Diasporas in the recent times have emerged as powerful entities in the realm of ‘soft power’ foreign policy strategy and as an agent or catalyst of economic development in the countries of origin apart from their active role in the host countries. Diasporas have a unique role in international relations and foreign policy because they act as a link between two countries, “sharing in two cultures, having an emotional investment in two nations, and preserving social connections in two societies.”
Due to the globalisation and liberalisation of global economies coupled with the rapid advancement in science and communication technologies, there has been an intensification of their socio-economic, political and cultural ties with their countries of origin. Diasporas have attained due importance at the international level as well as in the domestic political and economic affairs of home countries in the present scenario. They have started acting as an ‘inevitable link’ between their home and host lands resulting in major political and economic implications for both.
Diaspora as a Tool of Diplomacy in India’s Foreign Policy
The use of diaspora as a tool of diplomacy in Indian Foreign Policy is a relatively new phenomenon. The Indian diaspora is a major component of these concomitant worldwide and has increasingly become more influential over India’s foreign policy, becoming a highly strategic asset for India in the recent decades. India has been making concerted efforts to engage and leverage upon its diaspora estimated to be about 25 million, the second largest in the world, ranging from a mere 20 in Albania to over 2.2 million in the United States, dispersed in 136 countries.
The efforts of PM Modi regarding Diaspora Diplomacy and in cultivating the relationship with Indian diaspora signifies the importance of soft power in the foreign policy initiatives of the present government. To be fair, diaspora cultivation is not exactly a new phenomenon in IFP; the former governments had also invested a good amount of capital in resolving the underlying obstacles in the implementation of effective interaction between Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) with the Indian government.
The union government in the year 2000 established a high-level committee on Indian diaspora to review the status of People of Indian Origin (PIOs) and Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) looking at the laws and rules that are applicable to them. This was an initiative to look at the role NRIs and PIOs may play in the social, economic and technological development of India. Better rules favouring the PIOs like the ease of travel and stay were implemented and new categories created amongst its diaspora in 2006 for the NRIs, PIOs and Overseas Citizen of India (OCIs). The Indian parliament in August 2005, passed the amendment of Citizenship Act of 1955, allowing certain sections of the diaspora to gain specific citizenship rights. Eventually, there is a growth in outreach activities for the Indian diaspora like conferences and seminars, Pravasi Bharatiya Divas (Day of Indians Abroad) amongst other initiatives which show a concerted effort by the Government of India to showcase India as a place that is welcoming of its diaspora.
Diasporas: Effective Instrument in India’s Foreign Policy
The importance of diasporas does not end with remittances alone. It extends to knowledge transfer, the sharing of resources, diasporas acting as unofficial Indian ambassadors and pushing for India’s interests abroad. The diaspora has also helped in improving India’s image globally and they undoubtedly have considerable stakes in India’s development.
Diaspora is the oxygen to PM Modi’s foreign policy. Since day one, he has addressed concerns related to the Indian diaspora and makes it a point to address a gathering of Indian diaspora at any foreign visit. The task of such an interaction is to convince the diaspora that they can engage as effective stakeholders in the problems faced by India and that their contribution is imperative for India’s economic development and its rise as a global power. This also acts as a subtle but powerful message to the governments of the host countries. This “Diaspora Diplomacy” is a classic example of how the diaspora can act as an effective instrument of diplomacy in international affairs in the era of globalisation. The diaspora can greatly contribute to domestic economic development and attract FDI to India. Modi’s idea of diaspora diplomacy is to ensure a collective Indian voice in the host countries where they are simultaneously loyal citizens. While the diaspora certainly do not determine policy, they can effectively shape it and act as “bridge-builders” between their home and host countries.
While looking at the effect of diaspora Diplomacy in Indian Foreign Policy, some examples can be cited as diaspora plays a decisive role in the improvement of India’s foreign relations. Historically, India has benefitted from its diaspora. Two instances stand out: lobbying for the US-India Civilian Nuclear Agreement Bill in 2008 and their remittance inflow. The Indo-American community had a significant role to play in improving the image of Indians in the American minds as well as the Indo-US rapprochement. The lobbying efforts of the US India Political Action Committee (USINPAC) helped to get the Indo-US Nuclear Deal passed by the US Congress. While Bollywood films since Independence have enjoyed great popularity in the Middle East, the development of geo-economics has made the Indian diaspora as an important instrument, interest and indicator of India’s soft power in the region. The Indian expats working in the region contribute significantly to the remittances India receives. PM Modi has capitalised on the need for Middle Eastern countries to look for large markets because of the Shale Revolution and US Retrenchment, increasing India’s engagement with the region. The most important tool for PM Modi’s Middle East adventures has been the Indian diaspora.
However, certain political developments taking place within India do sometimes negatively impact the diaspora, for example, the negative impact of the diaspora is that there are also groups and individuals within the diaspora who continue to support various insurgent groups operating within India, while lending them both moral and material support through hawala operations, money laundering etc. and this can prove to be a colossal security threat for the nation.
Nevertheless, India has a pivotal role to play in world affairs as it is a rising power and a key stakeholder in the security dynamics of South Asia and Southeast Asia. Its role in East Asia is taking shape and while India is still not an economic power, its military capabilities, shared interests and willingness to explore beyond its rhetoric have raised expectations banking on its capabilities and the role India can play as an Asian power, in the region and globally. The large populations of Indian expatriates in countries like Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia provide India with an opportunity to develop nurturing and more cooperative relations in the region. In the past, diaspora policies have been inconsistent and often poorly implemented, to say in the least. Over the years, however, the diaspora populations have become an increasingly important factor in international relations and politics. The Indian diaspora have a direct engagement and influence on the economies and polities of both the origin country and the host country. This provides for a ripe environment for India to tap on the potential they offer.
However, the present foreign-policy strategy of a strong outreach to the Indian diaspora stands out and must be nurtured. The diaspora can provide the requisite strategic impulse and strengthen strategic relations. In the present times, the global reach of media and revolutionary changes in communication has helped create diaspora networks and instant connectivity with the motherland. It is important to constantly engage the diaspora and develop policies as the destinies of India and the diaspora are intertwined. Therefore, it serves the interest of both to develop a mutually beneficial relationship and is an important tool for India’s soft power diplomacy which would help India in achieving its aspirations to be a developed country and a knowledge superpower in the international arena.
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