NRIs are an under-exploited power: Indian foreign secretary


Subrahmanyam Jaishankar lauds the power of non-resident Indians and says government will focus more attention on them

A more modernised India, a more industrial India, a more urbanised India would create new demands which would give our relationship [with other nations] that economic heft in which we have lagged behind — foreign secretary Subrahmanyam Jaishankar

India’s new foreign secretary Subrahmanyam Jaishankar has used his first public address to laud the power of NRIs, promising the government would focus more attention on them as an “underexploited” segment in coming years.

“Clearly both in terms of bonding and in terms of their alibility to further the relationship [India has with other countries] I think they are a huge factor, I think to some extent, an underexploited factor,” Jaishankar told an audience of foreign policy experts and officials at the Vivekananda International Foundation in New Delhi 16 March. “That is certainly one aspect that’s going to get more attention from us.”

Jaishankar, 60, was thrown into the role of foreign secretary after a surprise late night announcement by the government on 28 January– it came just 72 hours before his career as a diplomat was due to end, according to local media.

The 1977 batch IFS officer was India’s Ambassador to the United States, and reportedly played a key role during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s high-octane visit in September last year, as well as US President Barack Obama’s historic trip to watch the Republic Day parade in Delhi in January this year.

Modi’s US trip was significant for NRIs globally as it was the first foreign visit that saw him engage with Indian expats, in a sell-out extravaganza at Madison Square Garden in New York. The Prime Minister followed it up with an even bigger NRI event crowd-wise at Sydney’s Allphones Arena in November 2014. The PM called on NRIs to buy into his ambitious development plans and, “come make in India”, promising to cut red-tape and easier visas.

The talk has led to some concrete changes too, such as a one-time visa being made to replace the Person of Indian Origin and Overseas Citizenship of India schemes.

As India’s top diplomat for foreign relations, Jaishankar is be pivotal in fulfilling Modi’s goal of leveraging the wealth and talents of NRIs around the world. In a diplomatic career spanning more than three decades, he previously served as India’s Ambassador to China, High Commissioner to Singapore, Ambassador to Czech Republic, and First Secretary to the Indian Peace Keeping Force in Sri Lanka.

Speaking with surprising candour at Vivekananda, Jaishankar said India’s leaders were striving to transform the nation into a leading power. “How do you change India from a balancing power to a leading power?” he asked. “If you reflect on that goal, changing to a leader power from a balancing power, I think you see a lot of implications.”

Jaishankar said India had entered a “new era” when it came to business and attracting foreign investment. ”Much is going to depend on how we promote in India the climate of ease of doing business,” he said.

At the same time he shut down the idea that foreign investors would get special treatment, saying: “I think when Prime Minister [Modi] went to the United States that was one issue on which he was very clear, which was that if the overall business climate improved in India, there was no special requirement to address the needs of the foreign investor in a separate differentiated manner.”

“The big issue for us really is how do u make the ‘make in India’ program successful and there’s the clear calculation that a more modernised India, a more industrial India, a more urbanised India would create new demands which would give our relationship [with other nations] that economic heft in which we have lagged behind,” he said.

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