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Tag Archives | diaspora

Nadaan Parindey, ghar aaja

Kerala, Gujarat and Punjab show that states can play an important role in diaspora relations.

States are increasingly reaching out to their diaspora

States are increasingly reaching out to their diaspora

States are maneuvering around foreign policy considerations by reaching out to Non Resident Indians (NRIs). Foreign Policy is considered the domain of the Union Government however, some state government have proved adept at working around this by focusing on selected areas of outreach. One of the primary ways that states play a role in foreign policy is by reaching out to diaspora. As NRIs are an important source of remittances to the states, the states benefit from solving the issues faced by NRIs. States are also better poised to engage with diaspora as they have direct links with them and can devote more resources than the Union to deal with issues. One of the ways in some which states have done this is by forming a public sector undertaking which can work with relatively more freedom than the state administration itself.

More and more states have begun to institutionalise NRI relations through specific departments, divisions or boards. The states with the most developed institutional structures are Kerala, Punjab and Gujarat. These three states that stand out are not surprising given that they have huge diaspora spread out in different parts of the world. The states have tailormade their policies according to the interests of the diaspora which allows them flexibility and innovation.

Institutions dealing with diaspora relations in Kerala

The State Government of Kerala has expressly looked at institutionalizing administrative processes with respect to the interest of non-resident Keralites (NRKS) through a department called Non-Resident Keralites’ Affairs Department (NORKA). However the real work is done by a PSU established under the Department called NORKA ROOTS. Kerala which receives the highest remittances in the country has been working on making its diaspora employable from arranging pre-departure orientations, easy authentication of certificates, skills upgradation programme, financial assistance, rehabilitation projects for returnees, job portal, travel assistance etc.

Institutions dealing with diaspora relations in Gujarat

On the other hand Gujarat has set up an NRI division under the General Affairs Division which merely allocates funds and decides the composition of the Non-Resident Gujarati Foundation (A Government of Gujarat Undertaking). The NRGF looks at how NRIs can play a vital role within the state and has set up district committees for NRIs in every district to deal with any problems, to provide financial aid to the Gujarat Samaj, create a database of NRGs etc.

Institutions dealing with diaspora relations in Punjab

The NRI Affairs Department in Punjab has an intensive mandate from coordinating with the Home Ministry, liaising with NGOs, providing grants and waivers for NRI investment, focusing on twinning of cities such as Derby with Kapurthala and Jalandhar with the Borough of Hounslow, cultural exchanges etc. Punjab has gone a step further and allowed NRIs to vote in state elections (though they have to return to India to cast their votes).

There are some common strands across the policies of these three states such as the outreach to diaspora, creation of databases, grievance addressal and encouraging investment. The state governments of Kerala and Punjab have set up NRI cells under the respective police (though for Punjab, this has been upgraded into an NRI wing with cells in every district). While Gujarat has not set up similar institutions, it has set up an NRI cell under the State Women’s Commission to deal with complaints related to harassment of women abroad. While the grievances of the NRIs generally fall under the Home Ministry, the states have ensured their own jurisdiction by making BRI grievances a law and order issue pertinent to the state.

All the three states have also focused on issue identity cards to NRIs. The issue of cards such as Non-resident Keralite, Non-Resident Gujarati and Non-Resident Punjabi pushes for the sub-national identity which has generally subsumed under the larger Indian visa. This also reinforces the regional identity of the NRI and gives them a stake in the domestic affairs of the state.

States working in diaspora relations is a crucial and overlooked part of foreign policy. Increasingly, states have started looking to their diaspora for several reasons. Even states with relatively smaller diaspora such as Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh have started engaging with diaspora so that they can be important stakeholders of the state. The role played by states in diaspora relations is an important one because it eases some of the burden that the Union bears in dealing with all these problems. It also acts as a bridging mechanism between NRIs and the Central Government. Other states in India should also consider similar mechanisms (or those more contextualized to its needs) so that they can tap into the advantages of their residents in a globalised world.

This post is the first of a series of blogposts on ‘States in Foreign Policy’.

Hamsini Hariharan is a Research Scholar with the Takshashila Institution and tweets at @HamsiniH

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Towards a coherent government policy on diaspora security

The recent war of words between the state government of Kerala and the centre over evacuation of Indians from Libya highlights challenges of evolving a clear and coherent policy on diaspora security

By Guru Aiyar (@guruaiyar)

On 12th May, a group of Indians evacuated from the conflict zone of Libya were received by their family members at Cochin International Airport. They were evacuated as a life saving measure. Libya has been in the grip of a civil war since 2014. The two warring groups are the democratically elected and internationally recognised Libyan government and the rival Islamist group called the General Nationalist Congress (GNC).

What is appalling in this episode is the serious mistrust between the state government of Kerala and central government, specifically the ministry of external affairs. The Chief Minister of Kerala Mr. Oommen Chandy reportedly asserted that the centre only cared to ‘sympathise’ with the plight of stranded Indians.     Union Minister of external affairs Ms Sushma Swaraj took to twitter to criticise Chandy. The CM in turn alleged that he made numerous trips to Delhi to meet Ms Swaraj to seek central intervention for the return of the Indian citizens from Kerala. Reportedly, these citizens had chosen to stay back even after the centre had made arrangements for them to return. On surface, the face-off  seems politically motivated as Kerala heads towards assembly elections from May 16. But what is of interest is to ask the important question: what is the central government policy for security of Indian diaspora? Is there a response template with the MEA when it comes to such crises?

The question cannot be convincingly answered by anyone. But what can be achieved is to have a framework to situate the problem. The above instance can be analysed by understanding the concept of logic of commitment and the logic of exit defined by David Ellerman in The Dynamics of the Migration of the highly skilled(2004), a World Bank study.

Ellerman states

Every potential migrant faces a similar situation: to make a commitment to staying home and trying to improve it or to take its characteristics as given and search elsewhere for a new and better home. Economic models tend to model only the exit option, ignoring the possible logic of commitment, with its inherent uncertainties about the possibilities of transformation.”

Going by the ‘logic of exit’, the Non Resident Indians (NRIs) were skilled nurses who worked in a hospital in Libya. They left for greener pastures from a state which is well known for its high literacy rates. In March, a nurse and her son were killed in a rebel missile attack. The Indian government, through the ministry of external affairs, reportedly urged all the Indians to return. But the Indians who were staying in a camp in Tripoli said that they wanted the exit visa fine to be waived. In another twist to this episode, CM Chandy claimed that the state government wanted to pay the air fare but was prevented from doing so due to foreign exchange regulations.

What is very clear from the above is that there is no clear cut policy on evacuations of Indians from abroad. While the State Department of the United States has laid down clear guidelines for American citizens on what to expect during a crisis situation, a similar Indian policy, if it exists, cannot be found on the MEA website. It cannot be denied that the embassy staff abroad too will be under extreme stress in case of an emergency or a conflict situation. The evacuation of Indians have become increasingly challenging owing to various factors like host country politics and strife, geopolitical shifts, the Indian government’s stand on various issues, our own domestic politics etc. It is thus essential that the central government has a stated policy on diaspora evacuation.

 Guru Aiyar is Research Scholar in Takshashila Institution and tweets @guruaiyar.




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