By Anil Gujadhur
Many will acknowledge that the majority of those who left the shores of India at one time or other for new destinations have risen economically. There has been a life of struggle behind their economic emancipation. In the majority of cases, many generations past have been part of this extended struggle. This struggle has passed through the rough and tough of colonial pasts and numerous prejudices and social dislocations holding them down.
Those among them who have made despite all the odds owe it mainly to their unstinting perseverance along steep inclines against numerous handicaps. Individuals and families kept up the faith that the fight was worthwhile and that the pain gone through was not for nothing. They believed in the fundamental transformational impact of education and remained stuck to moral and ethical values. Strong cultural rooting helped them fight it up against all the odds. Many fell on the wayside but even they will be rescued some day or other if they keep up the fight. All this might look like the routine call for all human beings seeking to free themselves from their shackles. In the case of the Indian immigrants however they had only their bare hands and a series of deliberately laid-down obstacles to overcome.
What applies to the individuals who have left India at one time or other also applies to India itself. India has risen from its throes of utter underdevelopment of colonial times, just like the diaspora, to assert itself economically at the global level in more recent times. History has taught India that it will stand to earn respect internationally only if it manages to become a global force to reckon with. With this in mind, it has shown in the past two decades that it has the inherent strength to be in the company of the higher-ranking in the world. India is not there, yet. But its conscientious political and social leaders have already seen the glimmer of hope which could make India position itself firmly in this direction.
Members of the Indian diaspora have, by dint of hard work, come to occupy leadership positions in diverse fields of economic activity across the world. Their contribution to the rise of places like Silicon Valley in America is well known. Not so well known are the achievements of many such individuals in the City of London and financial centres like New York. They have also spread out into diverse fields of manufacturing in different parts of the globe. By asserting themselves in this fashion as leaders in different fields of economic activity, they have carried the conviction that a strong sense of rigour, self-discipline and a profound attachment to lasting values eventually pays off.
Many of them would have been simply written off given the wretched state in which they found themselves at first. But the strong desire to transcend barriers to progress in the environment of their new countries of adoption eventually gave them a voice in the chapter. Rather than remaining content with what they had succeeded to acquire by way of competence and social integration, they went beyond traditional frontiers to meet the world. World class professionals, lawmakers and businessmen of some mettle emerged from their ranks. Their competences straddle today across diverse fields of human activity. The previous generations would not have believed it if they were told that their off-springs could have attained such recognized levels of excellence in so many fields. The difficulties they came across hammered them into shape and opened up the genius that lies dormant in every human until it gets an opportunity to blossom out.
The question that arises is whether those individuals who have made it in so many domains of activity in places outside of India can pool their efforts and bring it to bear on India’s further development. As it is they are happy to remain in the stations they’ve reached in life in their own countries. They can engage freely in their lines of activity with India, China, South Africa, England, America or any other because they have acquired universal values. That does not preclude their active networking with achievers in their original home country, India. In fact, there is a chance that they can have an even better empathy with India’s framework of future development than those who have a purely outsider’s understanding of India’s essential fabric. That kind of association can become a new fountainhead to bring additional fresh inputs to India’s new burst of adventure in the concert of great nations. There is no reason why both sides should not draw on each other’s strengths. The potential synergy from this source deserves to be explored.
Looking back to India’s recent economic success, one is led to recognize that the economic scope was extended as government undertook reforms to free India from many constraints it had been operating under in the first place. But that was not enough. It was a pool of gifted and decision-making individuals in the private sector who made it happen. They infused confidence enough for grander projects than ever before to be undertaken to change India’s overall economic profile for good. The difference made by certain high-achieving and visionary individuals created the new economic dynamism. There is no reason why a wedding of local talents with those of the Indian diaspora into the Indian economic setup should not go in the same direction of extending and sharpening India’s economic scope. The world has evolved by means of this kind of melting pot experimentation. Different persons from different climes have contributed to make it rise from the poverty-ridden place it had become – and that includes most of the west – after WW II.
It shouldn’t matter if those talented individuals living in other shores were to also gain from this kind of networking so long they have a sense of commitment to a shared destiny. What matters is that they help India lay down the structural foundation for asserting herself as an economic powerhouse globally. In the past, India has often acted believing itself to be an all-inclusive place. It has not looked adequately enough into the potential contained by opening up to outside influence. This policy of being satisfied with what the country has as resources has acted to limit its sustainable scope.
