Terms like NRI (Non-Resident Indian) and PIO (Person of Indian Origin) may conjure up images of snobbish and well-to-do Indians living abroad for the average Indian at home. In India, popular perception is that NRIs want little to do with the nation and now that they have successful and materially substantial lives abroad, are generally callous towards their motherland as well as Indians. However, numbering around 30 million by estimates, the world’s second largest Diaspora, NRIs are a varied lot. It consists of people like Lakshmi Mittal, the billionaire steel tycoon in the UK, Indra Nooyi (PepsiCo’s CEO) and Bobby Jindal (Governor of Louisiana and rumoured to be the nest Presidential candidate) in the US to the humble migrant worker in Dubai or Singapore. What is crucial for the Indian government to realise is that it needs to take good care of its extended family and if this does happen, it will not be the only one to benefit.
Indians have emigrated and engaged with different cultures and nations since ancient times. There were close contacts with Arab traders and European merchants. In its prime, the kingdom of the Cholas in South India had well-settled colonies in Malaysia and Indonesia (explaining why Indonesia is called so). Even in other parts, like Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia, the influence of Indian culture is obvious. During the British Raj, Indians were deported to far-off places like Africa, South Africa in particular, the Caribbean and Mauritius. Large groups of Indians are present in these countries even today. The diversity of the NRI community stems from the diversity in the history of Indian emigration.
The importance of the Indian diaspora was indeed brilliantly showcased in the Bollywood film, Swades – We the People where the protagonist, Mohan Bhargava, returns to India from the US and is so touched by his roots that he gives up a lavish lifestyle for the love and comfort that he feels in his motherland. Despite the stereotypes, i believe a lot of NRIs have deep attachment with India, sometimes it may not be political, but I am certainly sure that every NRI loves India, the land. From an NRI’s perspective, it is unfair to be accused of apathy. It is a fact that NRIs have no voting rights and even limited property rights in India. And this is precisely the reason why a lot of passionate NRIs who want to help their motherland want the government to give them chances to contribute to the land in their hearts.
The government does celebrate a day called the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas annually to address the NRI community. But a mere gesture, which is usually the case in India, is not sufficient; I feel that there is a need to take concrete steps, let’s take voting, for example. Undoubtedly a community of around 30 million is a petty fraction in comparison to 1.1 billion. But what needs to be taken into account is the fact that a lot of NRIs are well educated and politically aware people. Moreover, they have seen how other more successful countries in the West and elsewhere are governed. Thus, an NRI is very likely to make a politically sound decision and not be swayed by casteist or regional propaganda as is the majority of the Indian vote bank. Then on the issue of investments, I feel that the NRI community has a big role in pumping capital into the nation and should be allowed to do so. Not only do the NRIs reap the profits, India can surely do with as much as investment as it can get its hands on. I feel that the biggest hindrance to India’s economic advancement is its creaking infrastructure and investment is the only solution to it. Rather than entice foreigners, isn’t it better to get NRIs to help out the economy? I certainly feel so. In the long-run, As the NRI community and its influence grows and India’s influence in world affairs becomes a factor to its economic advancement, cordial relations with our extended family will certainly go a long way.