The prime minister, Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee, took an important, if long overdue, decision when he said that non-resident Indians would be allowed to hold dual citizenship. This proposal, like the proverbial Indian elephant, has had a prolonged gestation. Its birth was obstructed by the home ministry on the ground that such a step would create extra threats to an already fragile security situation. The prime minister, with the backing of the ministry of external affairs, has overruled these objections. The proposal will become an act once it is passed by Parliament. The decision, despite all its significance, is not as far-reaching as it could have been. For the moment it applies only to NRIs in seven countries: the United States of America, the European Union, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and Singapore. Moreover, the government of India has made it clear that it will use its discretion in granting this status to NRIs. Dual citizenship has thus acquired the features of a special privilege which should not be the case.
Mr Vajpayee’s decision can only be read in the context of the opening up of the Indian economy which started a decade ago. It is a logical sequel of that process. The removal of shackles from the economy cannot take place without wider ramifications that have an impact on non-economic spheres. One such sphere is the mobility of human resources. The opening up of business and investment opportunities in India has made NRIs eager to come back to the country of their origin and to participate in the changes that are occurring. This return often flounders on the rock of bureaucratic rules and regulations harking back to a bygone era of control and regulation. The introduction of dual citizenship eliminates the need for these regulations for some NRIs. In a country that is traditionally slow to change, something is always better than nothing.
The philosophical question that underlies many of the debates concerning dual citizenship relates to loyalty and the sense of belonging. Conventional wisdom, in the absence of any other criterion, takes the possession of a passport to be the sign of loyalty and belonging. But experience has shown clearly that both loyalty and the sense of belonging are fluid and indefinable categories which cannot be defined by the possession of a booklet issued by a government. Many Indians living abroad, for professional and business reasons, have opted for foreign citizenship, but in terms of culture and sensibilities they still see themselves as Indians. Dual citizenship resolves this contradiction. It recognizes that a person can technically belong to different countries in two different spheres of his life. Does a person belong where he lives or where he is culturally at home'