Overseas Indian Expectations
Putting India back on track is the Himalayan challenge before India's new Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Overseas Indians have hailed Modi and hope for progressive, dynamic, responsive, vibrant and efficient India. Our Contributing Editor, Kul Bhushan from New Delhi, presents the expectations of overseas Indians from the Modi government
All over the globe, overseas Indians have hailed Narendra Modi as the new Prime Minister and also hailed his new Government in India. His stirring speeches and clear policy statements during the election campaign have made a great impact on them and his impressive victory swelled their pride for India.
Now overseas Indians expect a progressive, dynamic, responsive, vibrant and efficient India. The greatest challenge for Modi is to fulfill the promises made in his electrifying election speeches. This is no easy task as India is a vast country and the problems are humungous. So what can 25 million overseas Indians expect from the new Modi government?
From the moment they plan to go to India, overseas Indians expect courteous and efficient service in obtaining their tourist visas. When applying for long-term visas for five years and especially PIO and OIC cards, overseas Indians have encountered a lot of problems. Here is a report from Shamlal Puri in London where a demonstration was held at the Indian High Commission:
"British Indians who have dealing with the Indian High Commission for collecting visas or getting affidavits signed for matters relating to issues in India have vehemently criticised the way its officials work and treat their "customers" a majority of who come to renew their Indian travel documents or to collect their visas.
"Often officials talk down to the visitors and there have been accusations of officers demanding money to sort out documentation speedily. In a majority of cases, visitors are told to come back and their cases drag on for weeks and months. British Indians held public demonstrations outside the Indian mission to protest about their treatment.
"It has also been observed that Indian officials at the high commission talk politely to white visitors but talk to Indians as if they are doing them a favour. People have been seen leaving the High Commission in tears and fights breaking out when British passports with Indian visas stamped are made available for collection to the clients. It's just like a cattle market and there is lax security at this point.
"Generally, there are long queues outside the High Commission snaking around from several buildings nearby to the India House. Many NRIs here hope the Modi Government will use its broom to cleanse out unwanted, ill-informed and rude officers from here and replace them with customer-friendly faces," reports Shamlal Puri. Overseas Indians expect a major improvement in this area from the Modi government.
Overseas Indians visiting India are scared about the security of women. Recent reports of rapes have scared them. This situation must improve dramatically. Rapes in India have made world headlines and these do not seem to end. The government has to take stern and swift action to prevent such incidents and punish those responsible, harshly and speedily.
Corruption is endemic and it starts at the airport with customs. Arguments about the value of goods that can be brought by overseas Indians, especially gold, create a bitter taste as soon as they land. More publicity for what can be legally imported needs to be publicized effectively at all embassies, websites and in other media. These rules should be handed over with the visa and applied fairly.
Strong support for all overseas Indians has been promised by the prime minister. This is most welcome. Now overseas Indians hope that a strong India will support them and boost their morale when they face a crisis and also help them. During the 2014 election campaign in India, Modi made a historic statement for all overseas Indians during a long TV interview. He clearly said that if he is elected, he would strongly support all overseas Indians in every manner. All overseas Indians, no matter what passport they hold, can come and settle in India. This stems from the strong support from overseas Indians for his campaign. How this is carried out remains to be seen.
The Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs (MOIA) needs an overhaul to become more responsive and pro-active with the diaspora. The new minister, Sushma Swaraj, announced greater coordination between MOIA and the Ministry of External Affairs since she heads both of them. The annual Pravasi Bharatiya Divas conference should get a shot in the arm and attract many more overseas Indians as it will be held in Gujarat next year.
Overseas Indians have invested heavily in property in their home towns or villages. With astronomical property prices in India, these real estate assets have become very valuable even in terms of hard currency. Plus, the Indians government allows an overseas Indian to remit up to one million dollars from the sale of property without any permission. So it is no wonder that many a time, these properties are grabbed by their greedy relatives or caretakers and so they land up in courts. Thousands of these property cases are lingering in courts and the only solution is to setup fast track courts to hear and clear these cases speedily for overseas Indians.
If overseas Indians want to invest in India, then setting up of a new industry takes a very long time due to the jungle of red tape, laws, rules and regulations. Endless permissions are also needed before a start- up. Prime Minister Modi has made his state Gujarat very investor friendly and attracted massive investment from overseas Gujaratis. Now his task is to make India also investor friendly and for this purpose he has announced Vibrant India Investment Conference - on the lines of Vibrant Gujarat - in November this year.
Payment under the table or in 'black' is not the norm for overseas Indians. The estimates of black money run into millions, if not trillion of dollars. Recently, Swiss banks revealed that the deposits from Indians have increased! Bringing back black money stashed abroad is one of the first tasks the prime minister undertook by appointing a Special Investigation Committee. This high powered committee hopes to deliver what it has been assigned.
Overall, overseas Indians expect that India will combat high inflation. This is touch task what with the latest political and violent upheaval in Iraq sending the crude oil prices sky-high, a forecast of a weak monsoon to reduce crop yields and bottlenecks in farm produce storage and distribution.
Modi has taken over the reins of an economy growing at 4.7 per cent. This is a lot lower than eight per cent growth India enjoyed earlier. His government aims to reach nine per cent growth during his five-year term. To achieve this high growth rate, the new government will require rapid infrastructure development and modernization of air, rail, road and sea transport; reduce fiscal deficit from 4.5 per cent to less than three per cent, increase revenue, boost investment, tax reform and a host of other measures. He has clear plans to start this exercise but the initial reforms mean some harsh measures or bitter medicine. Coupled with dramatically improving governance, implement efficiency in the civil service and streamlining policy decisions are other factors for his success.
Modi has heralded a new era of accountability, governance and fast response. But he faces tremendous challenges: a depressed economy, low economic growth, low investment, lethargic civil service, entrenched corruption and a weak monsoon. Putting India back on track is THE major challenge. Modi's powerful leadership should overcome these Himalayan challenges and make every overseas Indian proud of him and India.