The Difficulty with Diaspora
Amb Anil Trigunayat, Distinguished Fellow, VIF

India possibly can boast of having one of the largest (nearly 35 million) and most successful diaspora across the world from the blue collar to the whitest of the them all. They are mainly Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) and Persons of Indian origin (PIOs or OCIs) who have acquired the citizenship of other countries. These comprise of ordinary workers and professionals to CEOs of their own companies and the top Multinational Corporations (MNCs). Several of them, deriving and connecting with their Indian origin, are the leaders of their adopted country including in UK, Ireland, Portugal and even USA let alone in many island nations. India is very proud of its diaspora and considers them as a living bridge and strategic asset. She is always mindful to secure their welfare abroad especially that of NRIs, which includes mainly vulnerable working class and the students. From pandemic to conflict zones like Lebanon, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Ukraine, Sudan to Gaza and Israel India successfully brought the millions safely home. Hence, in any volatile situation first priority for India becomes -how to ensure their safety and evacuate from the danger and conflict zone as fast as possible.

Indian diaspora diplomacy and exceptional outreach, especially under PM Modi and excellent relations with most countries in the world helped us a great deal in ensuring that they stay out of the harm’s way. Umpteen number of evacuation missions from conflict zones have not only enabled their extractions safely but also made highly proficient apparatus and the ever-ready Indian government as a prominent leader in this regard since it evacuates citizens of many other countries as well and hence emerged as the first responder in the domain of humanitarian assistance. Late Sushma Swaraj was seen as people’s foreign minister. Kudos to that. This is also being referred to as “Modi Ki Guarantee” by Dr S Jaishankar. Indian missions have become homes away from home for the Indian community.

But in the diaspora, we also tend to have several extremist and separatist groups especially in western countries and in our western neighbourhood whose main objective is to undermine India’s security, stability and create troubles with the connivance of the scheming deep state in their countries of residence. Many of them migrated illegally and acquired citizenship under the garb of political persecution in India, which is a scheme many western countries deploy with alacrity as it provides them a useful handle to twist the ears of many a country under the façade of human rights etc. India is no exception. In recent times, cases of Nijjars and Pannus of this world have been given a lot of media and diplomatic coverage while exposing the inherent hypocrisy of the West. Such cases are obviously contended to protect India’s sovereignty and continued fight against terrorism and extremism, even if the bilateral relations with certain countries come under stress.

But what I wish to talk about is the practical difficulties that diaspora especially NRI working class creates in certain situations which could be avoided. We have recently seen many Indians knowingly going to Russia and Israel and landing up in conflict zones and then expecting the Indian missions and government to pull them out. Indian workers both, semi-skilled and skilled as well as professionals are in great demand and they are mostly liked in the countries they work in for their dedication and discipline. But their desperation or their adventurism may lead them to greater harm. It has been reported when several of them went to the Russian and Ukraine war front and two were killed rest got scared and wanted to return. Even in Israel, currently in conflict, where there is a demand of over 100,000 Indian construction and other workers and they have begun to be recruited with the help of some Indian state agencies which should be reviewed by the government. An elaborate mechanism for investigating the role of the spurious recruiting agents and severe penalties for defaulters must be ensured. In Israel also some were killed as well since the war situation continues there. Early on the Indian government had launched operation “Ajay’ to bring many people back from Israel.

This time again with the ongoing war and its chances of further expansion and escalation being very high the Indian government has issued an advisory against travel to Iran and Israel and Air India operations have been suspended. It reads categorically and conveys the concerns in no uncertain manner “In view of the prevailing situation in the region, all Indians are advised not to travel to Iran or Israel till further notice. All those who are currently residing in Iran or Israel are requested to get in touch with Indian Embassies there and register themselves. They are also requested to observe utmost precautions about their safety and restrict their movements to the minimum.” However, the bigger problem with the escalation would be an unmanageable consequence of the war with over 9.5 million Indians crowded in the Gulf and West Asia. Hence the hope and efforts are that the war does not escalate beyond the manageable threshold, which in any case is an oxymoron.

I recall that after completion of my tenure in war torn Libya, I had just reached Jordan in early 2014, when I got a call from the then Late Foreign Minister Mrs. Sushma Swaraj asking me to go back to help evacuate some 400 Indians stuck in Benghazi since General Haftar had threatened to bomb the areas to secure his control. I suggested that since during my farewell call, perhaps as some sort of premonition, I had spoken to the then Maltese PM Joseph Muscat and who had promised to extend fullest support, regarding another possible evacuation via Malta, I might be able to better organize the evacuation from there with the help of my Libyan contacts in Benghazi. Our honorary Consul in Malta Johann Cuishcerri was of immense help. Minister agreed and we assembled an excellent team of young and brave IFS officers including probationers, whom I sent by an Italian ship to Benghazi at night so that we could bring back the 430 Indians to Malta before the deadline of 12pm next day given by Haftar. Fortunately, in a nail-biting finish and overcoming several odds we got our people out including one Maltese pastor. They were taken by Air India flight to India.

The cherry on the cake is, when I was returning from Delhi to go to Amman, suddenly several people accosted and greeted me at the airport. I asked them who they were and they said “Sir you had recently brought us out of Libya’. Then I asked where are you going now and they said without regret “To Libya sir”. I was shocked and worried but they said “Marna Yahan ..Marna Wahan and at least we get paid well there”. And I gave up. Hence for the Indian government these challenges will remain and we have to be prepared to deal with such exigencies in a holistic manner especially with Indian labour exporting states. Such situations will arise more frequently given the fractious and conflict-ridden global scenario with lots of hot spots and given the expanse and omnipresence of our diaspora dividend and concomitant risks. Offers and packages sometimes sound so attractive that a layman just gets drawn to it and lands in trouble but there is no dream world. I guess they also understand that Indian government will get them out in any case so they are good to go.

(The paper is the author’s individual scholastic articulation. The author certifies that the article/paper is original in content, unpublished and it has not been submitted for publication/web upload elsewhere, and that the facts and figures quoted are duly referenced, as needed, and are believed to be correct). (The paper does not necessarily represent the organisational stance... More >>


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