Foreign Policy Watch: India-United States

The ambit and the limits of ‘diaspora diplomacy’

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much.

Mains level : Paper 2- Indian diaspora and limits on its ability to influence.

Context

It is necessary for New India to look at the political choices of Indian migrants abroad through a more realistic lens.

Indian diaspora

  • Largest diaspora and highest remittances: India has the world’s largest diaspora, about 17.5 million and receives the highest remittance of $78.6 billion from Indians living abroad (Global Migration Report 2020).
  • Impact of the diaspora back home: Members of the diaspora, often seen as more “successful” and therefore more influential, can have a big impact on their relatives back home.

Certain wrong premises: The promise of the diaspora’s dual power is based on certain faulty premises.

1. Transferability of vote: To start with, the transferability of votes has not yet been proven conclusively.

    • It is necessary and timely that the government re-analyses the benefits accrued from the diaspora’s political presence through a more realistic lens.
    • One obvious reason is that the Indian community isn’t large enough to make a difference in the voting patterns in any of these countries.
    • The second is that the population that comes out for the rallies doesn’t represent the entire diaspora.

2. Not necessarily support the government: The second issue is that politically active members of the Indian diaspora don’t necessarily support the Indian government’s actions, and often because they are of Indian origin, hold the government in New Delhi to higher standards than they do others.

  • Concern over CAA and Kashmir Issue: The U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairperson for Asia, Ami Bera, voiced his concerns quite plainly about Kashmir and Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) during a visit to India last month.
  • Criticism of the government actions: The sponsor of the U.S. House resolution on Kashmir (HR745) Pramila Jayapal; co-chair of U.S. Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders’s campaign Ro Khanna; and former presidential contender Kamala Harris, have all been openly critical of the government’s actions.

What should the government do? The conclusion for the government is that it cannot own only that part of the diaspora that supports its decisions, and must celebrate the fact that members of the Indian diaspora, from both sides of the political divide, are successful and influential.

3. Diaspora as a factor in bilateral relation: The government must ensure that its focus on the diaspora doesn’t become a factor in its bilateral relations.

  • While it is perfectly legitimate and laudable to ensure the safety and well-being of Indian citizens in different parts of the world, it must tread more lightly on issues that concern foreign citizens of Indian origin.

4.Introduction of India’s internal politics:

  • The introduction of India’s internal politics into this equation is another new angle, one that led the British Foreign Office to remonstrate with India about interference last December.
  • Politically affiliated Indian diaspora chapters are now also playing old India-Pakistan fault-lines amongst immigrants, which in the past were fuelled by Pakistani agencies.
  • In California primaries this month, local “Hindu-American” groups protested against Democratic candidates like Ro Khanna for joining the Congressional Pakistan caucus and for criticising New Delhi’s actions.

5. Impact on diaspora:

  • Conflating POI with citizens of India: The government must consider the impact that policies conflating the PIOs with Indian citizens could have on the diaspora itself.
  • Ability to assimilate: Most immigrant Indian communities have been marked by their ability to assimilate into the countries they now live in.
  • Much of that comes from a desire to be treated as equal citizens, not as immigrants, while a few also have bad memories of anti-immigrant sentiments in the 1960s and 1970s in Europe and the U.S. when they were targeted and accused of “divided loyalties”.

Conclusion

Laying claim to diasporas kinship and culture and taking pride in their success is one thing. It would be a mistake to lay claim to their politics, however.

 

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