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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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Total prohibition of alcohol as a state policy always ends in disaster

Enforcing prohibition citing moral and health reasons has more downsides than benefits and invariably ends in disaster where the state has to reverse its decision

By Guru Aiyar (@guruaiyar)

State enforced prohibition of alcohol can never succeed. Total prohibition is an unmitigated failure. In the current season of electioneering in various states across India, there seems to be a mad race between the political parties to list prohibition as one of their election promises. Take the case of Tamil Nadu which is heading for assembly polls next month. Without exception, all the political parties have committed to prohibition—be it Jayalalithaa of AIADMK, Karunanidhi of DMK or S. Ramadoss of PMK. Of all the leaders, only Jayalalithaa has spoken about graded prohibition.  Vaiko did a dramatic act by asking his aged mother to force shutdown of liquor shops in his native village of Kalingapatti in Tirunalveli in August 2015.

The Kerala government, headed by the Chief Minister Oommen Chandy enforced a ban on alcohol in 2014 except five star hotels. This ban was upheld by the Supreme Court in December 2015.  The CM has promised that he will move towards total prohibition for ten years irrespective of election outcome. Kerala too is having assembly elections in May. Bihar has commenced a two-step plan, with a ban on country liquor effective from April 1, following days later with a prohibition on Indian Made Foreign Liquor (IMFL). This was one of the election promises of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar when he went for Mahagathbandhan (MGB) in November 2015. The reasons that prohibition fails are not hard to fathom. The argument is counter intuitive. One of the best examples where total prohibition failed is the United States of America.

United States enforced prohibition across its 48 states after a lot of deliberation in 1917.  It was repealed after 16 years. The evidence gathered between the period 1920-33 was overwhelming. It was during this period that the true horrors of alcohol were discovered. Alcohol remained available during prohibition. The only difference was that it went underground—black market. People who wanted to drink would invariably find a way to black market where they paid exorbitant prices. The use of methyl alcohol for preparation instead of ethyl alcohol (because methyl alcohol is cheaper) lead to blindness or even death. Mafias thrived on bootlegging businesses. Remember the movie The Untouchables where Robert De Niro plays the dreaded gangster Al Capone. Such was Capone’s clout due to his spurious liquor business that when the long arm of the law finally caught him, he was charged mainly for tax evasion. During this period, use of other drugs also increased. Marijuana, a drug previously used little in the US became popular. Consumption of coffee rose. Ultimately, there was unanimity of political opinion in 1933 to repeal prohibition. So much so that today when one talks of prohibition in the US, he is not taken seriously at all.

In India, political parties resort to the populism of prohibition mainly deriving their legitimacy from the Directive Principles of State Policy. A sense of pseudo morality pervades across the political spectrum on the issue of alcohol consumption.  Advocates of prohibition cite reasons such as alcoholism, indebtedness and intimate partner violence (IPV). But banning alcohol is never an effective check against its use. The case of Maharashtra is classic. Prohibition, which was enforced in the then state of Bombay in 1949 was lifted in 1972. Bootlegging thrived and organised crime in the form of Bombay underworld took over alcohol distribution. There were striking parallels to the US in 1920s era of prohibition. It was doomed to fail in Maharashtra because the neighbouring states did not have prohibition and alcohol could always be smuggled.

In addition, prohibition robs the state of an important source of revenue. In 2015-16, nearly 25 percent of Tamil Nadu government revenue amounting to almost Rs 30,000 crore came from liquor sales. In Maharashtra, the comparative figure stands at Rs. 18,000 crore. These help successive governments to sustain the social welfare schemes. In Tamil Nadu, the government has used the revenues from alcohol sales to distribute consumer goods to the poor, supply free rice to Below Poverty Line (BPL) card holders and the noon meal scheme. Finding alternative sources of revenue is a humungous task in the present times of fiscal consolidation. Anyway, the fact stands out that prohibition has never transformed a society.

Guru Aiyar is a Research Scholar with Takshashila Institution and tweets @guruaiyar

Featured Image:Lame-No alcohol by Karl Baron, licensed from creativecommons.org



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