2020-21, 1.63 lakh Indians renounced their citizenship to take up foreign citizenship. This number is double compared to where it stood five years ago. The US was the preferred destination in 2021. Over 78,000 Indians acquired the American citizenship. Other preferred destinations are also mostly western countries — Australia (23,533), Canada (21,597), UK (14,637), Italy (5,986) and so on.
The question is why are these people giving up the Indian passport at a time when we are entering the ‘Amrit Kaal’, the nomenclature Narendra Modi government is using to define the period between India’s 75th Independence Day and the 100th in 2047? Don’t they love India and the Indian flag? Why are they opting to be adopted sons and daughters?
The obvious reasons
One thing is for sure: this is not a push migration. Barring exceptions, the people who decided to move are highly educated, rich and privileged. They are not making this choice because they are persecuted, or there is famine or civil war in India.
According to a report of by the London-based global citizenship and residence advisory Henley & Partners (H&P), around 8,000 High Networth Individuals or HNIs will leave India this year. And this is the exodus of the rich and educated.
There are some obvious explanations for the rich and endowed Indians, who benefited most from the Indian democracy, to be giving up citizenship. The most common explanation is that the grass is greener on the other side. Pursuit of economic gains can be a big reason for such decisions. Quality of life is also better in the West and pollution is less menacing.
Another possible reason is that, in countries like the UAE and Singapore, individual tax rates are lower than India.
When the Modi government decided to crack down on black money and tax evaders, many Indians had applied this trick — let family members remain abroad for 182 or more days. This, by rule, made them “non-residents” with foreign accounts and businesses, which could be used by family members to stash money.
Affirmative action policies in India are also blamed for the exodus of Indians and that gives a hint that which social group is mostly migrating. The Economist has written in one of its commentaries that the Brahmins are forced to leave the country because of affirmative-action policies in India. Though this argument doesn’t hold good because affirmative action is only for the government jobs, which constitutes a miniscule percentage of the entire job market. In high-paying jobs, that percentage is further reduced.
Many may also be converting their H1B visas because India doesn’t allow dual citizenship.
Having the ‘means’ to an ‘end’
My explanation for this exodus from the status of being an Indian citizen is twofold. One, successful Indians already have strong secessionist tendencies and two, they leave because only such people have means to leave.
If we check the urban elite spaces, we can easily see those secessionist tendencies of the rich. Their colonies or apartments have their own security systems, reverse osmosis water supply, private power generator sets, and even private recreational spaces. These colonies, in a way, function as separate micro nations. Their interaction with the State is manifested only when some crime or calamity happens. Most of these colonies are gated communities and RWAs are like a government there. In many metropolitan towns, RWAs in elite colonies erect gates at public roads and limit access to public parks and other government facilities.
In this case, there is a class in India that has actually become “independent” or “autonomous.” This class almost never uses government hospitals or educational facilities. It’s a big problem that they have to breathe the same air, but air purifiers have solved this problem also. Covid-19 proved to be a leveller when the elites were forced to share these spaces with the underclass, but that is one of exceptions. Under normal circumstances, there is a separate private infrastructure to cater to their requirements. This class goes abroad to spend holidays. This class sends their kids to the schools affiliated to international boards. Global citizenship and global village is not some distant idea or concept for them. There are people in India who live these concepts and migrate at the first opportunity.
Being part of this group is not at all bad. The fact is that the underclass aspires to enter these spaces not as trespassers but as legitimate members. Rich people are their role models. I am of the view that this aspiration is good and brings hope. ‘Satisfaction’ or ‘contentment’ is the word I hate. Only problem is that the Nahruvian Model of socialism never facilitated such transitions for the masses. Because of the extremely slow growth of the Indian economy in the formative decades of the nation, socialism became a model to distribute poverty. There was, in fact, not much to trickle down. The entrepreneurial potential of the nation was curbed.
I am not blaming any person for that economic catastrophe. Early years after Independence were tumultuous and the decision makers must be keeping many factors while making economic decisions. But we must admit that the State socialism model failed to produce a big middle class. Rather, large masses remained poor and lacked capacity to uplift their life. In rural India, by and large, the feudal structure continued. As contribution of agriculture in the GDP declined and population load on the agrarian economy did not reduce substantially, rural prosperity remained elusive for a large swath of masses. Despite change in course in economic policy in the 1990s, the size of Indian middle class continued to remain small. This should be a matter of utmost concern for the present policy makers. Increase in the size of the middle class is important as this will democratise the process of migration. This is an opportunity which should be available to one and all.
This brings us to the second question.
As granting citizenship in the western world, especially in the top-5 destinations for Indians, has been tightened over the years, one must have a certain financial and educational threshold to migrate to these countries. That threshold itself will put this group in the top one per cent of the Indian population. Especially, in the US, which accounts for almost 50 per cent of Indians migrating, H1B visa or other modes of long-term and permanent residency is mostly given to the highly skilled and highly paid individuals. This restriction acts as a barrier for most Indians to even think of migrating to that country.
In any case, as rich Indians are picking foreign passports and others are probably dreaming to renounce their Indian citizenship at the first opportunity, the sanctimoniousness of discourses like ‘national pride’ and ‘love for one’s own nation’ should be reframed.
With India integrating with the global economies, the national boundaries may blur more and more. Till then, the poor and underclass in India has to carry the burden of flag-waving nationalistic pride. Their role models are leaving.