Expectations from Prime Minister Modi

Dr Yadu SinghSydney, 14th November, 2014

Expectations from the Modi Govt

Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, is visiting Australia between 15th and 18th Nov, 2014. After attending G20 summit in Brisbane on 15th and 16th November, he will start his state visit. Indian community is excited with this visit. This is the first visit by an Indian Prime Minister after PM Rajiv Gandhi visited Australia in 1986. PM Modi will interact with the community in Sydney and Melbourne, in addition to addressing a Joint session of Australian Parliament.

Prime Minister Modi’s image is that of a decisive and a “can do” leader. Indians, not just in India but around the world, are optimistic that things will change for the better and the Indian economy will grow rapidly.

When I wrote a post in June, 2014, I mentioned many things which people expected. Many of those things have either been delivered or getting delivered. Prime Ministerial visit to Australia is one of them. Nuclear trade deal has already been signed when Prime Minister Tony Abbott visited India in September. Australian citizens getting the facility of Visa on arrival in India is another one which is in the process of getting implemented. Serious work is in progress in regards to Black money, stashed in overseas Banks. Supreme Court’s activism is playing an important role in it. Investigations and prosecutions are likely to commence soon. Based on my interactions with many Indians in Australia, there are a few more things that people expect the new government to deliver.

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. If USA, UK, Australia and most of developed and democratic countries as well as some countries in the region see no issues in granting dual citizenship to their citizens, then people argue that there is no rational basis for India to deny dual citizenship to Indians. PM Modi has the political capital to deliver this long-standing demand. A petition and campaign for Dual citizenship is running on Change.org (http://tinyurl.com/kxtlosw) and Social media presently (http://tinyurl.com/m4b4luu).

Effective anti-corruption body: A group of 10-15 people from civil society including eminent jurists and overseas Indians (if possible) as well as politicians should be asked to review the Lokpal Act, passed by the Lok Sabha earlier, and suggest steps to rectify weaknesses to make it an effective corruption fighting body. Such body should have sufficient resources to discharge its functions. Unlike previous Govts, this whole process to fine-tune this should not take more than one year from the time NDA Govt took office.

The PM’s global Overseas Indians Advisory body: The PM should revamp his Global Advisory Body, constituted by the previous Govt. People in it should be those who have significant presence, influence and interactions among Indians in their countries. The practice of Indian diplomats recommending their sycophants to become members of this body should be done away with.

Country specific Overseas Indian Advisory body: Countries with significant overseas Indian populations (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. Its term should be for not more than 2 years.

Annual consultation between High Commission and Community: Previous High Commissioner of India in Australia, and current External Affairs Secretary, Smt Sujatha Singh, started a novel, and productive, mechanism to meet the community representatives in Canberra on a yearly basis. Representatives from all over Australia would assemble on a weekend to discuss and suggest things to Indian diplomats. Current High Commissioner, Biren Nanda, did not continue this practice. The communication from High Commission and community has been limited and confined to a small group of people, who are close to HCI. Previous practice of community consultation needs to be reactivated.

Annual dialogue between Indian and Australian leaders: Indian Australians will like to see formal and regular annual meetings between PMs, Foreign Affairs Ministers and Defence Ministers, with venues 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. This will accelerate bilateral trade which has come down to about $15 billion from previous high of $21 billion. This is important as Australia already has FTAs with Japan, South Korea and China.

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 seriously funding such teaching courses in at least one University each in Sydney and Melbourne. Discussions should be had between relevant authorities to explore equal sharing of cost between Australia and India.

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 regulations to facilitate this should be considered.

Recognition of TAFE diploma in India: Many Indian students come to Australia to train in TAFE institutes. Many then move on to Universities to complete degrees. In addition to the diplomas not being recognised to the extent that the students wanting to pursue this study in Australia do not even get the education loans, Association of Indian Universities (the peak body responsible for recognising foreign degrees) does not recognise even Bachelor degrees that may have resulted from a credit transfer after a diploma resulting in the degree component being lesser than 3 year duration. (Diploma to Degree). This is a unique feature of Australian Qualification framework and so should be understood by Educational authorities. Quite a good numbers of Indians in Australia have earned their degrees through this pathway. TAFE institutes are a unique institution and it will be beneficial for India to consider recognizing diplomas from TAFE.

Bilateral Internship positions for Australians and Indians: Institutes and Universities of repute in both countries should be encouraged to develop mechanisms to have short term (3-6 months) placements for students and researchers to enhance collaboration in science and research.

