Devesh Kapur, associate professor at Harvard University, was one of the few speakers at the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas who told it as it was.
In a very brief presentation, the visiting professor at the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, said it should not be such that Indian citizens are likely to get more recognition from the government if they leave the country than if they stayed back.
He told Senior Associate Editor Archana Masih in New Delhi that what the Indian government really needed from its Pravasi Bharatiyas -- the Diaspora -- was human capital, not merely financial assistance.
Do you think hosting an event like the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas can benefit India?
One must understand the interests of the Diaspora are not all the interest of India. The Diaspora is a pampered lot, why should they need more? If they love the country, why do they want a premium on interest rates? They should ask for a negative premium, right?
But no, when it comes to money, they all want something special. In a sense, they wanted to be treated better than other foreigners and other Indians. It is not necessarily the case, but you do hear and get a sense of this at times.
But that is also to be expected. Everyone has their own interest. There will be issues where there is a commonality and there are cases when this is not the case. I strongly believe India has no shortage of money. When you drive down Delhi and Bombay the amount of money people have is just amazing. It's not just money, it's people with certain types of expertise, certain types of commitment -- that is what we have a shortage of.
So what you mean is India needs their expertise.
It's the human capital of the Diaspora than the financial capital that really matters. But to harness that we should be much more open, for say jobs. Today, if you have a degree from Yale and are not an Indian citizen, there is no way you can get a job at Delhi University. Why?
You know the quality of law school teaching in India? It's abysmal. There are no classes. If someone is good, we should welcome him with open arms. We should allow private universities.
I think what we are going to notice is much more circulatory migration rather than one way. Unlike the past, it is no more the case that nothing is happening in India. It is no longer a one way ticket. If you want to encourage and start a natural trend then you have to have to ease the transaction cost of moving back and forth.
The problem here is it is the basics that people find the problem, not material goodies. Basics like power, water, reasonably clean air and environment, good schools. These are not hi-tech things, but all of these things are not only good for NRIs. They are good for residents. They are as much good not only to attract people back but to limit the number of people going out.
Something like special economic zones for NRIs is a bad idea. Why do we think NRIs will do better in economic activities than say a Britisher or Chinese?
The Indian government has treated the Diaspora as honoured guests, what do you think Indians living outside can actually do to help in India's success?
Most of them have got a free education, if they can help rebuild their alma maters. Give back as endowments, set up chairs, labs... change the governance of these institutions. You can't have that unless the government lets go.
MS University, Baroda, was given money by its alumni. It has thousands of alumni. The money came and just sat. See you need structures. Individual universities should be given freedom. Go on your own. You raise x amount of money and the government will match it. That gives an incentive structure. Have complete autonomy. What happens is the Left says autonomy is privatisation. That is not privatisation.
Secondly, you can have a lot of visiting professors. That will be great. Professionals, entrepreneurs should be told to come to India not because of sentimental reasons but because it is good for their pockets.
The pity is we are still very centralised. Not at the Centre level, but in the state capitals. The difference with China is that all FDI by the Chinese Diaspora was done at the local level. Our local governments with the 72nd and 73rd Amendment haven't gone far. If local governments have an incentive, then they will go and get (investment).
When it comes to the Diaspora, parallels are often drawn with China. Why hasn't India been able to replicate the Chinese example?
Because we are not China. If we want to replicate the Chinese example, why is it only the Diaspora? Are our streets as clean as China? Why do we think basic health, education, levels of cleanliness -- why are they not as important to copy from China? Why just the Diaspora? I think if we were to do the first three, the fourth would come. What is good for Indians in India is good in the long run for the Diaspora.
One of the most talked aspects at the conference has been the announcement of dual citizenship. What are the merits/demerits of this provision?
There are three aspects, what the obligations and rights are. They should grant you the right to work in India, allow you to buy and sell property, none of this registration after 180 days. But they should not get the right to vote. That is a political right that should be related to taxation. If the American Revolution was no taxation without representation, we don't want to go the other way -- representation without taxation.
Who should be granted it? You have to draw the line. Either you say, look it really began with indentured labour in the 1830s. They could have said that anyone who is a descendent ever since (would be eligible), rather than having an arbitrary fourth or fifth generation cut off.
Right now, we seem to have drawn an income cutoff. We have not drawn a cutoff based on a principled approach. An income approach is not a principled approach. We always think there are hordes of people from other countries just waiting to get into India, that there are hordes of multinationals waiting to loot India. Then we realise there is nobody knocking on our doors. There are far better doors. Most of these countries have higher levels of income on an average than us. None I would say has a lower per capita income. People do not uproot and leave.
In over 170 years, we have a Diaspora of 20 million -- 2 percent of our population. From this only a fraction will take dual citizenship, of this fraction only a smaller fraction will come back. So say if 1/3 take dual citizenship, that is 5 to 6 million, let's say out of these 20 per cent which is a hugely optimistic amount want to come back -- that is 1 million. That is 0.1 percent of our population. What are we talking about! And for that you have created all this rancour -- so basically what you are saying if you are a PIO from Guadeloupe, please go to the USA, become rich and we will take you.
Photographs: Jewella C Miranda; Design: Lynette Menezes