JUNE 28, 2004
NILANJANA BHADURI JHA
Times of India
Early this month, the UPA government set up a new Ministry for Non-Resident
Indian Affairs, signalling the growing importance of the India overseas.
Congress veteran Jagdish Tytler , the first ever NRI minister, is now
engaged in setting up shop. From drafting agenda, to finding office
space, to smoothly severing the umbilical cord with the External Affairs
Ministry. The minister says his first priority is to create a proper
environment for NRIs to invest in the country.
The first very obvious question. Why a separate ministry for NRIs?
Is it an effort to be one up on the BJP that had a big NRI focus?
In the last 20 years more people have gone abroad and after a struggle,
have made a name, earned money. Basically Indians are better equipped
in the IQ department. Any new invention or trend and Indians make use
of it first communication, software.
Also, we may be in America, Britain, but our roots make us turn back.
In the last 10 years, China has developed into a major economy, most
of it due to its people overseas. Israel has been built entirely by
its Diaspora. Now, Indians are a very important community in the world
they are worth over 400 billion dollars. But their investment
in India has been very haphazard.
Precisely, like the Chinese, why doesn't the Indian overseas want
to make long-term investments in the country?
Because there has never been the right environment created for them.
The NRI cannot afford to spend more than a week chasing things here.
As the shadow, then Finance Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh met a lot of
Indians overseas, as did Mrs Sonia Gandhi, and they said we want to
invest in India but at least give us the environment to do so.
Nobody gave a direction, like the single window clearance they want.
Now, if they have a problem they can come to me, I'll coordinate with
all the other ministries. That is why this ministry came into existence.
The Prime Minister is very keen on this.
So how are you working towards an environment for NRIs to think
of long-term investments in India?
Well, we are trying to create economic zones in each state capital,
especially those states, which have a large number of people abroad.
We have had a good response from Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh. I will
be going visiting Chief Ministers soon.
We have to create conditions, where the NRIs can come and put their
money and also take money back. The way we plan it, lots of jobs will
be created. To expect them to invest in the country without giving them
the conditions is not right. They should feel comfortable that they
are going back to their country to invest. That they don't have to run
about getting clearances from many different places.
There is this case a man came seven years ago to invest here.
Nothing worked out and for the last five years he has been running about
trying to free his money. He finally met someone, me, two days ago.
What are the priority areas that you have identified? I believe
a draft has been prepared for that?
Allocation of work is being done now. The key functions of the ministry
To recognise the contributions made by overseas Indians in diverse fields
and to leverage these invaluable human resources.
To tap their potential for contributing to economic growth.
To provide a single window clearance mechanism for facilitating participation
of the Diaspora in India's economic, social and technological advancement.
To coordinate with other organisations for early redressal of problems
of overseas Indians.
To provide protection to Indian workers and migrants from abuse and
exploitation of any kind.
To educate Indian migrants on legal issues and international laws.
We'll be meeting next week to finalise all this.
How much NRI participation do you envisage in your ministry and
Well, they can now directly contact me. I'll be the main body for interaction.
As for participation, they can play a role in infrastructure, roads,
sports, hotels, hospitals there's so much to be done.
The NDA government had cleared a bunch of schemes for NRIs. Will
you push those through or bring some of your own? Who gets the credit,
considering the NDA repeatedly said the Congress had done nothing for
the vast and growing NRI and PIO population in its 40 years of rule?
There are a number of things pending for a long time. Largely investment
related problems. The BJP is talking all nonsense. Did Vajpayee become
a leader in a day?
Three important things happened in this country. It will always be
grateful to Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru for infrastructure steel
and dams, Indira Gandhi for the green revolution and off-shore search
for oil and Rajiv Gandhi for communications.
These are the three Prime Ministers that have given the country what
it needed. What has the BJP done?
What's the status on dual citizenship? Will it be extended to countries
other than the 16 that it will apply to now? Many NRIs and PIOs have
also raised the demand for voting rights...
The dual citizenship issue is all sorted out. But dual citizenship
is only really possible where the other country allows it. Talking about
extending it to other countries is Mr Natwar Singh's department. I cannot
say anything about that. As far as voting rights are concerned, that
is just not possible.
The US Senate India Caucus was officially launched in April this
year. In countries like the US, where pressure groups can help shape
policy, how does your ministry intend to strengthen these ?
That is again Mr Natwar Singh's department, I will not be doing anything
that is under Mr Singh's jurisdiction. Let me look at it, perhaps we'll
become part of it, where it addresses concerns of people of Indian origin.
Like the NDA, will you too have an ambassador at large in the US,
or will that be you?
No, no. No ambassador at large. The world has changed. All embassies
have become commercial centres. With the cold war over, the spying,
planning and counter planning days are not there any more. My focus
is completely on boosting investment.
I presume you will interact a lot with NRIs. A lot of who are Sikhs.
The Akalis have already decided to boycott you in Parliament on the
1984 riots issue. Do you foresee difficulties or embarrassing moments
I have not received a single complaint on this. Sikh leaders from London,
US, other places have already come and met me or written letters that
they are happy. The boycott is political. I still say today, there is
no complaint, no FIR. Even if they can say that I was directly or indirectly
involved, I will resign today. Do you know that I won my election because
of the support of Sikhs in my constituency?
Will the Pravasi Bharatiya Diwas, begun with much fanfare by the
Yes it continues on the same dates in January. You know it commemorates
Mahatma Gandhi's return to India from South Africa in 1915.
It has been criticised as nothing more than a jamboree in the two
years that it has been held. How differently will you plan it?
Well it will be more business, less tamasha.