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Allow overseas Indians to have citizenship and political rights

Rajiv J Chaudhri

For a nation that proudly and tirelessly espouses to the world the idea of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam – the world is one family – India is perhaps unconsciously tone-deaf in how it discriminates against more than 10 million members of its own family. I refer to the treatment of Persons of Indian Origin who carry passports issued by other countries. By doing this, they lose the opportunity to hold Indian passports.

Think how unfair this is. I may look Indian and have been born in India, as immersed in Bollywood as kids in Mumbai, rooting for the Indian cricket team as much as anybody else. But if i happen to hold the citizenship of another country, i cannot carry an Indian passport. Instead, the best i can have is an Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) card which allows me to travel to India, and live and work there, but denies me: 1) the right to vote; 2) the right to hold elective public office; 3) the right to compete for government jobs; and 4) the right to buy agricultural property.

I know what you are thinking – “Be grateful we have given you even this much. After all, you left us!” To which my response is, “What about Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam”? If there is any philosophical or moral merit to this idea, then surely no Indian who ever left the shores of India ceases to be a member of the Indian family. Then why treat us differently?

To which you might say – every other country does the same thing. But you would be wrong – at least 50 countries, including major ones like the US, UK, Canada and Australia, allow dual or even multiple citizenships.

But how would you know that we would be loyal to India? This is an unfair knee-jerk question. A little reflection will show that resident Indians are not required to prove their loyalty, so why should Overseas Indians be held to a different standard? Consider the millions of resident Indians who show active “disloyalty” to India on a daily basis – through their corruption, tax evasion, fraud, subversion of institutions, incitement to communal violence, terrorism, etc. You do not take away their citizenship for any of these reasons.

Moreover, overseas Indians have proved their loyalty time and time again – most spectacularly in 1999 during the Kargil War when NRIs were critical in influencing and shaping public opinion in the US all the way to the US Congress and President Bill Clinton, who just a year earlier had castigated and sanctioned India for its nuclear tests. But he shifted gears dramatically and forced Pakistan to withdraw in humiliation. US-based NRIs also made a valuable contribution in guiding the US towards accepting India in the nuclear club.

Permitting dual citizenship will get India incremental, high quality civic engagement in local, state and national issues. The grant of full political rights will see more Indians abroad choosing to get involved in the political processes of India, instead of being mere bystanders. OCIs will bring, based on their observations and experiences, new, creative and innovative approaches and skills to think about and solve problems.

Having experienced and helped build successful public institutions, these overseas Indians understand good citizenship, and demand and expect quality in all aspects of public life. They will bring new and better ideas for governance to improve delivery of public services and reduce corruption. And they will bring all the passion and energy that has allowed them to be successful overseas. How can all this be bad for India?

And then there is money. Overseas Indians remit an average of $70 billion annually to India, approximately 3% of India’s GDP. Given India’s large twin deficits in the fiscal and current accounts, these remittances continue to be a vital bridge to economic stability. It is likely that this number would go up, perhaps quite substantially, if overseas Indians were allowed to connect and involve themselves more deeply with India.

To sum up, uniting the Great Indian Family costs India nothing and could deliver some very significant benefits. It is a free option.

DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.

via TOI Blog

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Allow overseas Indians to have citizenship and political rights


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