One look at Prime Minister Modi's historic address at the Madison Square Garden in 2014 or the Wembley stadium in 2015 would explain the importance of the Indian diaspora. In the past - the Indian diaspora was viewed as a vote bank since previous Indian governments did not always harness the strength of the Indian diaspora.
Of course, overseas Indians contribute heavily to the funds of political parties in India but their reach extends far beyond it. According to the US census, the Indian diaspora in the US outpaces all other ethnic groups in terms of socio-economic status.
Indian-Americans account for over six per cent of physicians in the US with high household income. The Indian diaspora is often seen as a "model minority" not just in the US, but in other countries as well including in the United Kingdom, Australia, and France. They own several businesses in these countries and their political representation is ever-increasing.
If India wants a steady flow of investments from countries like the US, then the government must promote serious engagement with the Indian diaspora. It's unbelievable that such engagement remained poor in the past. It's as if India did not want to synergise the strength of its 31 million people.
Under PM Modi, things have changed for sure! The remittances in 2016 alone were over $62 billion. It is a direct contribution to the Indian economy. In simple terms, the Indian diaspora gives India the soft power to improve its reach in other markets. As India's export-competitiveness increases further, such links would be crucial to maintain holistic growth. Unlike the current regime, the Congress was handicapped by suspicion of the Indian diaspora be it Myanmar in 1964, or Uganda in 1972, the party did not support the people of Indian origin when they most needed it.
It created an environment of mistrust and that has hurt India's ability to engage with other countries.
A strong engagement between the Indian government and the Indian diaspora will also help in another way - it will force foreign governments to take the Indian diaspora seriously and not just as a vote bank, and that in turn would lend strength to the government on crucial issues.
India is going to be a major growth engine of this century and the clout of New Delhi can improve only if diplomatic links are established with other countries at a micro-economic level. It can only happen through the Indian diaspora which is a vital cog in the wheel of India's engagement with the world.
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL)
If India wants a steady flow of investments from countries like the US, then the government must promote serious engagement with the Indian diaspora.