They reversed the brain drain. They came back home again. Having built a life in another land, achieved success, settled down, bought a house, sometimes even had children who were doing well in schools that suited them, many non-resident Indians (NRIs) uprooted themselves and returned. They moved one home to another. Many had even changed citizenship, their nominal link with India just the Person of Indian Origin (PIO) or Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) papers that they hold. These are long term or lifelong visas. But they don’t give their holders the right to vote.
Why should they get the right to vote if they have chosen to change their loyalties to another country, is the oft asked question. Traitors, say some. Outsiders, say others. They have abandoned their country for a better life. Why turn back and ask for rights. (Duties, I say). It is a very emotive subject; just see the anti-NRI rants on social media and comment areas. Those who got away are not welcome back, it seems. Odd, but not really worthy of comment, since many of these who rant would happily apply for a life outside the country.
They wonder and ask in hushed tones, why did you come back? A question that has as many answers as there are people who returned.
Not everyone had a Swades like experience – life is not a film. But many others certainly did. Some did return to join and support the economic boom that was India. A growing country needs experienced people at the helm to keep the ship moving, especially those with an understanding of how India works. Here was your brain drain being reversed.
The Indian diaspora was spread wide, and the excitement and the buzz was enough to bring some back. They returned to share what they had learnt. Altruistic arguments are meaningless here, even as they exist. But it is clear that the term ‘brain gain’ was a reality. Professors, PhDs, consulting partners, business heads, senior people – they all returned. The benefits to the nation accrue, but the nation does not offer them the courtesy of the vote. Happy to take, but not to give the gift of inclusion.
The Indians who moved abroad often went there to study. They learnt how to do business, how to operate as global citizens. When they returned to India they brought back skills that opened global doors to Indian businesses. They went out of the country as people ambassadors, whether they liked it or not. Their success is seen as Indian success. Witness the celebration of Satya Nadella, or the children who win spelling bee contests with surprising regularity, or even the 14-year-old boy who seeks to save the US government millions by changing fonts. Even abroad, they raise the Indian flag just by being themselves. These may be successes celebrated in India as ‘Indian’, but would this get them the vote even if they moved back to India?
The murmurs don’t subside: these people don’t belong, why should they get the vote? They will run away and we will be left with our circumstances, they do not share our problems. Well then, is it not a good idea to make the returnees feel even more welcome and wanted? Included, so that they want to do more, engage better and stay on in India with their resources and networks?
Let us be honest – it costs very little to give resident PIO’s and OCIs the vote. There are not too many of them, and they will rarely influence the outcome in a country where voters number in the millions. On the other hand, the benefits of engaging them are immense. You are binding talent and resources to the country, you are dignifying the effort and acknowledging the contribution of an important minority that has been disenfranchised.
Other countries do offer this courtesy. Many offer dual citizenship, which India does not. Others, like the United Kingdom offers Commonwealth citizens the right to vote if they are resident in the UK. It is logical – if you are a resident, you have the right to participate – nay, a duty to contribute your say to the political process. A duty that binds you to think about what will make things better, and exert yourself to contribute that opinion.
What of divided loyalty, you ask. Then let me offer a very everyday Indian question: does a daughter, when married into another household, become less of a daughter when she has a new surname? She is of both, and both families are enriched when she – this connection – is nurtured with maturity. India needs to stop fearing imagined divided loyalties and invest in its natural bridges to the rest of the world. A good start would be to include this minority in the vote.
Meeta Sengupta is a writer, and an advisor an consultant in education. She tweets at @meetasengupta.