The proposal for an Uttar Pradesh Pravasi Divas died with a hiccup last year for want of administrative preparedness but in 2016, Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav has successfully reached out to NRIs. The immediate financial benefits are trivial but the state has cast its net in potentially rewarding waters. At the launch of the UP Pravasi Divas in Agra, Yadav referenced Narendra Modi’s Gujarat, though the idea dates from the Vajpayee government, which had sought to bind NRIs closer to home by offering honours and business opportunities. It is an idea ripe with promise for a country that has exported enterprising emigrants, who have travelled to better their prospects and have secured large disposable incomes. Each state can profitably follow the model. Indeed, the UP event will now serve as a curtain raiser for the national Pravasi Bharatiya Divas, which will open on January 9.
India’s migrant populations are dispersed both internationally and domestically, and states which have faltered should consider reaching out to their economic refugees who have done well for themselves in other states. There has been a flight of labour and intellectual capital from states like UP, Bihar and West Bengal. Domestic expats retain sentimental links with home states, remain frequent visitors and, with some reassurance, would be willing to commit resources to development. Meanwhile, internationally, the Central government has committed to a regional Pravasi Bharatiya Divas in Los Angeles. The tradition, inherited by UP, has been to lavish attention on expats who have either high net worth or personal brand equity. However, it may be rewarding to now reach out at a retail level. Diasporic communities number in the millions, both within and across borders and, while the most successful members serve as exemplars and brand ambassadors, emigres with less spectacular achievements may prove to be reliable bets, too, investing for personal rather than commercial reasons.
However, retail investors would add up to something meaningful only with the assurance of a government that works, which is not a routine feature of UP under Akhilesh Yadav. Indeed, 2015 was not a great year nationally, either. Neither the Centre nor some states can reasonably expect economic investment and developmental support from diasporas if their politics features petty issues and unproductive culture wars. The Centre has been embarrassed by such problems, and has been seen in poor light overseas and the UP government is scrambling to be seen as a responsive and responsible enforcer of the law. If governments are unable to promise stability, diasporas are reminded of why they had left in the first place.