What Indians in Australia expect from the Modi Govt

 

 
 
 

The new government should be proactive in considering the interests and welfare of the Indian community down under.

It is not a hyperbole to say that a new era has dawned in India with the swearing-in of the Modi Government on Monday, 26 May, 2014.

A decisive, “can do” leader, Sri Narendra Modi, is the Prime Minister. Indians, not just in India but around the world, are confident that things will change for the better and the Indian economy will grow rapidly.

People have expectations from the new government. While people have a wide variety of expectations, which they want the Modi Govt to deliver, there are some common themes in their expectations. Based on my interactions with many Indians in Australia, and based on my own thinking, there are a few things that people expect the new government to consider.

Prime Minister’s visit to Australia: There has not been any state visit by an Indian PM to Australia after the late Shri Rajiv Gandhi’s visit in 1980s. PM Modi should accept the invitation from Australia to schedule a state visit to Australia this year itself. Several Australian PMs have already visited India, but a reciprocal visit by an Indian PM is yet to happen. There should be time for the PM to interact with the community in at least one, but preferably two, major cities. The G20 summit is scheduled to happen in Brisbane on November 15 and 16, 2014. This will be a perfect opportunity for the Indian PM’s long overdue official visit to Australia too.

Genuine dual citizenship: This has been discussed and debated for long. There is an almost universal demand that overseas Indians be given a right to hold genuine dual citizenship with voting and property rights, if the country of their citizenship has no issue with this and if there are no security issues with granting dual citizenship to any particular overseas Indian. After all, Australia, USA, UK, NZ and many other developed as well as developing countries already offer this facility.

Visa on arrival for Australian citizens: Australian citizens, like many others including New Zealanders, should get the same visa-free arrival facilities in India. If this is not the case at present, it should be implemented without further delay.

Black money in overseas banks: Genuine, proactive and effective steps should be taken to tackle this menace and bring the money back to India within 12 months. No favour should be given to anyone irrespective of who they are or what connections they have. The decision to constitute a Special Investigation Team (SIT) for this purpose is good.

Effective anti-corruption body: A group of 10-15 people from civil society including judges, eminent jurists and overseas Indians (if possible) should be asked to review the Lok Pal Act, passed by the Lok Sabha earlier in the year, and suggest steps to rectify weakness to make it an effective corruption fighting body. This should be completed in the next 12 months.

The PM’s global Overseas Indians Advisory body: The PM should revamp his Global Advisory Body, constituted by the previous PM. People in it should be those who have significant presence and influence in their countries. The habit of Indian diplomats recommending non-descript and non-influential people for this body should eliminated.

Country specific Overseas Indian Advisory body: Countries with significant overseas Indian population (Australia is certainly one such country) should have an advisory body of not more than 10 people, which can be used for consultations and other advisory purposes, not only by the local GOI authorities/agencies, but also the relevant authorities/agencies in India.

Annual dialogue between Indian and Australian leaders: PMs, Foreign Affairs Ministers and Defence Ministers should hold annual meeting/dialogue, with venues for such meeting/dialogue alternating between India and Australia.

Free Trade Agreement (FTA): The pace of the discussions and negotiations should be accelerated so that FTA can be concluded by the end of 2015.

Bilateral Nuclear Trade negotiations: The pace of the discussions and negotiations should be accelerated with the goal to conclude it by the 30 June, 2015.

Bilateral and multi-lateral defence exercises between India and Australia: India and Australia should work actively to enhance their defence & strategic relations bilaterally and multilaterally in the pattern agreed prior to the 2007 Rudd Govt in Australia.

Hindi teachings in Australian Universities: To increase India’s soft power and increase the numbers of India-literate Australians, India should consider funding such teaching courses in some select Universities in Australia.

Facilitations of Australian Universities and TAFE to have campuses in India: Many Australian institutions are ranked quite highly in various world Universities ranking systems. Collaborations in this field should be actively facilitated and encouraged, following a pragmatic and win-win module.

Indian Consulate in Brisbane: Queensland is an important state for Indian investment. Indian business houses like the Adani group have an important and a significant presence in this state. It is important to have an Indian Consulate in Brisbane.

India House or Indian Cultural Centre in major capital cities: The Indian community has grown significantly in Australia. It is increasingly felt that such centres are required, at least in Sydney and Melbourne. While some funding will be raised locally, a significant part of the funds should come from Indian Govt. Govt of India (GOI) Funds, if any, allocated for something of this nature to be established in the Indian Consulate premises in Sydney CBD should be reviewed and re-allocated for a centre of this nature in areas like Parramatta or Blacktown, where the Indian community has a substantial presence. Sydney CBD is not a practical or appropriate site for an Indian Cultural Centre.

Overseas Indians’ property in India: Many overseas Indians are seeing that their properties are illegally occupied and face threats to their safety when they visit India. Court cases go on for extended periods of time. IPC should be amended to tackle this menace.