Indian media’s bureau/representatives in Australia: During 2009-10, Indian media reported issues involving Indian students in an exaggerated way, erroneously attributing racism in literally every incident. They did not interact with local long-term Indians. It was harder for media to have a grasp of the ground realities. It will be helpful if key media outlets consider basing their representatives in Australia to cover Oceania. With increasing trade related activities between Australia and India and with increased number of Indians here, there could be sufficient justification for such decisions. Indian Govt can encourage media houses to take up this matter. A good beginning could be of a posting a full time Press Trust of India (PTI) reporter in Australia.

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: There are more than 500,000 people of Indian heritage in Australia, with a big concentration in Sydney and Melbourne. People believe that there should be Indian cultural centers in Australia, 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 center 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. Indian Penal Code and relevant laws 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. It is also felt that GOI officials often get embroiled in local community politics and play “favoritism” games depending on who they like or dislike. It is quite irrational and subjective. 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 or External Affairs Secretary, 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.

In summary, it will be of mutual benefit to the community in Australia and India if the Indian government is proactive in considering the interests and welfare of the Indian community down under.

 

Dr Yadu Singh/Sydney/14th November, 2014

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Indian Australians as part of “Team Australia”!

Sydney, Thursday, 2014

Australian ParliamentPrime Minister, Tony Abbott, has rightly said recently that there is no point to migrate if people are not willing to put Australia, its interests, its values and its people first! Indian Parliament

He further said ‘You don’t migrate to this country unless you want to join our team, calling it “Team Australia”. He praised migrants for choosing to migrate to Australia, and exhorted them (migrants) to be proud of their heritage and culture.

I agree with him. I do not believe there would be many sensible people who will disagree with him.

Australia is a successful multicultural nation, just like The United States of America. Australia is our home, and we are very proud of Australia.

There is one little difference between Australia and USA, which has become quite important lately.

During 2009, when Indian students issues in Australia had saturation coverage in India, and India-Australia relations suffered, the then Federal Govt in Canberra did not deal with the issues in the most efficient way. Indian media calling Australia a racist country was not tackled properly and promptly. Australia depended solely on its diplomats to tackle it, instead of also utilising the Indian Australian community to help the Govt in dealing with it. It was well known that most of Indian Australian community did not share the views of Indian media. My friends and I made it very clear to Indian Govt and Indian media that we did not agree with their description of Australia as a racist nation. I took part in a debate “Ïs Australia a racist country?” with Daily Telegraph journalist, David Penberthy, televised in Sunrise programme of Channel 7, and wrote a Blog post “who is racist-Australia or Indian media?” https://yadusingh.wordpress.com/2010/01/10/who-is-racist-australia-or-indian-media/  Both were quite popular.

Many believe that The Rudd Govt officials should have utilized Indian Australian community prominently in dealing with exaggerated and imbalanced reporting against Australia in Indian media. They believe that things would have been easier to deal with if Indian Australians were also part of Australian Govt’s strategy to deal with it. After all, it would have been much more easier and effective if Indian media had dealt with Indian Australians here in Australia as well as in India, and heard that their description of Australia was not entirely correct.

Thankfully, things have moved on and relations between Australia and India are on the upswing. Australia and India have just concluded Uranium trade deal negotiations, and an agreement in this regard is likely to be signed when Prime Minister Tony Abbott visits New Delhi early next month.

Australia does have some people from Indian heritage in its diplomatic staff, but they are very small in numbers. Australia has not utilized the Indian Australian community in its outreach to India generally, even when this community is getting bigger by the day. Approx 500,000 people in Australia have Indian heritage. Former NSW Premier, Barry O’Farrell, used to rely on just one person of Indian heritage, who is his personal friend, but unfortunately did not have much to do with either India or Indian Australian community. Mr O’Farrell could have done better and taken a leaf from his counterparts from Victoria, who did, and do, include members of Victorian Indian Australian community whenever they go to India with Trade delegations. New NSW Premier, Mike Baird, has not been to India yet. Let us see, and in fact hope, whether he will be different from his predecessor in this regard.

If you compare all this with what USA is doing with similar visits to India currently, you will see that Indian Americans form prominent parts of such delegations.

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/For-India-outreach-US-brings-into-play-Indian-Americans/articleshow/39785133.cms

Nisha Desai Biswal, Arun Kumar and Puneet Talwar, who are all Assistant Secretaries and are of Indian heritage, accompanied US Secretary of State, John Kerry, Commerce Secretary, Penny Pritzker and Defence Secretary, Chuck Hagel respectively during their recent visits to India. Their presence certainly created quite a good amount of goodwill  and conducive atmosphere.