On the other hand, a place like America has demonstrated that, by a clever blending of talents, wherever they come from, it can become economy number one in the world. Its technical superiority over others has kept asserting itself unchallenged. Other countries are trying to walk on the same trail. Nations which want to progress are hunting for talents wherever they may come from. Would it not have helped India grow more firmly if it had done as much for advancing its manufacturing sector as it did in the past with regard to its software sector? But these are only two areas of growth. Multiple others can be brought up by carefully putting resources together. Focus on growth is more rewarding than focus on controls. The diaspora has an extensive exposure to a wide range of circumstances in other less controlled places and this can be made to bear on India’s future development. It suffices that you put resources together to allow it to work its way up to create an environment conducive to further development.
It must be reckoned that second or third generation members of the diaspora have surpassed themselves in their countries of adoption as they did not suffer from innumerable constraints operating along their path of progress. They became part of the unfettered innovating teams in those places. Many of them have become big achievers in their fields having been allowed to give unfettered expression to their faculties. The very character of progress is different when it springs from an uncontrolled environment. All that is required is to shift to the extent possible towards a more elevated mode of global performance for India, freed from the excessively inward-looking mould of development which is currently the case. This is what can happen if outside talents, including those from the diaspora, move in to contribute even more to help transform the outlook from what it has been.
India could thus become the launch pad for moving on to a better coordinated and networked economic re-engineering for itself by opening up to its diaspora beyond sheer tourism and cultural exchanges. Things are fast changing all around us. The right welcoming signals sent to the talented members of the diaspora to share their technical skills with Indian entrepreneurs whether inside or outside of India has the potential to create a new momentum for India’s future trajectory of growth. The more the interaction between the local elite and those from other places, the more India will put all the chances of making progress to its side.
This is a goal worth pursuing. This should put to better use the store of inherent engineering skills lying in wait in the country to explode into yet unexplored channels. It should open up new markets from which India has been mostly absent. The chance is that sympathetic individuals living in other countries could open up the market penetration of India in many other places. Some progress has been registered in these respects but not enough. No country leaves stones unturned when it has the opportunity to extend its scope.
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Connecting the Diaspora Countries
The Indian diaspora is made up of the 30-million strong globaI Indian family pervading every corner of the planet speaking diverse languages, professing different faiths, drawing their common biological, cultural, civilizational and historical roots from Mother India. The unique characteristics of the diaspora are founded on their ancient Vedic and Buddhist heritage which laid down the fundamentals of Indian culture and of India itself based on the principles of human brotherhood (vasudaiva kutumbakam), good action for the welfare of humanity (karma), entrepreneurship, family ethos, hard work, individualism (pursuit of artha – happiness), moderation, openness, respect of others (parents, teachers and guests), righteousness, tolerance, non violence, truth (satyagraha), sacrifice and service to society (reincarnation).
Unlike western culture which prides itself on its hegemony and superiority, or the French, Portuguese and Spanish colonial policy of destroying other cultures and religions or even the American Melting Pot uniformity, Indian culture has remained open, all-embracing, pluralistic and tolerant. This has endowed it with a tremendous capacity to integrate the positive ingredients of other cultures into a perfect harmony. It has triumphed over ceaseless historical challenges thanks to its innovativeness which has given our forbears the innate capacity to bear hardship and oppression with fortitude. In the process, they re-invented themselves in order to create a beautiful, harmonious, multicultural world by blending the best from the east and the west as is reflected in Indian music, songs, dances and Bollywood.
Nearer home, the oligarchy and the colonialists who systematically denigrated Indian culture, put up a futile fight against independence for fear of of Indianisation and Hindu domination. In their blindness, they ignored that Indian culture is built on the firm foundation of permanent dialogue, peace and tolerance rather than on an alternative model of extremism, intolerance and racism. Sadly enough, they missed out on those perennial Indian values which are perfectly compatible with democracy, human rights and business success. This explains why democracy had thrived under Buddhism and why India is nowadays reckoned as the world’s largest democracy based on an enduring written Constitution drafted by the founding fathers: Gandhi, Nehru, Ambedkar and Patel backed by a vibrant free press and an independent judiciary.
What is the Indian diaspora? To me, it is a cultural consciousness. It is born of many waves of migrations across space by people carrying and transmitting their intangible heritage of culture, civilization, languages, philosophy, spirituality, festivals, rituals, cuisine, songs, music, art and their collective memories immersed in India’s secular, multicultural ethos. As the diaspora, we are the proud inheritors of a great culture and civilization which ensure our anchorage and rootedness. They endow us with a sense of identity, self-confidence and strong convictions that strengthen our character and personality. They answer the question of who we are. They invite us to search for our roots.
