|But persons of
Indian origin have proved different. They account for
about 9 percent of FDI flows into India and at best make
speculative portfolio investment of "hot money"
in the country.
They are greatly differentiated and highly heterogeneous.
They comprise four distinct groups. First and oldest
are those who were drafted as indentured or quasi-slave
labor in the 19th century and dispatched to other colonies
of the British and Dutch empire, such as Mauritius,
Fiji, Malaysia, Surinam, Guyana, Trinidad and South
Africa. Many of them remain relatively poor.
The second group consists of the million-plus Indians
who migrated to Britain in the last century, some through
East Africa - mostly shopkeepers, blue-collar workers
and postal clerks. This group is upwardly mobile, but
has had to struggle hard to be granted civil and political
rights and a proper identity in the country of their
The third group comprises emigrants to the Persian
Gulf after the oil price boom of 1973. These are largely
unskilled and semi-skilled workers or artisans with
a modest income but without full residency rights.
The fourth group consists of affluent professionals
and businessmen who migrated to the United States, Canada
and Western Europe from the mid-1960s onwards. This
group is socially conservative. It is acquiring considerable
economic and political clout, especially in the US,
where it is the single wealthiest minority, richer than
even the Japanese.
It is on this last group that the Vajpayee government
lavished praise as "catalysts of change".
And it is to them that it is offering dual citizenship.
This group can claim credit for many success stories
and some genuine achievements. Nobel Prize winners Amartya
Sen and V S Naipaul and rich Silicon Valley entrepreneurs
are examples. But these achievements are not residence-specific,
and have not catalyzed change inside India.
Persons of Indian origin overseas have a schizophrenic
attitude to India. On the one hand, they are culturally
close to the country and emotional about their links.
On the other, this affinity rarely translates into a
Those from the affluent countries possess enormous
wealth. They account for the bulk of the overseas Indian
community's collective annual income of $160 billion,
almost half of India's GDP. But they account for a mere
9 percent of total investment flows into India, and
only 4 percent of foreign direct investment.
By contrast, humble Gulf-based workers remit four times
more money. Without this, India's economy could not
have survived the oil shocks of the 1970s.
Affluent overseas Indians invest in India out of the
profit motive, not patriotism. Take Lakshmi N Mittal,
the world's second largest steel producer and its richest
person of Indian origin. He says, "The government
should not look at $50 billion from non-residents, it
should look at $500 billion from multinational companies.
I don't think any non-resident would invest because
of emotional attachment. They want returns - I love
my country - but I must get returns as well."
In 1990-91, overseas Indians suddenly withdrew $1.5
billion from Indian banks, plunging the Indian economy
into a crisis.
However, it is the dual citizenship issue that is proving
most contentious. Citizenship is not about passports,
residence or even emotional bonds. It is about participating
in the life of the nation. Citizenship is not a bargain
over investment. It makes no democratic sense to grant
it to people who do not live in the country.
Why does the Vajpayee government so pamper overseas
Indians from industrialized countries? The answer is
the national-chauvinist politics of the Hindu right-wing
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which heads the ruling
coalition. This strikes a chord among conservative overseas
Indians - American and British of Indian origin are
the BJP's principal source of funds too.
The link has been documented most recently by the Campaign
to Stop Funding Hate. It traces donations collected
by a BJP front, India Development and Relief Fund (IDRF),
from US companies such as the computer software giant
Cisco and Apple Computer, and diverted to finance violent
activities in Gujarat state, which in early 2002 witnessed
a pogrom of Muslims. Cisco has since apologized for
having donated money to the IDRF.
The BJP is pursuing a parochial agenda. It congratulates
overseas Indians who occupy public positions, but drums
up xenophobia when that suits it politically. It has
run a hysterical campaign against opposition Congress
Party leader Sonia Gandhi, focused on her Italian origins
- ignoring the fact that she has voluntarily chosen
to adopt India as her home. Legally, she is on a par
with Indians born here. Thanks to such inconsistencies,
the BJP is bringing discredit on itself.
(Inter Press Service)