Granting right of franchise to NRIs a major step to involve Indian diaspora in country's affairs

Rejoice, ye Not Required Indians, the Cabinet has cleared the option of voting by proxy. This supersedes the current clumsy scenario of having to fly in on vote day to one’s constituency and cast the vote. Considering that as high as 70 percent of the 20 odd million Indians in the Gulf countries don’t come home more than once in two years this path was indeed a prickly one and the coincidental presence of a few resulted in about ten thousand NRIs casting their vote across the nation which hardly constituted a vote bank.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi at Madison Square Garden. PTI

Prime Minister Narendra Modi at Madison Square Garden. PTI

The relationship between the mother country and the great Indian diaspora has been ambivalent at best. Despite those Pravasi Bharatiya Divas seminars and a great deal of hooray Henry rhetoric love is noticeable by its screaming absence. Prejudice against the NRI as being at least a partial traitor for walking away still manifests itself. This is not made any more palatable by NRI conduct and the smug, judgmental attitude that often comes across as highly presumptuous.

With 30 million and counting Indians living in foreign lands, you would think there would be more realistic relationships by now. While there is a high quotient of patriotic fervour it is not always translated into fiscal investment and that is where the rub lies.

Efforts to improve the relationship have been made with the appearance of every new government but they soon fade away and the spasm of hope that maybe this time around there will be tangible changes is usually stillborn.

NRIs have mockingly called themselves Not Required Indians and may have unwittingly contributed to the process of distance and disaffection during the 'foreign goods' period. In the 70s and 80s, Indians abroad were supercilious and contemptuous and this social arrogance underscored by a fistful of dollars and the craze at home for buying foreign commodities. Even as Indians at home resented these 'visitors' they flocked to buy their used goods...just because they were made abroad.

That desire has largely evaporated in India but the residual suspicion remains.

India's officialdom has also done little to inspire goodwill. Slow moving clearances and permissions are compounded by old habits of payoffs that just don't die. Petty bureaucracy still demands its ounce of financial flesh.

Yet, who is more conservative on foreign soil than the Indian who resides there. Whether it is religion, festivities or traditions, there is an almost hectic desire to fall back on cultural conduct long forgotten at home.

An across the board fallback from the ultra protectionist days also promotes a feeling of deep alienation from the industrial base in the region under recce towards the foreign based Indian entrepreneur. Local industrial echelons believe NRIs demand too much concession. NRIs feel that indigenous companies are mollycoddled and afraid of competition. In this list of negatives, the inconstancy of subsequent governments and the very real fear that fragile governments create fragile policy has a role to play. NRIs need assurance and adequate guarantees. To expect them to invest out of stirred up guilt is unfair and unacceptable. Why put money into arrangements that might collapse with the government in power?

Some visible and immediate window dressing will be vital to get this issue to fly. The first genuine step has been to activate the right of franchise not in the clumsy fashion it is now but in a more genuine manner. There was no explicable reason why Indians with domestic passports should be denied the right of franchise and now there is a genuine vote bank. This constitutional premise would, ipso facto, emphasise the sense of Indianness and reduce the political isolation that NRIs are bound to feel when called upon to rally around but not given the courtesy that should go with it.

By that very token the next imperative is to upgrade the concept of an NRI cell within certain central ministries and convert it into a proper and vibrant ministry with, at least, a minister of state commanding a council of representatives. For years there has been an unheeded call to elect or appoint, through the president, two members of Parliament who are NRIs. Since this cannot be done without franchise and there are some very real logistics problems to voting for individuals around the world the appointment could be done from distinguished NRIs who are now back in India. That would suffice until a system evolves for democratic elections.

One would be hesitant to submit that the BJP finally acknowledges NRIs as a genuine fiscal force. There could be a little expediency about the few courtesies that have been extended. But since it would be foolish to snub these concessions there is hope that they can be built upon. To do so effectively, the Indian government must clean up the ground clutter in a seven point programme.

• Clear up the credibility of the NRI brigade by ending the patronisation of scam artistes who pretend to represent the community through patently useless NRI seminars and symposia, many of which have the stench of total corruption about them.

• Send out teams of technocratic and business experts along with politicians and bureaucrats to NRI strongholds so they talk the same language and establish a genuine and durable rapport.

• Reduce the red-tapism that still exists in getting things done.

• Make charges of corruption at home a very serious matter.

• Give NRIs real time frameworks for NOCs and clearances and stick by them, thereby realising they do not have the time to cool their heels.

• Eliminate middlemen and brokers when dealing with NRIs.

• Offer long-term business investments that pay dividends comparable to the international markets.

If Modi means business the NRIs will do business.


Published Date: Aug 03, 2017 09:30 pm | Updated Date: Aug 03, 2017 09:30 pm


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