United States’ Presidential delegations to India have always included prominent Indian American businessmen and community leaders. This has not been the case with Australian delegations of similar nature.

It’s about time that Australian Govt leaders follow the examples set by their American counterparts, because not only it is a smart policy, but  it is lalso likely to accelerate the growth of Australia-India relations.

In addition, and as a bonus, it is also going to create a feeling that Indian Australian community is a vital part of “Team Australia”, with many potential electoral benefits to the ruling party in the area like Western suburbs of Sydney and elsewhere! 

Dr Yadu Singh

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The time for Hindi as the true national (Link) language in India has come!

Hindi

India has many states and many languages. Some states were formed on the basis of the language. It has its positives and it also has its negatives. It is not uncommon to experience difficulties in communicating things when visiting interiors of various states. While English often acts like a link language, but this is mostly confined to cities and bigger towns. A person from typical North Indian interior will struggle to communicate inside the interior of South India and vice versa.

I believe India needs a language which can act as a true Link language or National language, which can facilitate communications among Indians throughout the country

English can not be this language, even though it is an important language. It is mostly confined in the cities and bigger towns of India, where many can use it. Approx. only 10% are able to do it.

Hindi, on the other hand is the language spoken by 45% and understood by many more. Bollywood movies have been a great help in making Hindi understood everywhere in India.

Today, it will be impossible for any other Indian language to match Hindi’s reach and popularity in India.  Saying this should not mean that we are recommending disrespect to other languages or undermining them. It is a practical matter, and should be taken as such.

I love all Indian languages as well as English, which, of course is the language of science, Medicine, international trade, business and diplomacy. English is a must for Indians. I have no doubt about it.

There has to be ONE language in India, which should be able to act as the true LINK language for communication among all and sundry in India. That language will be HINDI if we analyse this matter rationally and logically.

I have not read views of any other person on this matter. My thought process here is not influenced by any other.

In my view, India should adopt and implement “Three Language Formula”, which means;

1. everyone learns Hindi, English and their mother tongue/language of their state,

2. everyone in Hindi speaking North India learns Hindi, English and one language from South India.

I believe it will promote integration, understanding and communication. It may also promote intra-national trade and business.

It is not at all about imposing hegemony of Hindi language, but it is all about pragmatism and practical need of a language which can be an instrument to improve communication among Indians in the country.

This will also be a “Win Win” decision for India, Hindi and South Indian languages!

I hope the new HRD Minister, Ms Smriti Irani and Prime Minister, Sri Narendra Modi do something in this direction.

 

Dr Yadu Singh/Sydney/20th June, 2014

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Overseas Indian Card, replacing PIO and OCI cards, is good, but not enough. We need genuine dual citizenship

Indian passportIndian 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”. imagehttp://economictimes.indiatimes.com/opinions/30048500.cms

NRI (Non-Resident Indian), PIO (Person of Indian Origin) and OCI Overseas Citizen of Indian) words do create some confusion for many people.

The Link below might help you understand what these names mean. http://mha1.nic.in/pdfs/oci-chart.pdf

I think, replacing PIO and OCI cards with “Overseas Indian Card” it is 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. Fees for Overseas Indian Card is reasonable, not expensive.

I do not see any issue with the requirement that the sticker for the OCI/PIO card or their replacement “Overseas Indian Card” should be pasted in the current passport. If we have to renew our Passports, we will need to have the “Overseas Indian Card” sticker transferred to the new Passport. It should however not cost more than a reasonable amount ie $50-100.00.

While at it, we should not miss the real issue in regards to Overseas Indians-NRIs, PIOs and OCIs. This is about India’s reluctance to offer Overseas Indians a true “Dual Citizenship”.

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.

Nobody can argue against India’ right to reject applications for Indian Passports to Overseas citizens of Indian heritage if they have security issues or are associated with terrorist/separatist anti-India groups, if a thorough security investigation finds evidence of such background.

In regards to NRIs (Indians living overseas but holding Indian passports), I am aware that Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) is in favour 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. https://ofbjp.org/sites/default/files/Memorandum%20to%20CEC%20VS%20Sampath%20on%20NRIs%20Voting%20Issue%20English.pdf

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!

Dr Yadu Singh/Sydney/12th Feb, 2014
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