Return of the Native

It has been an open secret all these years.

One that the Microsofts, Citibanks and Googles of the world, as well as the Londons, Singapores and Dubais, are unlikely to ever catch on to.

That Indians migrate overseas for the well-being and development of the nation, India, and not for seeking better opportunities for themselves and prospering in a jurisdiction with equal opportunity and an effective rule of law.

The secret came to light during the speeches made by leaders at the recently concluded Pravasi Bharatiya Divas, or Overseas (or Non-resident) Indians Day when they exhorted NRIs (Non-Resident Indians) to do their duty for the nation. The nation that allowed them to go forth and succeed. You don’t get such opportunities in many places. In countries like the US, Sweden and New Zealand, one could even contemplate staying back and succeeding.

Held on the 9th of January, it is now one of the key events in the Indian national calendar, and a pivotal strategy in the nation’s development ever since independence, even though the official marking of the day only began in 2003.

The day chosen is the return date of arguably the nations’s most famous overseas Indian, Mahatma Gandhi, from South Africa in 1915. Gandhi had become an NRI in 1893 to do service to the nation, by representing Dada Abdullah Jhaveri, the Durban-based private merchant of Indian origin, in a legal matter, as a lawyer. It is another matter that, stung by the treatment meted out to him by the British government, and to Indians in South Africa in general, he stayed on to fight for the rights of the Indian community, returning to India only in 1915.

The day celebrates the contribution of the overseas Indian community to the development of India by asking them to contribute to development. It seeks to strengthen the bond between India and the global Indian community. It is a day celebrated with great pride and enthusiasm by the government as well as the diaspora, the ones who get invited to attend.

Who exactly is an NRI?

The narrow definition is an Indian citizen residing overseas.

The broad definition includes a citizen of any country other than Bangladesh or Pakistan who had (a) at any time held Indian passport or (b) he or either of his parents or any of his grandparents was a citizen of India by virtue of the Constitution of India or the Citizenship Act, 1955 or (c) the person is a spouse of an Indian citizen or a person referred to in (a) or (b).

Phew! Anyone left? That is broad as broad gets.

To keep things simple, the broad section of the definition was carved out into a separate category known as a Person of Indian Origin (PIO) which was later merged with another category known as the Overseas Citizen of Indian Origin (OCI) created later for the same reason – simplicity.

According to the Ministry of External Affairs, the official theme of the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas 2023 was “Diaspora: Reliable Partners for India’s Progress in Amrit Kaal.” The theme focuses on the importance of the Indian diaspora in the development of the country. It is important to note that for every edition a new theme is chosen to celebrate the day.

Undoubtedly a staggering amount of effort must be going into developing the theme for such an important event every year, or every two years now since 2015!

The results are visible. The theme for the virtual event in 2021 was “Contributing to Atmanirbhar Bharat”.

See what I mean.

In order to fully appreciate the effort and creativity, as well as the wide subject coverage while determining the theme of each edition, it is necessary to go further back.

For the 2019 edition, held in Varanasi, in the Prime Minister’s electoral constituency, the theme was the out of the ordinary “Role of Indian Diaspora in building New India”.

This was a revolutionary change from the “Redefining Engagement with the Indian Diaspora” that had been agreed upon as the theme for the 2017 edition hosted by Bengaluru.

I will not be surprised if the topmost minds in the country, or in any of the 110 countries where NRIs live, have already put on their thinking caps and are hard at work to decide the theme for the next version of the event scheduled for 2025.

At the latest edition, Pravasi Bhartiya Samman awards were conferred by the President to chosen NRIs for their distinguished service to India as well as their countries of residence. It was not immediately clear if the country of residence agreed that the service provided to them was, indeed, distinguished.

The Prime Minister commented on people emigrating in earlier years owing to the stifling policies of previous governments run by other political parties and marveled at the resilience of NRIs as they continued to emigrate owing to the stifling policies of a new government and a new party.

I went into a trance listening to the PM and found myself fondly recollecting the 15th Pravasi Bharatiya Divas held in the Prime Minster’s electoral constituency in 2019. Inaugurating it he had said, “People of Indian origin are in leadership roles in country, such as Mauritius, Portugal and Ireland.” To put this in perspective, Shri Pravind Kumar Jugnauth, the PM of Mauritius, a person of Indian origin, was the chief guest for the edition.

I had swelled with pride at the thought of how we would never let such a thing happen in India. We will never allow a person of any foreign origin to even settle down peacefully, leave alone handling a public office. It is a testament to the tenacity and courage of the diaspora, I had added to myself, that they have been able to assume leadership roles in other nations who did not have ancient civilizations they had to protect from the corrupting influence of foreigners.

He even sought out the ‘hotel motel Patel wallas’ who run more than half of America’s motels and suggested, “Whenever you get a guest in your hotel or motel, why don’t you put a few slides of India on TV. When the guests turn on the TV they will be able to see what India is.”

I am not privy to the impact this had on the business of the ‘hotel motel Patel wallas’ but it has revolutionized business in India. Each time someone in India switches on his South Korean TV, he/she gets to view, for free, a one-minute video on the achievements of the nation. Whenever someone sits in a Japanese car, the display panels are all aglow with Japanese script. Only after a minute they transition to English or Hindi. No extra charge.

His appeal to every NRI to persuade five non-Indian families to visit India with a visa on arrival waiting for them, seems to have been taken up widely. Foreign tourist arrivals in 2019 went up by almost 3.5% over 2018. In each of the previous 10 years, they had been going up by a larger percentage over the previous year. Isn’t it unfortunate that we don’t have Italian neighbours asking us to visit Italy with a visa on arrival waiting for us instead of waiting in the long queues for a Schengen visa? If only previous governments had had the foresight…

Dear NRIs, whatever else you may or may not do, at least give us your money.

19 thoughts on “Return of the Native

    • You got me there with DDG. I had to go to ol’ Google 😦
      The diff with American expats is the direction of the money. To the best of my knowledge, American expats make their money in America and move to another location for tax or lifestyle reasons, like better weather, or easily available househelp. Indian expats become expats to make money and are often broke when they make the move.

  1. I wonder if the government could ask each NRI to return to India to claim relatives currently under house arrest as NRI enablers. While in India they could all be taxed and then deported. Why hasn’t someone thought of this? Good one Ankur. 😊

  2. So my cousins are OCI’s ? Like our PM ?
    Would you go into a trance listening to him ?
    One UK problem is the shortage of OCI’s,especially in the NHS, And the shortage of qualified persons of almost any other origin too.

  3. It must be an almost insurmountable task to organise these events. Maybe the government can hold a contest for residents of other countries. Winners receive jobs to help keep all of this in order. 🙂

    • I suppose when there are greenbacks shining at the other end, it becomes quite a surmountable task. But in general, as I probably remarked elsewhere, foreigners, who are not OCIs, are useless people for the Indian government as they don’t send any money to India for emotional reasons.

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