That persons of Indian origin settled abroad can prove to be an important asset for the country’s national interest was proved recently by an Indian-American activist group in the American primaries in the state of Georgia . With the help of the Jewish lobby, it managed to bring about the defeat of Cynthia McKinney, a congresswoman and notorious India-baiter whose remarks have often antagonized the Indian community in the United States of America. Mckinney had even begun talking of India’s imminent break-up because of its “17 different separatist movements”.
Finding it difficult to bear such baseless affront, one prominent Indian activist sent out an email to 3,400 members of the Indian-American community in the area reporting Mckinney’s remarks and urging them to work for her opponent. When the results were declared, McKinney’s rival, a local judge named Denise Majette, won by polling 58 per cent votes.
Overseas Indians, now loyal citizens of various nations, are gradually emerging as politically influential groups in their countries of adoption. In Canada and the United Kingdom, apart from being members of parliament, Indians have held responsible ministerial positions.
In the Caribbean countries, descendants of former Indian settlers became prime ministers of Jamaica and Guyana. In August this year, two persons of Indian origin became MPs in New Zealand. An Indian-Fijian, Mahendra Choudhry, was democratically elected the prime minister of Fiji though he was later overthrown by a section of the antagonistic ethnic population. Indians have also traditionally dominated the political scene of Mauritius, and held important political positions in Singapore and Malaysia.
More than 20 million Indians settled in different parts of the world can act as catalysts in building international public opinion favourable to India. Their political clout can also help change the anti-India stance of certain administrations.
In his Independence Day speech, the prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, acknowledged the contribution of non-resident Indians and PIOs. In December last year, Vajpayee had also announced New Delhi’s intentions to grant dual citizenship to PIOs besides declaring that January 9 each year would be observed as the Overseas Indians’ Day when ten prominent PIOs and NRIs will be honoured. A committee headed by former high commissioner to London, L.M. Singhvi, had recommended the dual citizenship proposal requiring amendments to sections 9, 10 and 12 of the Citizenship Act, 1965.
But strangely, the plan seems to have reached a dead end owing to differences between officials of the external affairs ministry and the home ministry.
The proposal is confined to PIOs from Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, the US, UK, Canada and European Union countries. The dual citizenship at the cost of $ 400 will allow the holder an Indian passport and rights to travel to India without a visa besides permission for doing business and holding property in the country. Keeping national security in mind, the holder will not be inducted into the civil services, defence and para-military forces except by a special Central order.
Even the preliminary coordination meeting between various ministries to discuss the amendment has not been convened so far. Apart from security objections, opinion is also divided on legal aspects of the issue.
Large sections of the Indian community overseas have expressed their desire to continue their bond with the country of their origin with official recognition. The scheme was to begin from January 9, 2003 when the first ever Overseas Indians’ Day was to be officially observed. But bureaucratic wrangling is trying to stall the proposal. Hence, unless overseas Indians with enough clout in the corridors of power put pressure on the political leadership to overrule the bureaucracy in the matter, the plan may ultimately remain stillborn.