Interactions between GOI agencies and Indian Australian community: It is often felt that GOI authorities in Australia do not interact with people sufficiently, thus leading to a communication gap. It is a common experience that there is a significant gap between what we expect and what is delivered. Steps should be implemented to improve the situation.

Minister for Overseas Indian Affairs visit to Australia: With approx. 500,000 people of Indian heritage in Australia, a biennial visit of Minister of Overseas Indian Affairs (The Hon Sushma Swaraj) or her deputy, The Hon Gen (Retd) V K Singh, should be included in the official GOI travel calendar. This will help facilitate interactions with the community and facilitate Overseas Indians’ investment in India.

Streamlined grievance redressal mechanism for Overseas Indians: Overseas Indian Affairs ministry has often not been very helpful and help has often not come in a timely fashion due to excessive bureaucratic influences. This should be reviewed and streamlined.

Exchanges between Academicians and civil Society leaders: We need regular bilateral exchange visits of academics, journalists, leaders and civil society leaders. This will help improve relations between the two countries. The scope and numbers should be increased.

This is our wish list, which we believe is doable, not difficult and will provide multiple benefits to various stake-holders, including India.

Dr Yadu Singh/Sydney/13th June, 2014

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This was originally published in Indian Sun News magazine, Sydney on 10th June, 2014.  http://www.theindiansun.com.au/top-story/indians-australia-expect-modi-govt/

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Overseas Indians need genuine dual- citizenship!

With my informal discussion and interactions with Indians living overseas, it is clear to me that they want a genuine dual citizenship. Anything less is not going to satisfy their demands.

I know Indian Govt is working on a Bill, which will be introduced in Lok Sabha (Lower House of Indian Parliament) soon, after having already been passed by Rajya Sabha (Upper House of Indian Parliament), to replace PIO and OCI cards with a single card, named “Overseas Indian Card”. http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/opinions/30048500.cms

My suggestion is that they should stop this process, and let the new Govt, after soon to be held Lok Sabha election, have a fresh look at this matter.

Just in case you have some confusion as to who is NRI (Non-Resident Indian), PIO (Person of Indian Origin) and OCI Overseas Citizen of Indian) is, please see the link below. http://mha1.nic.in/pdfs/oci-chart.pdf

I can see that replacing PIO and OCI cards with a single “Overseas Indian Card” may be a good idea, provided,

1. Govt does not impose any cost to those with these cards while replacing current OCI/PIO cards with “Overseas Indian Card”,
2. the process to replace PIO/OCI cards with Overseas Indian Cards is simple, automatic and not cumbersome,
3. the new card is valid for life Long,
4. A fee for Overseas Indian Card is reasonable, not expensive.

But I do not believe it is enough. It’s no point to make a half-hearted effort!

What Overseas Indians need is a genuine dual citizenship of India, with full political and economic rights. India’s reluctance to offer Overseas Indians a true “Dual Citizenship” is difficult to understand.

India keeps forgetting that overseas Indians are no less patriotic than Indians living in India,

Overseas Indians, whether they hold Indian Passports or have Overseas Passports, love India. They have an emotional bond with India. This is true for a great majority of people with Indian heritage.

If India is really serious in looking after Overseas Indians, and wishes to tap into this network for variety of purposes, it should consider;

a. Giving Indian passports (Dual citizenship) to overseas Citizens of Indian heritage with full rights including political rights,
b. giving convenient voting rights to such dual passport holders as well as Indian passport holders (NRIs), which can be exercised either at the Consulate, High Commission or Embassy premises in their country of residence or through postal or Online facilities. Postal Voting rights, after all, are allowed for India’s diplomatic staff, serving outside India.

In regards to NRIs (Indians living overseas but holding Indian passports), I am aware that Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) is in favor of granting convenient voting rights to them via postal, online or voting at the Consulate/Embassies/High Commissions, and has already submitted a memorandum to Election Commission of India in January 2014. http://tinyurl.com/mz7ap46

Indian passportThis is a good beginning, but this too is not sufficient. BJP needs to move towards agreeing to support genuine dual citizenship for overseas Indians. BJP should take this matter with full force and sincerity.

Many countries allow dual-citizenships. India will not be the only one. This link http://www.dlgimmigration.com/united-states-citizenship/list-of-countries-that-allow-or-disallow-dual-citizenship/ will tell you which country allows dual-citizenship, and which doesn’t. Many of the developed countries like UK, Australia, USA, Switzerland, Finland and France see no issue in dual-citizenship, and these countries are no less security-conscious, if that was the reason why India is reluctant to offer dual-citizenship.

Nobody can argue against India’ right to reject applications for Indian Passports (dual-citizenship) to Overseas citizens of Indian heritage if they have security issues or are associated with terrorist/separatist anti-India groups. Nobody can deny this right to India, but why to deny dual-citizenship to huge majority of patriotic Indians living overseas, just because a small minority of overseas Indians involve themselves in anti-India activities or terrorism.