The story of Indian disapora started in ancient times with adventurers, scholars and traders who planted the seeds of Indian culture and civilization in Asian, and South East Asian countries. My own experience is that India and the Indian diaspora have neglected this huge chunk of the Idiaspora particularly those from South East Asia who proudly draw their inspiration from the essence of Indian culture. I think that it is time that the definition of Indian diaspora be enlarged to incorporate our South East Asian brothers and sisters. Secondly, the next great movement concerned the dispersal of the Indentured Immigrants and their descendants, called the old diaspora or the PIOs (People of Indian Origin). After the first trauma of indentured labour, many of our forebears managed to migrate from estate camps to create new villages in all the plantation colonies where they re-invented little Indias joined by the invisible bonds of Jahaji Bhai fraternity. Urged by Mahatma Gandhi and Manilal Doctor, they broke away from servitude to white domination and freed themselves from the feudal traditions and practices under the banner of the universal reformist movements like the Arya Samaj in order to reconstitute a new dynamic, progressive, modern identity as a prelude to freedom, dignity and honour. This was a period of self-transformation, of revival serving as a harbinger for the construction of a new independent society and nation building. However, the literature of Indian Diaspora, as recorded by our writers, story tellers, poets and novelists is replete with songs, poetry, and a longing for return which reflects the tragedy of dislocation and relocation in strange places under foreign masters. But it also shows a strong determination to come to terms with the new reality in a bid to adjust with the progressive elements of western culture in order to frame a dynamic harmonious multicultural society.
I would urge that the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas (PBD) and the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs should delve deeper into the treasury of the literature of Indian diaspora and incorporate it as an essential part of Indian literature with due recognition to our writers and artists. The third and last group is made up of the latest waves of professionals or the NRIs, Non-Resident Indians, migrating to western countries. The NRIs represent the wealthy, influential and successful segment of Indian diaspora. Briefly, the diaspora is collectively bound together by the invisible thread of Indian culture, the real wealth of India, which, as we have seen, had been sorely missed by the British, the French and the Portuguese colonialists in India. The Indian diaspora is as diverse and heterogeneous as the bewildering variety and harmony of the billion Indian population spanning across many states, languages and customs.
This is precisely the reason why Indian diaspora must be identified, researched, recognized and its study widely promoted in schools, colleges, universities, the media and political arenas. It has priceless contributions to make to the world in all fields of knowledge, expertise, business, humanities, management, science, technology, trade, health care, pharmaceuticals, academic and cultural exchanges, philanthropy, economic development and resolutions of conflicts. Thus, the PBD invites us to trace our ancestral roots from the anthropological, biological, historical, geographical, cultural, social, and spiritual perspectives and thereby establish our real identities that cement our ties with India.
The regional PBD Conventions, in partnership with GOPIO and the local government, provides the ideal platform for the delegates coming from different parts of diaspora countries to meet, interact, dialogue, debate important issues, including human rights violations against Indians in countries like Burma, certain Caribbean countries, Fiji and Malaysia where the Hindu minorities are marginalised and discriminated against. The debates and resolutions are brought into the larger PBD held in India between 7-9th January each year and are sometimes referred to other appropriate forums like the UN for necessary action. Besides discussions and meetings, the PBD rewards the delegates with visibility and recognition for their achievements, aspirations and talents in celebration of their Indianness. In the process, a multitude of issues like fraudulent marriages, social problems of Indian workers in Gulf countries form the subject of discussions, investigations and legislations. Much emphasis is laid on investments and knowledge development with access to concepts, technology and applications as well as raising the quality of life in healthcare, combating poverty, malnutrition, improving the economic and social infrastructures and eradicating the rural-urban gap in India.
As diasporic Indians, we are global in thought, word and action. We have to think and behave as global citizens having multiple identities, first as citizens of our host country, with dual citizenship as Indians, and above all, as world citizens, yet loyal to our Indian roots. Let us therefore stretch our hands to one another and build strong partnerships. Let us meet challenges in a spirit of solidarity that once marked our Jahaji Bhai forebears who triumph over adversity by joining ranks and dissolving all differences into a common fraternity. Let us take lessons from heroes like Gandhi, Manilal Doctor and Gokhale who were committed to the freedom and welfare of the diaspora and who fought against the indenture system and got it abolished in 1920, thereby liberating our forebears from bondage, humiliation and shame.
