As India celebrates the return of the Kerala nurses trapped in Iraq’s civil war and New Delhi intensifies the effort to bring many others home, Prime Minister Narendra Modi must create a strong institutional framework to cope effectively with the recurrent crises involving Indian citizens abroad.
Over the last decade alone, Delhi had to launch two major military operations to rescue Indian citizens from war zones abroad. In Libya (2011), Indian armed forces evacuated nearly 18,000 people. In Lebanon (2006), the Indian navy helped get nearly 2,200 Indians, Sri Lankans and Nepalese out of the war zone. There have been other cases that have drawn much public attention in recent years — the violence against Indian students in Australia, the arrest of Indian traders in southern China and students caught in fake universities in the United States, to name a few.
Dealing with the diaspora — people of Indian origin, citizens living abroad, and stateless people who originally migrated from the subcontinent — has been a major preoccupation for independent India. The expansive globalisation of the subcontinent under the Raj in the 19th century saw significant movement of Indian labour and capital beyond the subcontinent. In the decades after Independence, the lack of opportunities at home drove many Indians abroad, especially to English-speaking lands and to the Gulf, after the oil boom there from the mid-1970s. The economic reforms at the end of the 20th century did not reduce the outward flows, but have added new streams to the Indian diaspora.
If citizens’ expectations from Delhi were low in the past, Delhi is now under great pressure domestically to respond purposefully to the challenges of securing the Indian abroad. Recall the importance S.M. Krishna, external affairs minister (from 2009 to 2012) in the UPA government, attached to the issue of the Indian students in Australia, and note current External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj’s vigour in leading the diplomatic effort on Iraq. And don’t forget the pressure from the Kerala and Punjab governments on Delhi in the last few days. If politicians understand the new pressures from below, the media accentuates them by 24×7 coverage of any Indians in trouble beyond borders.
More Indian passport holders are living today in foreign lands for work, education and business. According to one count, in 2012, there were nearly 11 million Indian citizens abroad. There are others travelling for pleasure. The number of Indians leaving national shores, on short or long trips, has gone up from a little over four million in 2000 to nearly 15 million in 2012. There are nearly 2,00,000 students abroad today. With more than 50 per cent of the Indian economy continued…