How unwanted is the Non Required Indian?

The relationship between the mother country and the great Indian Diaspora has been ambivalent at best. Over 26 million Indians live abroad and remit around $60 billion every year.

By Bikram Vohra (Debate)

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Published: Tue 26 Jul 2011, 9:13 PM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 9:49 AM

China lags well behind but if there is a shortfall it is in the uneasy relationship between the mother country and its foreign based sons and daughters.

Efforts to improve the relationship have been made with the appearance of every new government but they soon fade away and the spasm of hope that maybe each fresh new time around there will be tangible changes is usually stillborn. A slew of seminars are held each year ostensibly to generate more understanding with the mandatory VIP minister as a chief guest to gild the event but it all adds up to a travesty and is more a racket than any genuine attempt to bridge the chasm.

NRIs have mockingly called themselves Not Required Indians and may have unwittingly contributed to the process of distance and disaffection during the ‘foreign goods’ period. In the seventies and eighties, Indians abroad were supercilious, contemptuous and judgemental, this social arrogance underscored by a fistful of dollars and the craze at home for buying foreign commodities. Even as Indians at home resented these ‘visitors’ they flocked to buy their used goods...just because they were made abroad.

That desire has largely evaporated in India but the residual suspicion remains.

India’s officialdom has also done little to inspire goodwill. Slow moving clearances and permissions are compounded by old habits of payoffs that just don’t die. Petty bureaucracy still demands its ounce of financial flesh. Red tape chokes the system and the home-based millions look upon the NRI as a bit of a traitor.

I did not realise how little has changed in burgeoning, successful India, awash with plenty until I met this rising political figure last week and we engaged in some sparring. If this is a reflection of the general feeling about NRIs perhaps more must be done to shepherd the diaspora back home and build bridges.

“You have been away 26 years,” he says, “So let me ask you a blunt question. Where is the NRI commitment? Search your hearts. Which of them has a share in growth-oriented schemes or companies, started schools or hospitals or cottage industries or offered scholarships or adopted villages or built orphanage or invested in medical research, or done anything to belong—it’s all buy, buy, buy.... Where are you when there is a natural crisis?”

“Most of the others invest in houses for their vacations and then pontificate to us about creating the right atmosphere for them to bring their money…we don’t want your dowry.”

“Not true,” I respond bravely, “Some of us do plough back, there are dozens of cases when NRIs have stood up and been counted.”

He sighs, bored with me and my attitude. “Don’t romanticise yourselves,” he chides. “You’re all in it for the buck. So be it. Just don’t make it into such a big deal.”

Then he looks at me with a sly smile and says: “Challenge you to write what I am saying.”

“Why, not?” I say, “whyever not?”

“It’s unpleasant and no one likes to hear it like it is. Take stock and see what you come up with,”

So here it is, reproduced as faithfully as possible. Search your hearts. Is he telling the truth?

“These NRIs have made a fetish of their status, as if it entitles them to endless concessions. This love of the country is all hogwash, my friend, just a convenient excuse to reap the benefits and rake in more profit. Give up on this patriotism stuff, okay.”

“Can’t see why you are getting so riled up,” I counter. “Just because we don’t live here doesn’t make us ‘suspect’ as citizens and you have to admit the prejudice does exist. And we are good Indians, we are probably often more Indian than people at home because we need that identity.”

“It’s the hypocrisy,” he snaps. “You want profit. Why dress it up in patriotic claptrap? The other day, I had an NRI delegation complaining about the treatment they were getting despite their desire to be investors. Don’t make me laugh.

“Between the six of them, all the investment they had made was to buy flats in Bombay and Delhi. .. property that will get them massive profits on resale.

“I asked them upfront what money they had ploughed back into the country they professed to love, and they all, each one of them, shuffled about looking embarrassed, but did they put their hands in their wallets and say, okay, here’s a cheque for a stake in India, a new industry or a partnership. Some such business enterprise, never mind the risk factor, come and be part of the growing process.”

“Business and emotion don’t mix,” I say, and regret it instantly.

“Aha,” he replies, “good to hear you say that, considering it’s you people who bring along the emotion. NRIs do more arm-twisting than anyone else, they want recognition, acknowledgement, pictures with Sonia Gandhi, they want to be on committees and become representatives and salute the flag, but behind all the posturing what is there—a total lack of involvement beyond what they think gives them more money. “

“Do you know 82 per cent of all the earnings of NRIs used to go to the West and we borrowed that money from the IMF and the World Bank with interest and you guys pretend to patriotism, the insult of it.”

By now he is fairly shouting and I try to calm him, but he’s too far gone in his tirade.

“What have they done for India?,” he yells. “They want the right to vote, they want special “Q’s,” special concessions at the airport and customs, cheap flights on Air India, they are over-sensitive, over-righteous and ready to pass the blame onto the government for not doing their best by them for their country.”

“Maybe the rules and regulations and the red tape exhaust patience and enthusiasm,” I butt in. “They come in sincere and then it just dies out.” “Rubbish,” he dismisses my contribution. “It’s just the excuse they want to cop out and run away.”

“They’ll wait months when they invest in other countries but the slightest reversal or delay at home and the chest-thumping begins: we can’t take it, we’re leaving. Conscience is clear, we tried, didn’t we, now we’re leaving…some patriots.”

That’s the fifth time he’s used that word. I comment on his awareness of it. Isn’t that the NRI signature tune?” he replies. “Listen. There are 27 NRI organisations whose reps are lizard lounging the five-star hotels of Delhi bemoaning India’s policy and, in between, trying to meet ministers and other VIPs and get them to visit Doha or Denver so these reps can prove to other NRIs how important they are in India. “Then there are these awards and titles and associations all milling about and why do you think 1.2 billion people care about you…or should care? You didn’t ask them when you left. So how can they understand why you want a Ministry…for what…when you finish your assignment, come home, no one is blocking you but don’t expect everyone to line the road and cheer.”

Bikram Vohra is Khaleej Times Editorial Advisor. Write to him at bikram@khaleejtimes.com



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