As PBD delegates, we are attached to India by many invisible ties: cultural, emotional, intellectual, financial, professional, social and political. It is our responsibility to re-craft a positive image of India and its diaspora where each one of us emerges stronger and more resolved to go forward to contribute our mite in the building of a better world for all. This unique event celebrates our re-union, our coming together to build new relationships with industry, trade, business, finance and government. This is not the time to hide our identity or talents. Let’s get out from our comfort zone and step into the global arena. I urge you to promote yourself, articulate your views. Raise awareness of diaspora issues. Demonstrate who you are and what you can do for the good of humanity. Have your say on important issues. Project your country on the global scene. Grab the media and use its power, importance and influence in effecting positive social change. We’ve no right to leave the stage for our denigrators who project a negative image of India with their ridiculous tale of snake charmers, malnutrition, social tensions and corruption. Let us focus on economic development, technological changes and the success stories that sing the greatness of India. There is tremendous ignorance of India out there in the west and it is our duty to provide the right perspective. Let us hit the headlines with good stories and go out to promote Indian culture across the globe as once the Vedic and Buddhist scholars did across Asia in their bid to sow the seeds of peace and harmony.
This is the occasion for social meeting, relaxation, bridge-building, stock taking, the elaboration of concrete plans of action that should cross our narrow ethnic boundaries, inviting us to think BIG, think Global in the wider interest of the diaspora. As expected, the debates and informal meetings generate wide media coverage, exchange of publications, booklets, conference papers and electronic gadgets while new friendships are crafted, projects identified and elaborated upon, leading to further meetings. This is quite apart from the many cultural and social parties when we establish further networking followed by the post conference activities like visiting places of pilgrimages, historical and tourist sites, entertainment and deepening business contacts until the next meeting.
Author of Edge of The Cliff, 2012 &
Voices of The Indian Diaspora, 2007
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Indo-Mauritian trade and business relations
The Way Forward
In considering the evolution of the Indo-Mauritian trade and business relations one can undoubtedly single out year 2008 as a landmark. Indeed that is the year when, according to the Bank of Mauritius Annual Report, India was the single largest foreign direct investor in the country, if members of the European Union are taken as separate entities. That was quite a feat given the erstwhile conventional wisdom that Mauritius was too tiny a destination to ever be of any interest to the large Indian corporations. Equally importantly India also then became our largest trading partner in terms of the value of imports into Mauritius.
By definition a landmark signals a transformational moment. In this case it would not be an exaggeration to state that Indo-Mauritian relations then witnessed the emergence of new platform of relationship distinct from, although organically related to, the historically determined pattern dominated by shared cultural and religious ties. The new platform, a more forward looking business-driven one, is a consequence of the convergence of both the quest for FDI by Mauritius as a fundamental metric of our development policy and the opening up of the Indian economy since the 1991 reforms. India was then witnessing the acceleration of its role as a capital exporter in the new global scenario as well as the consequence of a swathe of measures towards the liberalization of its domestic economy.
This is the background against which we need to consider the future of our relationship when considering the place of Indo-Mauritian partnership in the socio-economic development of Mauritius. In this connection applying the tools adopted by the DHL Global Connectedness Index (2011) to the partnership between India and Mauritius will lead us to an examination of that relationship in terms of breadth and depth. Where depth measures the magnitude of international flows – of goods, labour, information and capital – relative to the size of the economy and breadth measures the spread of the connections regarding the variety of transactions being undertaken.
Under this framework some self-evident facts such as the dominance of imports of goods from India and the near absence of exports from Mauritius, as well as some less evident ones such as the flow of information and labour (including qualified professionals) need to be examined to provide a groundwork for the development of the appropriate sets of policies in both countries in order to increase penetration and connectedness. As for capital flows there is a need for a special mention as the situation is less than simple because of the Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement (DTAA) signed between the two countries. Capital flows nevertheless need to be examined in the context of the global interests of both countries within the above framework. Isolating the issue of DTAA from its general context is bound to create biases leading to partial interpretation of facts.
On the other hand increased connectedness would certainly lead to the examination of how greater substance can be added to the process in Mauritius. It must also be emphasized that capital flows between the two countries is not restricted to the DTAA. Mauritian firms have recently shown great interest in setting up businesses in India or even acquiring existing ones. The Rogers Group has been among the pioneering ones which have invested in the logistics sector by building on their experience and networks. There has recently been keen interest among other operators to explore the opportunities for investments in India. This is clearly an area where information flows would be a critical factor. The recent opening up of the retail and insurance sectors in India, for example, to foreign investments will definitely open up opportunities for our local operators who can leverage the experience gained over the past decades to invest in certain niche markets.
