The NRI cares more about the brand value of India than those who are sheltered within the domestic borders of the country

Meeta W. Sengupta & Shefaly Yogendra

The right to vote for non-resident Indians (NRIs) was granted last year, but was announced by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh recently. While the response from NRIs is mixed—the provision requires NRIs to be physically present in India to cast their votes—the response from many resident Indians is a chorus of disagreement. Why, they argue, must those who left India have any right to vote, especially if they do not live with the consequences of that ballot?

Come election time, all major democracies allow and enable their citizens living abroad to cast their votes, either through postal voting or in-person voting at a local consular office or embassy. India, the world’s largest democracy, has effectively disenfranchised its vast diaspora. A country that wishes to be seen as a great power—while also being a celebrated democracy—cannot afford to fall short of global standards of enfranchisement.


Prime Minister Manmohan Singh with his counterpart from Trinidad and Tobago Kamla Persad Bissessar during the 10th Pravasi Bharatiya Divas conclave in Jaipur on Sunday. PTI

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh with his counterpart from Trinidad and Tobago Kamla Persad Bissessar during the 10th Pravasi Bharatiya Divas conclave in Jaipur on Sunday. PTI


Those who oppose giving NRIs the vote ask: If NRIs do not pay tax, should they have the right to vote? This argument is a non-starter. Citizenship rights are not dependent on economic contributions. This logic would disenfranchise India’s large number of poor citizens and the many senior citizen parents. As for contribution, the repatriation of funds to the mother country by NRIs is among the highest among expatriates in the world. In regular years, this reliable and regular repatriation has supported India’s dollar reserves and is significant to be used in national projections. In 2011, total NRI deposits in India were estimated to be Rs2.3 trillion. NRI remittances enable much capital expenditure, investment and saving in the domestic market. NRIs also invest directly, and through transfer payments in industries and charities, thus supporting and enabling India’s growth. 

NRIs, the ones who got away to better circumstances, it is argued, do not have the right to contribute opinions to internal affairs since they do not have to suffer the daily grind. Although NRIs have very few rights, they do have to face the consequences of happenings in the mother country. Poor electoral choices lead them, too, to suffer consequences of delayed contracts, red tape and variable quality outcomes in many spheres.

The reputation of a country affects the way citizens are perceived abroad, too. A citizen of a booming, honest and friendly country is treated very differently from a citizen of a graft-ridden, poor nation. NRIs, therefore, care more about the brand value of India than those who are sheltered within their domestic borders. It is the individual NRI out there who is at the front line of what are personal, but very significant, political efforts on behalf of their country. The dignity with which they present themselves, the quality of their contributions, the ability to hold their own in unfamiliar circumstances, all add to the respect of the home country. NRIs uphold a positive brand image of India, invest in it and build their success on it wherever in the world they are. They are the ones who suffer first if the national prestige of India suffers. Part of the daily negotiation for an NRI is to fit in with the rules and norms of the other place, and to be seen as trustworthy. This is a great opportunity to counter some of the negative stereotypes pervasive about India.

NRIs have by and large been an exemplar migrant group in their host countries, with their very high employment rates and very low involvement in crime and nefarious activities. Over decades, NRI communities have had to fight the stereotypes both in and out of work situations. The rising number of first generation migrants taking high-profile white-collar jobs outside India, and the consistent good behaviour of the group have helped enhance the comfort that is felt in doing business with India.

NRIs are also a valuable resource when they come back to India. They bring with them broader perspectives, new ideas and different ways of doing things. The combination of local knowledge and cross-border processes often leads to valuable innovation. Indeed, many of the innovations for large social issues in India are the brainchild of returned NRIs. A citizen residing abroad, especially a first generation immigrant, almost inevitably feels the “pull” of home, and the prospect of return always remains a very real possibility. The sense of belonging is one of the challenges of a traveller’s life.

Ambassadors, however, are always of the place they came from. Their fortunes remain intertwined with their origins, and the divide between the resident and the non-resident is artificial. When things go well for India—it reflects well on all of us. When things go wrong—we all stand together to criticize and defend what is ours. Good work done by each group supports the other both economically and socially. Creating artificial internal divisions diminishes us as a country, especially when we need to invest effort in finding synergies to build a strong country worthy of being called a great power.

Meeta W. Sengupta and Shefaly Yogendra are, respectively, a business education adviser and a risk assessment adviser.

Comment at views@livemint.com



This article was published in the Mint newspaper on January 13, 2012 and the link to the article is here: http://www.livemint.com/2012/01/12215425/A-welldeserved-and-wellearne.html


2 thoughts on “A well-deserved and well-earned right for NRIs

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