Comment: The PIO card doesn't go far enough

1999

The Indian government, by issuing the PIO (Persons of Indian Origin) card, has finally recognised the need for Indians with foreign nationalities to have stronger formal connections with India. That is, not just Indians at heart but also on paper, something that is all-important particularly in India. However, the PIO card fails in one major respect: it still requires foreign passport holders to register themselves with the police if their stay exceeds 180 days, or six months.

The reason to continue with this requirement defies logic. If the government is happy to give Indians with foreign nationalities virtually all rights (apart from political rights) that Indian citizens get, why continue with this registration requirement? After all, the PIO card is valid for 20 years and so by extension, it seems natural that a registration requirement should be needed only after that period.

Of course, it can be argued that since Indians of foreign nationalities have taken foreign passports, they should not enjoy the same privileges that India citizens do. A fair argument, except that by doing so, the Indian government loses the goodwill (and precious foreign exchange) of Indians who do not lose their emotional attachment to India simply by giving up their Indian nationality.

Most Indians would not give up their Indian passports if the Indian government allowed dual-nationality. In not allowing dual nationality, the Indian government is forcing the NRIs to choose - and they often choose the foreign passport over the Indian one purely for convenience, not because they suddenly hate India. Life in the adopted country and travel becomes a lot easier, as anyone with an American, Australian, or European Union (EU) passport knows.

Coming back to the PIO card, it is a step in the right direction and goes a long way in addressing the needs of Indians with foreign nationalities. But it doesn't go far enough. Ideally, the Indian government would allow dual nationalities - as many other countries do. Of course, it goes without saying that the dual nationalities in the case of countries hostile to India should not be permitted. But in other cases, there should be no restriction.

The Indian government itself estimates that there are 15 million people of Indian origin who would benefit from the card. That's more than double the population of Switzerland. And with their financial clout, it is hard to argue that they would not have a significantly positive economic impact on the Indian economy, if they were given dual nationality. The Indian government should also realise that NRIs with foreign passports don't like being treated like second class citizens in their own country. Those who argue that NRIs with foreign nationalities should not be allowed dual nationality fail to see that it is the Indians in India who have to reap the negative consequences of this.

- Chetan Dhruve in London

The views of this column are the author's own, and do not necessarily represent the views of NRI Online.

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