From my informal discussion and interactions with Indians living overseas, it is clear to me that they want genuine dual citizenship. Anything less is not going to satisfy their demands. I know the Indian Govt is working on a Bill, which will be introduced in the Lok Sabha soon, after having already been passed by the Rajya Sabha, to replace PIO and OCI cards with a single card, named “Overseas Indian Card”.
My suggestion is that they should stop this process, and let the new Govt, after the next elections, 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:
- The Govt does not impose any cost to those with these cards while replacing the current OCI/PIO cards with “Overseas Indian Card”;
- The process to replace PIO/OCI cards with Overseas Indian Cards is simple, automatic and not cumbersome
- The new card is valid for life
- A fee for Overseas Indian Card is reasonable, not expensive.
But I do not believe it is enough. It’s no point to make half-hearted efforts. What Overseas Indians need is genuine dual citizenship of India, with full political and economic rights. India’s reluctance to offer Overseas Indians 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 a 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.
With regard to NRIs (Indians living overseas but holding Indian passports), I am aware that the 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 the Election Commission of India in January 2014. http://tinyurl.com/mz7ap46
This is a good start, but it is not sufficient. The 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 developed countries like the UK, Australia, USA, Switzerland, Finland and France have no issues with dual-citizenship, and these countries are no less security-conscious than India. So if security was the reason it is hard to see why India is reluctant to offer dual-citizenship.
Nobody can argue against India’s 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 deny dual-citizenship to a 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 inconvenient, and financially expensive.
The Indian constitution allows NRIs to vote in theory, but the Govt has not done anything to make it convenient for the over 10 million NRIs, despite its lofty claims. I do not know the exact number of PIOs/OCIs, but it will be safe to assume that there are 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.
Published in Indian magazine, Australia