Call them NRIs, people of Indian origin (PIOs), or the most recent label – overseas citizens of India, they have one thing in common – their overt patriotism.
Does it occur to them that “patriotic non-resident Indian” is an oxymoron?
Just like ‘dancer Sunny Deol’, an ‘orator Azharuddin’, or an ‘honest Indian politician’.
On a public platform, these NRIs praise India. In private parties, especially with their white ‘countrymen’, the patriotic Indians willingly share stories of corrupt traffic cops, non-functional utilities, and criminal politicians of India.
Indians living abroad baffle the kinkiest of minds with their confusing behaviour. Frustrated by the hardships of life, rough living conditions and unjust system, NRIs grab the first available opportunity to ‘quit India’ and chase their ‘dollar dream’.
However, when an Anna Hazare raises a movement against corruption, these foreign-settled Indians join the crusade against corruption in their adopted countries.
Why didn’t they fight the system while still in India?
Similarly, they leave India to seek higher earning potential; once they settle abroad, they bring their money back to invest in India’s share markets, businesses, real estate and trade. Why didn’t they try to make that money in India?
As they switch through their television channels in the US, desperately looking for ‘desi’ content, why did they vigorously look down upon Indian entertainment channels while munching on feed from foreign channels, while they lived in India?
These seem to be baffling questions, even as renowned Bollywood writer Javed Akhtar struggled to explain the phenomenon (though he wasn’t referring to NRIs specifically), “Hum logon ko samajh sako to samajho dilbar jaani” (loosely translated, the song expresses the feelings of Indians: ‘try as hard as you may, you will struggle to fathom our irrational behaviour.’)
When I wrote a similar column last year, I was bombarded by emails from angry NRIs.
The content of the hate-mail is usually the same: NRIs are contributing to India’s success story abroad.
The usual arguments:
NRIs are the torchbearers of India’s success story abroad. “We are the economic brand ambassadors,” said one email.
NRIs invest heavily in India and contribute to valuable foreign exchange. NRIs also bring skills, knowledge and ‘outsourced business’ to India.
NRIs lobby for India in the west.
These are valid arguments and this article does not try to take away that credit from NRIs. Overseas Indians indeed represent India to the west.
But how many of Indians living abroad are truly successful to be able to sing a success song and portray an enterprising India? Only a handful.
The non-resident Indians surely remit money to India, and invest in India’s share market and real estate. But a majority of NRIs invest in the real estate, which does not create jobs, actively contribute to business and industry. It only helps fuel spiraling house prices, and drive the home-ownership dream further away from many ‘domestic’ Indians.
Also, if these entrepreneurial Indians had stayed back, they would have build a decent fortune in India, which may be bigger in some cases, or smaller in other cases, than their achievements in the west.
More importantly, only a minority of NRIs are well-off and send large chunks of money to be invested in India. A majority of remittances are from working class Indians toiling away in the Middle East, sending money back to support their struggling families in India. Most of this money is spent on maintenance and consumption, and very little in invested in the economy.
Here’s another argument put forward by patriotic Indians – the remittances from NRIs are ‘net gain’ for India – the country hasn’t spent its infrastructure to earn the money.
This is true. The earner hasn’t used India’s roads to go to work, hasn’t polluted India’s air, hasn’t used India’s water, electricity and so on. You get the picture. So, it’s a net gain for India. However, the effect is offset by many expatriates working in India and sending their savings overseas.
This inward-outward remittance’s balancing act brings me to the point of this article.
When it comes to migration and economy, patriotism plays very little role.
We live in a global world.
I am an Indian by birth, just as someone is Chinese, American or British. My upbringing is influenced by Indian environment. That makes me Indian by culture. However, as I spend my adult life in my adopted country, I become a global citizen.
My nationality by birth or by culture is of little relevance to the economies I serve. My host country and my country of origin, are two sides of the same coin. Both the countries, as well as global commerce, benefit from my international activities.
However, NRIs have an argument in their favour. Overseas Indians have a multiplier effect, they benefit the host country as well as the birth country without really taking away as much from the either.
Do we still have the patriotic argument here?
Vaiebhav Gangan is the managing editor of The Global Indian magazine.