Letter from New Delhi
During his first year in office Indian Prime Minister Modi has wooed and wowed the overseas Indians, writes Kul Bhushan
The Indian Diaspora is a major constituency and support for Prime Minister Narendra Modi. During his visits abroad since taking over the reins of the government a year ago, Modi has reinforced his rapport with overseas Indians in most of the countries he has toured.
Significantly, he built on the close and personal relations he had with many overseas Indians as the Chief Minister of Gujarat. Attending to their long-standing grouses, he offered them many sops.
During that period, Modi toured abroad to attract Gujarati and also overseas Indians’ investments to Gujarat. After becoming Prime Minister, he has promoted the entire subcontinent as an attractive destination for overseas Indians to visit, invest in and contribute their skills and expertise. Significantly, he has also addressed their long-standing complaints about speedy short-term visas and lifelong visas by offering Overseas Indians Citizenship (OIC), granting visas for Non-Indian spouses, visa on arrival facility for American citizens and electronic arrival authorisation. He merged Person of Indian Origin (PIO) and OIC cards to create a single category by removing the discrepancies and helping those whose spouses are of different nationality. NRIs will not report to the police if they stay in India for long periods. Visa applications can be made electronically and visa processing has been outsourced to issue faster and hassle-free visas.
These benefits followed the intense lobbying for Modi before India’s general elections by overseas Indians in their countries of residence. No Indian election has generated more interest among the 27 million overseas Indians than the latest one. Overseas Indians seem to have a stake in Modi’s victory as they were fed up with the non-stop news of massive corruption scandals, lethargic government response and a docile foreign policy. Modi set the tone for his government by declaring that he would implement proactive policies. And he has. Most political analysts comment that he has given an edge to India’s foreign policy.
His coming out appearance for overseas Indians happened in New York when Madison Square Garden overflowed with American ‘desi’ Indians. He was dubbed the rock star after his hour-long off-the-cuff speech that had everyone spellbound and rooting for him. Here was the new face and dynamic energy of India – as Modi urged them to help develop their mother or grandmother-land. This is not a new message to overseas Indians, but its smart packaging laced with homely anecdotes by the new Prime Minister made a difference.
Instead of covering up for India as ‘a poor country’, as done by former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in Washington, Modi declares India to be a young country with the youngest population and a 3D – Demography, Demand and Democracy – dividend. And he goes on to promote his major new initiatives such as Clean Ganga, ‘Swacch Bharat’ or Clean India, Toilets for All, Digital India, Smart Cities, Bullet Trains, among others. Appealing to NRIs at a personal level, he invited them to join his numerous websites to suggest ideas and new projects for India’s progress. In the same vein, he urged them to persuade at least five of their friends to visit India to boost tourism and employment in India.
A pattern of his speeches to NRIs has emerged: he starts off by hailing their success, their links with India and contribution to their country of residence and to India. After all, they sent $70 billion to India in 2013. Then he outlines his vision of India for all its major sectors: agriculture, manufacturing and services, laced with facts, and goes on to suggest how they can get involved individually in India’s march forward. Finally, he announces or repeats the benefits he has granted to NRIs. No wonder he is a thundering success. By April 2015, he had honed this technique so well that in April 2015 when he addressed NRIs in Germany, he was outstaying with his overview of the Indian economy.
Modi makes it a point to visit the local temples, gurudwaras and Buddhist shrines. In Mauritius, he visited the local Ganga site to perform a religious ritual. His test came in Canada where the Sikhs planned demonstrations against him but he overcame this hurdle by visiting the gurudwara where he was honoured with a ‘saropa’. Starting off with Bhutan and Nepal, he went on to Japan, USA, Australia, Fiji, Seychelles, Mauritius, Sri Lanka, France, Germany, Canada and now China and South Korea. Between chock-a-block engagements, he always stops to greet overseas Indians. For example, he halted his motorcade in a suburb of an Australian city to greet a lone Indian couple with their baby.
Africa has not yet come on his horizon, though he has an enthusiastic community in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania and a big Indian population in South Africa. His African safari could come before the planned summit of African heads of state in Delhi this winter. After its elections, Britain is another priority trip for him to boost bilateral relations and to interact with the British Indians who hold him in high esteem.
In 12 months, Modi has wooed and wowed overseas Indians.
Kul Bhushan worked as a newspaper Editor in Nairobi for over three decades and now lives in New Delhi
* Published in print edition on 22 May 2015