The Role of Diaspora in India’s Foreign Policy, National Security and Economic Development: Talk by Amb J C Sharma, S.M. IFS (Retd)
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The Vimarsha series of monthly talks was held on Jul 31, 2012, with Ambassador J.C. Sharma, S.M. IFS (retd), former Secretary, Ministry of External Affairs & former Member Secretary, High Level Committee on the India Diaspora, set up by the Government of India, delivering an insightful talk on the ‘Role of the Indian Diaspora in India’s Foreign Policy, National Security and Economic Development’. The erudite Ambassador said that the Indian Diaspora, comprising an estimated 25 million people of Indian origin and non-resident Indians, spread across 110 countries, is a huge asset for the country. He underscored the fact that people from this community, settled in countries far away from India, since long have been contributing significantly to the development of India, especially of late in terms of investment, foreign trade, transfer of technology and skills, development of cultural linkages with foreign countries etc. Besides, they have also been fighting very hard for safeguarding India’s interests in foreign countries. Blocking the Burton amendment, support for India during Kargil, nuclear tests and the agreement between India and the US on civil nuclear cooperation are examples where the Diaspora community in the US, for example, acted positively as lobbying or pressure group to promote India’s interests. He also pointed out that the success of India during the recent decades, especially its economic success, had added to the standing of the Indian Diaspora in their adoptive countries. As the latter sought to engage India more actively because of its growth and military strength, they found the Indian Diaspora a useful bridge. This enhanced their value and standing in the countries where they lived and worked.

While Ambassador Sharma lauded the valuable contributions made by the Diaspora towards India, he also regretted the fact that India’s policy approach towards this community so far has remained largely inconsistent and a victim of poor implementation. He also pointed out that by far the most significant recommendation of the High Level Committee on Diaspora i.e. creation of a credible database of all overseas Indians has remained unrealized till date. As far back as 2004, a proposal was mooted for the setting up of an Overseas Indian Research Foundation, but its foundation stone was laid only in 2010 and it has not yet been built. Furthermore, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) and the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs (MOIA) have between them a fractured mandate to address the issues of interest to the overseas Indians. Without proper representation from the MEA, the MOIA is significantly losing out on valuable inputs.

The Panelist and A Section of Audience

The Ambassador however cautioned that political developments taking place within India do sometimes negatively impact the Diaspora. The Operation Blue Star, which hurt the sentiments of large number of Sikhs across many countries besides India, also adversely impacted India’s relations with Canada. However, there are also groups / individuals within the Diaspora who continue to support various insurgent groups operating within India, lending them both moral and material support through hawala operations, money laundering etc.

It was also pointed out that while India has not been fully successful in capitalizing on its Diaspora, Pakistan has been effectively leveraging its own Diaspora as well as elements within the Indian Diaspora to destabilize India. David Headley, Tahawur Hussain Rana, Dawood Ibrahim and Abu Jundal are telling examples of how Pakistan has been using members from the Diaspora community to carry out acts of terrorism against India.

The speaker however emphasized that the global reach of media and revolutionary changes in the communication have helped create Diaspora networks and instant connectivity with the motherland. It is, therefore, important to constantly engage the Diaspora and develop policies suited to each segment according to its characteristics. He further opined that the destinies of India and the Diaspora are intertwined. It is in the interest of both to develop a mutually beneficial relationship. It is an important tool for India’s soft power diplomacy. The Diaspora is an important resource in India’s aspirations to be a developed country and a knowledge superpower by 2020.

Report prepared by Sanjay Kumar

Event Date 
July 31, 2012
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