Worldview with Suhasini Haidar | Indians abroad attacked | How does it impact bilateral ties? 

Indians abroad attacked | How does it impact bilateral ties? 

In this episode of Worldview, we are looking at the tricky crossroads between the diaspora and diplomacy. What is the impact of diaspora and consular issues on India’s bilateral ties?

October 07, 2022 08:42 pm | Updated 08:43 pm IST

The MEA steps up its responses to reports of hate crimes against the Indian diaspora abroad: Riots in the United Kingdom, vandalism and attacks in Canada...and the government issues strong demarches against the US and other countries for long visa delays for Indians. How does this impact India’s bilateral ties ?

Let’s just take a quick look at some of the faultlines we have seen in the past few weeks:

1. UK

 In UK, the city of Leicester saw days of protests, rioting and vandalism after an India-Pakistan cricket match ended with a clash between fans- that turned into a communal brawl for days.

-The Indian High Commission in London issued a statement condemning violence against the Indian community, and particularly, incidences of vandalism at Hindu temples.

- The MEA said that it has taken up the matter strongly with British authorities, and called for action against those responsible and protection for those affected.

- EAM S.Jaishankar also met with the new British Foreign Secretary on the sidelines of the UNGA, saying he had shared his concerns about the well being of the Indian community in UK. Remember, most of those affected are UK citizens.

- The East Leicester police sent out a number of statements on their efforts to keep the peace, called for social media posts to be more responsible. Even King Charles summoned a group from local police, representatives of the Federation of Muslims, the Hindu community, and specifically those from Daman and Diu in Leicester.

- Speaking at the Conservative Party convention, Home Secretary Suella Braverman, herself the child of Indian-Origin migrants from Africa, said the problem was “new migrants” to the UK, and a failure to assimilate with what she called British values, while playing up identity politics and multiculturalism.

2. CANADA

 Let’s take a look at another area of similiar issues- Canada.

After a number of incidents this year, the MEA put out a very strong advisory, a first against what it called a “sharp increase in incidents of hate crimes, sectarian violence and anti-India activities in Canada” 

The MEA said that

- They had approached Canadian authorities to prosecute those responsible but found that “perpetrators of these crimes have not been brought to justice so far in Canada”

- Told Indians to exercise great caution in travelling to Canada

- Asked them to register with the Indian High Commission and Consulates so that they can be helped in an emergency situation.

The incidents that the government listed were:

1. Burglaries at Temples, especially in the Toronto and Greater Peel area and temples being vandalised with pro-Khalistan slogans, including the Swaminarayan temple in September

2. Attacks on people of Indian origin- including a Punjabi radio host, who was attacked in Brampton with people wielding axes in August

3. A statue of Gandhi defaced in July, and more recently an allegation that a Bhagavad Gita park sign was vandalised, that was denied by Canadian policy

4. In two separate attacks Indian students were killed including Kartik Vasudev shot dead in Toronto at a subway station, and Harmandeep Kaur who was hit with an iron rod and died.

3. US

-News has come in of a 20-year-old Indian student being murdered, allegedly by his roommate at University in Indiana- the MEA has not yet issued any statement

- However, in the past few years, the MEA has taken up incidents of violence and alleged hate crimes against Indian citizens, and even US citizens of Indian origin in America

4. VISAS

Finally there is the issue- not of the diaspora, but of those wanting to join the diaspora- immigrants, professionals and students. A shutdown on visas, and cutbacks on consular staff has created a backlog of gigantic proportions for the US embassy as well as the UK, Embassies in Europe and Australia for Indians, one that the MEA took a stern view of:

- MEA officials called in or spoke to counterparts from with Australia, Canada, Czech Republic, Germany, New Zealand, Poland, UK & USA

- MEA issued 2 demarches between June and September asking Missions to increase their visa capacities

- EAM Jaishankar took up the issue, which he called a nightmare- most notably in the US, where the wait time for a visa appointment crossed 800 days, or more than 2 years. This was particularly difficult to understand given the delays were multiple times those in neighbouring countries like China and Pakistan.

