The rockstar reception and electrifying 70-minute speech delivered by Indian PM Narendra Modi at Madison Square Garden last week seems to have electrified the Indianairport1 diaspora everywhere. A huge wave of euphoria, pride, patriotism and nostalgia has washed the diaspora. PM Modi’s speech received standing ovations and applause every now and but the one thing that really got him a thunderous applause was when he acknowledged the difficulties PIO (Person of Indian Origin) card holders faced. He announced several measures to ease travel to their motherland including life-long visas. “Happy?” he asked as the crowd cheered his announcement with chants of “Modi, Modi”. Those who stay in India for a long time have to go to the police station, now they won’t have to.”
For decades, India was (still is) mis-manage and corrupt, bureaucracy and red tapism compelled many of the brightest young Indians to leave India in order to pursue their dreams. They left India angry and reluctantly. It is quite evident that a good number of them would not have left India had someone like Modi or Modi been at the helm all those many years ago.
Who would have thought that NRIs would be pressuring the Indian government for dual citizenship and the right to be able to live and work in India 30 years ago? Back then the issues were getting an Indian passport and get around ways to take more than the allowed $500 foreign exchange out of the country. India was in the grips of a massive brain drain. Thousands of India’s brightest and the best left the country and now these are the ones who are looking to spend their last days or a significant part of it back in the land they left.
The ones who’ve been clamoring for dual citizenship and intend spending more time in India are those who’ve achieved the American Dream. They are often fabulously rich, well-connected and integrated socially and politically in the US and the UK in particular. They are the physicians, financial analysts and engineers and businessmen who came to the west as young and idealistic students or on work permits.
In a few interviews with well-educated millionaire South Asians here in Canada I’ve been told one thing, ‘You can take the Indian out of India but you can’t take India out of the Indian.”
According to one millionaire professional I spoke to, evidence of it can be seen in one’s social circles decades after he or she has left India. You can say you hate India, would never dream of living again in those noisy, dusty and over-crowded cities or villages that lack basic amenities, that is geography. But here in the west, most South Asians have social circles comprised mostly of people from ‘back home’, our food habits haven’t changed. We often live in the West as exiles, worried what the others would think of our Indianess which we often hide. We are ourselves only when among people from our similar backgrounds. If India had the amenities that we take for granted here in the West, just how many of us would ever have left India, not just the country, but family?
The other set of NRIs who left and continue to leave India are the ‘students’, the middle-class Indian professional and those who came from humble economic and social backgrounds are ambivalent when it comes to considering the thought of spending more time in India. Many of these Indians endured some pretty hard times, struggled against the odds and aren’t very excited about ‘going home’ anytime soon. Perhaps when they achieve the Canadian Dream or they hit a professional roadblock things might change.
A friend in California who came to the US as a tech wiz back in the mid-90s along with thousands of young computer engineers talks about the hundreds who’ve gone back to India in recent years. There are so many job fairs held by Indian and American companies for South Asians who want to consider taking up assignments at their computer labs and offices in India. This friend said he could understand why so many Indians are keen on wanting dual citizenship. My friend has visited the homes and socialized occasionally with some pretty well-to-do Indians living in the Bay Area of San Francisco. “When you are young and dazzled by the glitz in the West it is easy to forget what you left behind in India-memories and people. Many of us have struggled with our conscience as we lived good lives here while our parents were dying or suffering alone. It is only when we find that there is nothing more to achieve that we start to think about all we lost. That is why it is the one’s who’ve made it who are most anxious to give
back millions to India and want to live part of their retirement there.”
I think it would be safe to say that if Modi can ensure that every Indian has access to a toilet, the country is clean, corruption is a thing of the past and if the economy flourishes, there would be a reverse migration on a massive scale in the next 10 years.