Making things simpler for Indians living overseas will be a smart move. Currently, NRIs must register their names in the voter lists at their place of residence in India, before they left India, and be physically present there to vote, which is practically very inconvenient, and financially prohibitive.

Indian constitution allows NRIs to vote in theory, but Govt has not done anything to make it convenient for >10 million (>1 crore) NRIs, despite its lofty claims!

I do not know how many PIOs/OCIs are there in the world, but it will be safe to assume there will be at least 10 million PIOs/OCIs.

Looking after 20 million overseas Indians (NRIs, PIOs and OCIs), with decent, practical and helpful policies, will be a smart thing for India!

Dr Yadu Singh/Sydney/4th March, 2014
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India wins. Thank you, Anna Hazare!

Anna Hazare and his fast unto death at Jantar Mantar, New Delhi has attracted the attention of Indians all over the world. Almost every friend of mine in Australia has heard about it. The messages of support to this cause have been spread by Facebook, Twitter, Blogs and emails. Social media has again proven to be a powerful tool.

http://www.indianexpress.com/news/govt-will-introduce-lokpal-bill-in-monsoon-session-pm/773913/2

Anna Hazare was not alone in this protest. Shanti Bhushan, Retd Supreme court Justice, Santosh Hegde, Swami Agnivesh, Baba Ram Dev, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, Mallika Sarabhai, Kiran Bedi and RTI activist, Arvind Kejriwal were all with him. Millions of Indians were supporting him and numbers were growing by the minute. India media also supported him in this fight against corruption.

As we all know, corruption has become a menace and a massive problem. You might recall Rajiv Gandhi saying famously that only 19 Paise out of the 100 Paise from the Govt money was reaching those who the money was meant for and rest was gobbled by the corrupt politicians and bureaucrats. It was 19 Paise in 1980s and I am afraid it might not even be 10 Paise now. Something had to be done!

Our great social activist, Anna Hazare, and the whole India have achieved a massive win. They have forced a backdown from the Govt of India which has agreed to introduce a “Lok Pal Bill” in the Parliament by 30th June, 2011. This Bill/Act will have significant powers to combat corruption in India. Govt’s initial Bill was not good enough and was therefore rejected by Anna Hazare and the  Indian people. http://www.ndtv.com/article/india/why-hazare-others-oppose-govt-s-lokpal-bill-2010-96609

The Bill will be drafted by a 10 member committee, to be chaired by Minister Pranab Mukerjee and co-chaired by Mr Shanti Bhushan, a very reputed Jurist. Mr Bhushan, one may recall, is the same Barrister who fought a case against Prime Minister, Mrs Indira Gandhi  in the High Court, Allahabad, which led to the judgement that her election was invalid.

The Lok Pal Bill will spare no one from corruption and will include the provision of an outcome within a period of 12 months. Prime Minister, Ministers, MPs, bureaucrats and parties are all covered. http://www.ndtv.com/article/india/what-is-the-jan-lokpal-bill-why-its-important-96600

Lok Pal insitution will be chaired by people who are selected on merits and without political favour. It will be totally independent.

I am hoping that it will be more or less like ICAC [Independent Commission agaist Corruption] in NSW. http://www.icac.nsw.gov.au/

I am very happy that Indian Govt was compelled to listen to the demands of the Indian People without use of force or bullets.

That democracy is thriving in India is beyond doubt.

What has been achieved is nothing but a milestone in the history of India!

Having said that, there is a word of caution which we must not ignore. Some concerns have been raised about the accountability of the so-called “civil society”. “Who are they responsible and accountable to” has been asked. We need to remember what Edmund Burke, a famous member of the House of Comons, had said before. ” This cynicism about politics and, by extension, Parliament only makes you think ill of that very institution which, do what you will, you must religiously preserve, or you must give over all thoughts of being a free people”.

In our system, we must not try to create an alternatives to the Parliament. Indian Parliament [SANSAD] must remain the ultimate source of power. It can’t be bullied or undermined by anyone. Parliament must remain supreme but must be able to listen to people, gauge their mood and deliver things which the country needs. It will undoubtedly have more chance to do so if our Parliamentarians are of superior quality-morally, intellectually and spiritually. That brings us to the issue of the process of election to the Parliament. This process needs to be reformed, improved and protected from corrupting influence of casteism, communalism and money-ism.

India had witnessed a successful reform movement which has been termed a mini-revolution today but we need many more revolutions to get to a stage when we all can say “Mera Bharat Mahan or My India is great!” with utmost joy, satisfaction and pride.

Corruption in India must be eradicated or at least controlled. The first stage has been successful but it would require a long and hard struggle to reach the final result.

Lok Pal will be a giant step in getting the result.

Dr Yadu Singh/Sydney/09th April, 2011

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