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February - March 2007


Political News

Dual Citizenship and India

by Krishan Tyagi


Despite making so much song and dance about it for almost a decade, and LM Singhvi committee visiting every country on the planet “listening to the Indian Diaspora”, India has not provided the facility of dual citizenship to Indians living abroad – what former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee called Bharatvanshis. The so-called Indian Overseas Citizenship is not worth the paper it is written on. It is not citizenship at all. Bharatvanshis cannot even step on the soil of Bharat with an IOC document in their hand. It is simply a multiple visa for India with a glorified name. Indians holding US or UK passports will have to produce their foreign passports while entering India, along with the IOC document. The Indian government has played the biggest fraud on the Indian Diaspora!!

The status of PIO cards is even more ludicrous. It took the Government of India more than fifty years to recognise that we are people of Indian origin, while the rest of the world always knew it!!

The ingenuity displayed by the present Indian government in scuttling the proposal to provide dual citizenship shows that it still suffers from the medieval thinking that once you go abroad, you are no longer a real Indian. A strong attachment to the geography of India is a part of the Indian psyche. Hinduism and India are so intertwined that it is impossible to separate the two. Shastras (the Hindu religious books) describe India as the sacred land. For most of the Indians, nothing exists beyond the borders of India – the world means India, and India means the world to them. It wasn’t long ago when it was considered a sin to leave the shores of India. When Mahatma Gandhi left India to study Law in England, he had to seek a special pardon from the priests. Even in the Independent India, the term NRI has stood for Not Required Indian, particularly during the Congress rule.

“Pure Indians” have always looked at the West as something corrupt. Indian films are replete with scenes where the Western culture is mocked at and condemned. Even today, despite a lot of collaboration with the US and UK film industries, in the mainstream Hindi cinema establishing the superiority of Indian values against Western values is a must.

This Indian mentality that cannot think beyond the boundaries of India has been befittingly described by the Urdu poet Sahir Ludhianvi in his poem Shahzade (Princes), which translates as follows:

…Think of your great past, and go to sleep! …Why to bother about what’s happening in the West (or the rest of the world)!

Given this mind-set, India has always considered ‘Dual Citizenship’ a self-contradiction in terms. India has believed that if you are a citizen of one country, you cannot be a citizen of another – either with us or against us – an approach at best justifiable in the case of enemy nations.

But is every other country in the world India’s enemy!

Think of a situation: A White English person coming to live in India says to the Indian government: “I would live and work here, but would send a part of the money I earn here to Britain. As far as loyalty to India is concerned, you should know I’m English and a British citizen first. Furthermore, I should also be entitled to become an Indian citizen, after four years of my stay here. And, by the way, I should be entitled to vote in the Indian elections from Day One of my stay in India since I am a Common Wealth citizen.”

Most of the people living in India, particularly the Indian government, cannot even imagine the situation. Yet, in the US, UK, and other Western democracies, that is exactly the situation. For instance, most of the Indians living in Britain send money earned in Britain to India, and hardly any person of Indian origin is in the British army. And yet it is not Britain that treats these people as aliens or denies them the right to citizenship! As long as the prospective citizen’s actions and inactions are within the law of the land, the UK and US governments would have no problem in granting them their countries’ citizenship. Despite immigrants’ attachment to another country and their repatriation of money earned in the UK, the British government allows them to get British citizenship and have equal rights in the UK, while retaining their former citizenship. British citizens are free to have the citizenship of another country – India, US, Canada, Russia, China, or whatever. The same is the case in the other European countries, US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand – basically in all the civilised democratic countries. They provide their immigrant and migrant people the facility of dual citizenship in true sense. They don’t see any contradiction or danger in that.

But the country professing to believe in the philosophy of Vasudev Kutumbkam does!

The nationalist section of the Indian politics harps on the foreign origin of Mrs Sonia Gandhi, and accuses her of not accepting Indian citizenship for a long time. The so-called “progressive and secular” political leaders of Indian polity describe Sonia Gandhi as “Our Bahu”. Yet, no one has ever bothered to see why Sonia Gandhi, married into the top most political family of the country, did not go for Indian citizenship! Too much botheration for the sake of a Firangi!

The answer lies in the fact that, unlike most of the civilized countries in the world, India forces the prospective citizen to give up their former citizenship – If you want to belong to your ‘Sasural’, you have to sever your relationship with your ‘Mayka’!

Not only it violates the principle of respecting the dignity of the individual (a principle supposedly enshrined in the Indian Constitution as well) in the case of persons of foreign origin such as Sonia Gandhi, India rewards its own people’s attachment and loyalty to their motherland by declaring them unfit to be Indian citizens! These people consider India their spiritual home. But in the eyes of the Indian political leadership it’s no more than a shallow nostalgia.

India refuses to accept that while being a good citizen of their adopted country, one could have sentimental attachment with the land of their forefathers! India refuses to learn that going to the other parts of the world can give you a better vision of your own country!

