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Tag Archives | Punjab government

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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The curious case of Sikhs for minority quota in Punjab

The judgement of Supreme Court in February 2016 will have far reaching consequences as minorities are influential in shaping policy in a fractured society

According to section 9(1) of Minorities Act of 1992, Sikhs are one of the minority communities in India apart from Muslims, Christians, Buddhists and Zoroastrians(Parsis). In addition, Jains were declared a minority community by a notification issued by the National Commission of Minorities(NCM) in January 2014. As per the data of census 2001, these six minorities constitute 18.8% of country’s population. In 2007, the Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee(SGPC) filed a case in Punjab and Haryana High Court asking for minority status for Sikhs which was rejected. This judgement of the High Court was stayed by the Supreme Court when challenged by the SGPC. The case will come up for hearing in February 2016 before a five-judge constitutional bench headed by the Chief Justice of India, Mr. Justice T.S. Thakur. It is interesting to note that SGPC has a major role in shaping the politics of Punjab where religion and politics are inextricably linked. The state is headed for assembly elections in January 2017.

The High Court had rejected minority status to Sikhs in Punjab on the grounds that the community was numerically strong. The Punjab government had also not produced no material to show that Sikhs “apprehended deprivation of their religious, cultural or educational rights in the state from any other community which may be in majority and may gain political power in the elections.” The point of contention in this case is a notification by the state government of Punjab. The notification issued in 2001 reserved 50 percent of seats for Sikh students in the educational institutions run by the SGPC.

The Supreme Court in 2002 had ruled that while determining the minority status for reservation in educational institutions, the populations of the minority in that particular state would be the basis. It won’t be minority status granted in the country through the constitution. This case is known as the historic T.M.A. Pai Foundation versus state of Karnataka. The Pai Foundation judgement meant that the state cannot impose its reservation policy on minority and non-minority unaided private colleges including professional colleges. This judgement raised more questions than it answered.

The SGPC on its part has based its arguments on the  fact that educational institutions run by SGPC grant admissions to Sikh students from the other states where they are a minority. The Chief Justice pointedly asked:”Can Muslims who are in majority in Kashmir, still be treated as a minority? Can Sikhs be a minority in Punjab? Can Christians be minority in Meghalaya?” The judgement in this case will have a great bearing on the admissions process of professional colleges — both private as well as state run. Not only that — a community being declared a minority in its own parent state seems rather paradoxical.

 

Guru Aiyar is a research scholar at Takshashila Institution and tweets @guruaiyar.

Featured image: Sikhs, Amritsar(at Harmindar Sahib) by Nevil Zaveri, licensed from creativecommons.org

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