NRIs – Use ‘m, don’t lose ‘m
Why should NRIs care about an assembly election in far away Delhi? Why are they so supportive of AAP? These are questions that people ask me both in India and abroad. This is a loaded question with no short answer. But before I answer that, let me clarify the definition of NRIs at least as it pertains to Indian elections. NRIs are Indian passport holders residing abroad. So they have all the rights available to Indian citizens, including voting in elections (provided they are in India at the time of elections) and donating to political parties.
To start with, when you grow up in India, you witness poverty, crowds, corruption, riots, bad roads, power cuts, water shortage, poor infrastructure, etc. You tend to grow up not questioning these problems. You just take it as a part and parcel of everyday life. Once you go abroad, particularly to the more affluent west, you notice immediately that everyday living is not so hard. i.e., basic essentials like water, power, clean roads, etc., are almost taken for granted and riots are almost unheard off. Besides, there is also a very effective mechanism in place to address the concerns of the people. This gives you a basis for comparison and a unique perspective. Then you start to wonder and question what it takes for us to achieve similar things in India. You begin to think in terms of problems and solutions. Why is there a power shortage? Why is there water shortage? Why are public schools in such a bad state? Why can’t government hospitals be better maintained? When you dig deeper and ponder over these issues, you start to identify that corruption, poor governance and politics are at the heart of most of our problems.
Secondly, I suspect distance makes the heart grow fonder. Many NRIs carry with them their traditional values, customs and world view, no matter where they go. In fact, while India is changing rapidly and becoming more westernized by the minute, several of our NRIs are caught in a time warp. To them, India is what they left behind, in some cases decades ago. Edward Luce in his book, “In spite of the Gods – The rise of modern India,” writes that inter-caste marriages are very common in the IT sector in India while they are less common among the Indian software professionals in the US. In short, many NRIs might have physically left India but their hearts and minds are still wedded to their motherland. Thus, they are genuinely concerned about bringing about change in India.
Many people of Indian origin have taken up citizenship of foreign countries primarily to ease the burden of travel. The moment you are an Indian citizen, the paper work required to get a visa for travel multiplies several times. To avoid this hassle, many take up foreign citizenship. (Such people are not considered NRIs.) But many, even among such people, still deeply care about India. They frequently visit India due to family ties and consciously dream of a better India. Besides, there are many people who have taken up citizenship of other countries but prefer to live in India with an overseas citizen of India (OCI) card.