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Evolution of Government Approach to NRIs and PIOs



  Jun 22, 2024

Evolution of Government Approach to NRIs and PIOs



The approach of the Indian government towards its diaspora has significantly evolved from Jawaharlal Nehru’s era of “active dissociation” to Narendra Modi’s proactive outreach. This transformation reflects broader changes in global connectivity and India’s strategic interests.

Historical Context:

• Nehru’s Era: Initially, India’s nationalism was territorially bound. The government maintained a passive stance regarding the diaspora, often viewing them as products of forced migration under British rule. Those who migrated faced numerous challenges, including racial discrimination in countries like Uganda, Kenya, and South Africa, without substantial support from the Indian government.

• Shift in the 1970s: As the Middle East emerged as a major destination for Indian labor, the Indian government began to feel “duty-bound” to protect its citizens’ interests. The 1983 Emigration Act was a landmark in this evolving policy, reflecting a more proactive stance towards Indians working abroad.

Modern Developments:

• Rajiv Gandhi’s Era: The term ‘diaspora’ was officially used in Parliament during Rajiv Gandhi’s tenure, marking the beginning of formal recognition of the diaspora’s importance.

• Establishment of MOIA: In 2004, the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs was founded, highlighting the growing recognition of the diaspora as a vital component of India’s global image and influence.

Modi’s Outreach:

• Diaspora as Cultural Ambassadors: Under Modi, the diaspora is seen as an integral part of India’s soft power. Events like ‘Howdy Modi’ in Texas, attended by 50,000 people, exemplify this outreach.

• Hypernationalism: Modi’s approach is characterized by de-territorialization and hypernationalism, emphasizing that every Indian abroad remains connected to India. This strategy aims to harness the diaspora’s potential for India’s growth.

Challenges and Criticisms:

• Biases in Focus: While the government’s engagement with the diaspora has increased, there is a noticeable bias towards the successful diaspora, often neglecting those considered liabilities.

• Educational Shifts: The diaspora’s role has evolved from mere laborers to significant contributors to India’s cultural and political landscape. This is evident in the success stories of figures like Sundar Pichai and Satya Nadella.

Impact of Hyperconnectivity:

• Maintaining Ties: The rise of hyperconnectivity has led to a generation that, while physically abroad, remains deeply rooted in their homeland. This has fostered a sense of belonging and cultural continuity among the diaspora.

Current Discourse:

• Criticism of Nehru’s Policy: During a lecture at the Prime Ministers Museum and Library, a professor criticized Nehru’s policy of “active dissociation.” However, this was countered by the argument that Nehru’s approach was contextually appropriate for his time, emphasizing integration into host societies for success.

• Modern Policy Needs: The evolving dynamics require bilateral dialogue to address issues faced by the global Indian community. This was highlighted during the Q&A session of the lecture, reflecting the complexity of managing a global diaspora in a rapidly changing world.

The shift from Nehru’s passive approach to Modi’s active engagement underscores the changing priorities and strategies of the Indian government in leveraging its diaspora for national development and global influence.




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