2006, the Scholarship Programme for Diaspora Children grants scholarships of up to USD 4,000 per annum to 100–150 PIO and NRI students for undergraduate courses “in order to make higher education in India accessible to the children of overseas Indians and promote India as a centre for higher studies.”
With the Tracing the Roots Programme, the Government aims at assisting persons of Indian origin in tracing their roots in India through a cooperation with private organizations.Footnote 19 To ensure ongoing ties with the descendants of Indian migrants, so-called second-plus generation, the Know India Programme (KIP) involves a “three-week orientation programme for diaspora youth conducted with a view to promote awareness on different facets of life in India and the progress made by the country in various fields e.g. economic, industrial, education, science and technology, communication and information technology, culture” (MEA 2019b). The program is modeled on the Birthright Israel program (High-level Committee of the Indian Diaspora 2002, 339). However, whereas between 20,000 and 37,000 Jewish youths participate in the birthright program every year, the Indian program is a small-scale project. Since its inception in the end of 2003 until end 2017, India’s KIP has brought a total of 1,533 diasporic youths to India, or an average of less than 100 youths every year. The small scale and low-level of implementation of these programmes illustrates that many of the programmes are first and foremost discursive tools (Naujoks 2013, 53).