With Canada, the government issued a long advisory, given that the backlog is of 700,000 applications from Indians, after cases of suicide attempts by applicants and what appeared to be a desperate situation for many

I should add here that perhaps as a tit for tat move- the Canadian Govt put out a very stern advisory for Canadian Citizens travelling to India- telling them not to travel to 3 states, to the Indian border with Pakistan etc.

What is the impact on diaspora and consular issues on bilateral ties?

1. The state of the bilateral ties is often judged by the treatment of each other’s citizens. Even though this correlation is unjust at times, it is eventually about showing ones own citizens the impact of the government’s diplomatic efforts. India at present has an estimated population of 13 million Non Resident Indians, and 18 million Persons of Indian Origin the world’s largest, and as a result the impact is greater.

2. Politics inside India, has in recent years, begun to have an impact on diaspora politics as well, and particularly as overseas wings of the ruling party the BJP in India, as well as other political groups exert their influence over diaspora in other countries- in the past governments in UK and US have complained about what they see as interference in their domestic politics. In a previous edition of WorldView we looked at the rise of indian diaspora leaders in elections worldwide

3. Growing communal polarisation inside India has also spilt over abroad- whether it is the Hindu-Muslim tensions we see in the UK or the Hindu-Sikh tensions in Canada, also in some parts of California. In some countries- social mores and caste divisions have also spilt into diaspora politics

4. More confusion comes from the fact that while many immigrants and their descendants are of Indian origin, they may actually have been settled centuries ago in other countries- most notably the case with indentured labour and others transported to the Caribbean islands, Africa and South East Asian countries- it is harder to conflate their issues with those of Indian nationals in these countries. Take also the case of Indians who migrated before partition- are their descendants to be seen separately or divided into Indians, Pakistani and Bangladesh communities ?

5. These issues then bleed into the visa policies of countries – and as you heard from UK Home Secretary, who linked violence in Leicester to allowing more immigrants to the UK. Of course, the confusion lies in countries that allow immigration- in the Gulf region, and even in countries like Switzerland, where it is virtually impossible to get citizenship, and people travel largely on residence and work permits.

6. India is by no means the only country to have these issues- the Jewish lobby in Western countries, and Chinese origin citizens in South East Asia and America are often targetted similarly.

7. The impact is also felt on trade agreements- a major sticking point in negotiations with UK, European Union and the RCEP negotiations India walked out off is over the lack of flexibility in the free flow of labour, visa issues, especially for the export from India of services including IT, health sector, hospitality sector and others.

The fact remains, India does not offer dual citizenship to its nationals- and while that is the case, it is more difficult for the Indian government to take up the cause of the “Indian community” in various parts of the world without running the risk of being accused of interference, and of the diaspora being accused of divided loyalties. Diaspora diplomacy is best played as a soft power- a force multiplier of India’s culture, not as a symbol of its hard power worldwide, or as a lever in bilateral diplomacy between two countries.

BOOK RECOMENDATIONS

1. The Other One Percent: Indians in America by Devesh Kapur- one of the best writers on diaspora.

2. Give Us Your Best and Brightest: The Global Hunt for Talent and Its Impact on the Developing World is also co-authored by Professor Kapur

3. India’s Soft Power: A New Foreign Policy Strategy- by Polish scholar Patryk Kugiel

4. Soft Power: The Means To Success In World Politics by Joseph Nye

5. Imaginary Homelands: Essays and Criticism 1981-1991 by Salman Rushdie

6. The Middle Passage- V.S. Naipaul

7. The Encyclopedia of the Indian Diaspora- Brij Lal etc

8. Transnational Migrations: The Indian Diaspora Brij Lal and William Safran

9. Routledge Handbook of the Indian Diaspora

10. Indian Cultural Diplomacy: Celebrating Pluralism in a Globalised World by Paramjit Sahai

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