Often the best intentions of governments, as reflected in the right sets of policies, fail to materialize into real opportunities because the mechanisms or capabilities for implementation are missing. The hype about Mauritius being a platform for Indian companies to invest into Africa can actually be such a case in point. It looks like Indian corporations are not yet convinced about the value addition that would accrue to them by taking the Mauritius route. Yet there are real benefits for such a proposition with regard to our regional trade arrangements as well as the fiscal advantages resulting from our tax treaties with many African destinations. In addition the ease of doing business in Mauritius as well as the unquestionable primacy of the rule of law and contracts constitute huge selling points for Mauritius. The weakness seems to be that actual offerings in terms of services by firms with a core competency in conceptualizing, implementing and structuring these opportunities are not forthcoming or, if existing, are not well advertised.
A live testimony to the changing nature of the relations based on the business platform between India and Mauritius is the role played by Indian Public Sector Units (PSUs) in Mauritius. It is undeniable that decades ago when these units came to Mauritius their presence was seen as a symbolic gesture more than anything else. Over the years and even more so recently these PSUs have become much more aggressive and are now an integral part of the competitive business space in Mauritius. There is a need to figure out how the presence of these players can be leveraged in order to consolidate the connectedness between the two countries. This may indeed require a joint policy decision by both governments to put in place an appropriate framework which could favour alliances and partnerships between local parties and these PSUs.
Sometime around 2004 the Government of Mauritius had requested the Exim Bank of India to carry out a consultancy assignment. The team produced a report on Mauritius as an Investment Hub for Indian Firms. One of the recommendations of the report was that a High Level Standing Committee – the Indo-Mauritius Investment Committee — be constituted to address overarching issues that require special and prompt attention. It was envisaged that the Committee would address “wide-ranging issues requiring high level intervention, including special dispensations and taxation to ensure timely and adequate responses”. It may be time to revisit this report some of whose recommendations seem to be even more timely today.
On the private sector front, the recent years has witnessed a remarkable progress in terms of Indian investments in the local economy. In addition to such well-known corporations as Essar and Oberoi or Apollo, among others, a number of lesser known companies and individuals have set up business in the education, telecoms, ICT, health and tourism sectors. The most recent additions are of course Bharat Telecoms and Banyan Tree Bank. These initiatives have kept up the tempo of Indian direct investments in the economy. It is certainly not a coincidence that these newcomers are almost all geared to the services sector and many of them are keenly looking at opportunities in Africa from their base in Mauritius. Talking to the directors of these firms one is struck by the enthusiasm which they display concerning their experience and their ambitions for the future.
As we have reviewed some opportunities and weaknesses in the present and future scenario of Indo-Mauritian business relations we cannot refrain from mentioning two sore points that definitely need to find resolution. The first one is the proposed Comprehensive Economic Cooperation and Partnership Agreement (CECPA). This agreement which had raised a lot of hope among operators in both countries is now lying in limbo as both countries fail to reach a minimum consensus for a way forward. It may be time for both countries to revisit this proposed agreement and a solution may be found more easily in the context of the bold reform measures that are now being envisaged in India.
The second point concerns the unutilized line of credit extended by the Exim Bank of India to Mauritius several years ago. It would seem that there is irreconcilable difference of views between officials in charge of this file. Is it not high time for the political leadership in both countries to put their foot down and find a modus vivendi acceptable to all parties?
In conclusion and to come back to the proposed framework of analysis of the business relations between India and Mauritius, it would seem likely that what both countries are looking for are more depth than breadth. The smallness of the Mauritius market and our limited resources both militate for focus rather that spread. Our limited human resources and transport constraints seem to work against the setting up of manufacturing units in Mauritius except for some niche products. Services which need more skills and trained manpower may offer greater opportunities in terms of the aspirations of the Mauritian population.
Indian companies have already shown the way regarding their areas of preference — ICT, education, telecoms and financial services are broadly attractive for a number of reasons. Faced with a challenging situation in the 1970s, the then government designed a package of incentives to attract Chinese and Taiwanese companies which were looking for a manufacturing base which offered certain benefits. Government may choose to follow the same strategy in the face of the present crisis and in the context of the rising importance of both India and Africa in the global economy.
* Published in print edition on 27 October 2012