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Identity crisis


Indians abroad are as fond of their mother country as the Chinese are fond of China, but investment isn't a matter of the heart. If NRIs don't invest in India, it's for other reasons altogether.

LAST month, the Government of India decided to give dual citizenship to non-resident Indians. It's a long-standing demand, whose denial is of equally long standing.

Dual citizenship... no longer the need for a choice.

The original reason for saying no to dual citizenship has been that it's a facility, which can be misused by terrorists. This reason looked a bit untenable, considering the ease with which terrorists move around the world, including India. The real reason though no one will admit it is probably that there was an element of moral righteousness involved: you cannot, the moralists say, have your cake and eat it too. You cannot, in other words, claim the riches of the West while simultaneously embracing the deprivation of the East. Decide one way or the other.

Now Non-Resident Indians will no longer have to make this cruel choice. They can follow the dictates of their purse and be citizens of, say, the United States and swear allegiance to the Stars and Stripes, while simultaneously they follow the dictates of their heart and swear allegiance to the Tricolour. And if the heart has its reasons, they aren't all sentimental: according to the new rules being formulated, they can buy and sell property and buy and sell stocks. In fact, they will be entitled to all the rights of a non Non-Resident Indian (which means you and me) like visa-free entry except that they can neither stand for elected office nor vote in an election, nor can they serve in the armed forces (hardly, a severe deprivation).

The country stands to benefit too, so much so that someone just had to say it's a win-win situation. That was the formerly articulate, former cabinet minister Vasant Sathe. The reason for his waxing in management clichés is obvious from the following calculations: there are 20 million NRIs all over the world. If even a third of them opted for a dual-citizenship passport costing $100 that would bring in a neat sum of $600 million straight away.

The other win in this situation where there are no losers, is based on a rather speculative hope, which is that Indian will behave more like the Chinese. To clarify, the huge amount of foreign investment coming into China is mainly from Non-Resident Chinese (NRCs) who contribute a large portion of inward remittances. In contrast, NRIs invest a negligible amount, but the win-win experts are convinced that this will change once NRIs have dual citizenship, and a consequent feeling of belonging and security.

Is it really as simple as that? Has the absence of only an additional booklet prevented NRIs from feeling truly Indian?

Not so long ago, a British cabinet minister suggested a test for loyalty. Suppose there was an India versus England cricket test being played in England, he said. Who would the British citizen of Indian origin support? You don't need too many guesses for that: we have seen the crowds at Lords or at Headingley. They could be at Wankhede or at Chidambaram stadium, except that they are wearing woollies, and they are as boisterously supporting the Indian team. There's also the phenomenon of an India versus Pakistan match at a neutral venue. It could be Sharjah, the Oval or Toronto: the spectators, many of them legally citizens of that country, but in the match are atavistically divided into Indo-Pak camps.

This doesn't happen just in a cricket match where, you could argue, nationalistic feelings are at a fevered pitch. And this holding on to your national identity (which you have officially given up) isn't just a result of ghettoisation where working class Indians bond together partly because they aren't readily accepted by the native population. This happens even with the professionals who have emigrated to the U.S., doctors, engineers, IT experts. Even with them their passports cannot hide their Indian identity.

On the other hand you have Nasser Hussain, born in Hyderabad of an Indian father, captaining an English cricket team and astutely plotting yet another clever stratagem to defeat the Indians. How do you explain that?

It's a matter of integration: Hussain's mother is English and his father is probably more English than Indian. Add to that the classic English upbringing of public school and Oxbridge, and what you get is an Englishman who is Indian only in name. There are people who say that Hussain worked doubly hard to defeat India to prove himself an Englishman; in fact, it's likely that he never thinks of himself even remotely as an Indian. When Ben Kingsley was doing the title role for Richard Attenborough's "Gandhi" he made sure everyone knew about his Indian roots. But he spoilt that somewhat by saying I am half Gujarat, missing the `i' for the `ts'.

So in the end, you have three types of Indians living abroad: the Hussain/Kingsley Indian who will never be Indians, the ghetto-Indian who will always be Indian no matter the colour of his passport and lastly the professional Indian who is trying his best to integrate into local society but is still reluctant to let go of his Indianness.

For two of these three categories dual citizenship will be a boon, but it will be a practical boon: it's not going to add to their already high feeling of India-centric patriotism. And it's, therefore, not going to increase NRI investment in India as is being fondly hoped.

The point I am trying to make should have been obvious to our planners but isn't: Indians abroad are as fond of their mother country as the Chinese are fond of theirs, but investment isn't a matter of the heart. If NRIs don't invest in India, it's for other reasons altogether, and its because of these reasons that all foreign investors prefer China to India. Reason number one is our bureaucracy, and reason number two is corruption. As simple as that.

What does dual citizenship have to do with either?

Anil Dharker is a noted journalist, media critic and writer.

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