This blind vision of the Indian political leadership is hurting India itself. Most of the Indians living in the US, UK, etc, do not take up those countries’ citizenship despite the eligibility – because for that they would have to give up Indian citizenship, which has a great sentimental value for them – and thus are disqualified from holding any important positions in those countries (No country would give important positions in its establishment to non-citizens). Thus, unlike other immigrant communities, Indians fail to develop any clout in those countries. As former BBC Producer and the editor of www.nrifm.com, Vijay Rana, in his article - http://www.samachar.com/features/210605-middle.html - points out, the people of Pakistani origin living in those countries, at the first opportunity available, obtain the citizenship of those countries, making themselves eligible for each and every thing, including access to the core of the establishment, in those countries – without their relationship with Pakistan getting at all affected. By barring loyal Indians from accepting other countries’ citizenship and the right to vote there, India is doing no favour to itself. And it’s not only that non-resident Indians are not able to develop a political influence in their countries of residence, it affects their economic and business life too. For instance, a British citizen is free to travel to any country in the European Union. But an Indian citizen has to obtain visas from each and every country in Europe for the intended visits. By creating hurdles in the way of the Indians living abroad, India is hurting itself.

The Indian establishment gives two reasons for not giving fully-fledged citizenship to the Indians living abroad. One, granting dual citizenship to NRIs “would create a risk for the security of the country”. Two, it would give voting and other political rights to persons not living in India, which “could create an abnormal situation”.

Let’s look at both these points in some detail. The Indian authorities say that if Indians living in the US or the UK are given a full passport, then Pakistanis and Bangladeshis will be able to travel to India freely and it could pose a security threat to India. How? If the citizenship is awarded to the Indians who left India for the US or the UK after 26th January 1950, how can a Pakistani living in the UK get Indian citizenship? This thesis advanced by the Indian establishment is beyond comprehension.

No doubt, there have been some persons of Indian origin who became a threat to the security of India, particularly some Sikh militants living in the UK, Canada and the US, during the 1980s. But it doesn’t mean that all Indians, or all Sikhs, living abroad are a threat to India. The reality is the opposite. After the fizzling out of the Sikh militancy, no NRI has ever been found to be working against the security of India. The fact is that the real security risks are living as Resident Indian citizens in Mumbai and Malegaon. On what basis the Indian establishment is calling NRIs (vis-à-vis Resident Indians) a security risk is beyond facts and logic. As L.M. Singhvi, during his long term as India’s High Commissioner in the UK, used to say, “the Indians living abroad are more Indian than the Indians living in India.” How can such people be a security risk to India? And, most importantly, if there are some suspect cases, why can’t the Indian authorities check out and deny the citizenship to those particular individuals, rather than punishing the whole Indian community living abroad. Would they treat all the Muslims living in India as security risks just because a few Muslims have been involved in anti-national activities? If not, why are they doing that to the NRIs?

As far as the attitude of Indian political leadership towards the political rights of the NRIs is concerned, it’s so ironical that the Ninth of January has been declared Pravasi Bharatiya Divas, the day Mahatma Gandhi returned to India in 1915 after his two-decade long stay in South Africa to start a political movement in India, and yet the legislation, enacted to celebrate Mahatma Gandhi’s return, denies Indians returning to India that very right! On Ninth January Mahatma Gandhi returned to India to do nothing else but politics! And on Ninth January every year the Indian government tells the NRIs that you can do everything else but politics! What a great tribute to Mahatma Gandhi’s role in the freedom movement!

Is the present Indian leadership afraid that another Mahatma may return and uproot the Brown Sahibs this time!

In fact, this is the crux of the matter. The Indian political leaders are fearful that INDIANS with selfless love for their Motherland, equipped with a better vision, could uproot the self-serving, short-sighted, corrupt, casteist and racist dimwits at the helm of affairs of the Indian nation. Security risk is just an excuse. Govinda and Dharmendra, not attending the Parliament for two years, create no problem, but a voter living in London or New York could create “an abnormal situation”!

The only way to make the Indian government see sense and act truly in India’s interest would be that all the INDIANS LIVING ABROAD should boycott the hollow functions organised by the Indian government and its ministers in India and abroad in the name of NRIs. Let’s tell them – We are not lesser Indians. We don’t live in India, India lives in us. Nothing else but proper dual citizenship will do. They will have to let Indians living abroad obtain citizenship of their countries of residence, and let foreigners like Sonia Gandhi to retain their earlier citizenship while obtaining Indian citizenship – as all other civilised countries do!

Krishan Tyagi

Before coming to the UK, Krishan Tyagi worked in the Government of India as a member of the Indian Economic Service from 1977 to 1987. During this tenure, he worked in the ministries of finance, agriculture & rural development, and food & civil supplies. In the UK, Krishan was employed by the BBC for ten years. At the BBC, he worked in four departments, including the Network Television and the BBC World Service.

At present, Krishan is running a successful business in the field of food distribution in the UK, and from time to time writes on the present day issues.

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