In 1025, the great Tamil emperor Rajendra Chola I was the first Indian ruler to take his forces beyond the frontiers of Bharatvarsha. He expanded its borders by invading and subjugating most of Southeast Asia including Sri Lanka, Maldives, Malaysia, Southern Thailand and Indonesia. He extracted tributes from the kingdoms of Thailand and Khmer-ruled Cambodia. The largest Hindu temple in the world is at Angkor Wat in Cambodia. In 1893, another emperor of the soul, Swami Vivekananda made a historical speech at World’s Parliament of Religions and introduced Hinduism to America and played a significant role in spreading Vedanta and Yoga in the West.
Centuries before the Chola empire went global, Indian spices, which were traded in the great markets of the world, commanded prices equal to that of gold, perhaps more. As a political, intellectual, religious and economic force, India exerted global influence. She was the golden bird whose feathers were plucked by plunderers such as the Arabs, Moguls, French, Portuguese, Dutch and the British who landed as traders and became expansionist rulers.
Now, Indians are leaving the country in droves, taking with them intellectual and economic capital. During the past five years over six lakh Indians have surrendered their passports, the highest ever since Independence. Recently, in a response to a question in the Lok Sabha, Union Minister of State for Home Affairs Nityananda Rai disclosed till September this year, over 1.11 lakh Indians have given up their Indian passports. He, however, didn’t offer any explanation for the sudden spurt in Indians finding their homeland worthless.
Is this 21st century migration propelled by the desire for more wealth or is it a brain drain seeking success on the scale unavailable at home? Is GenM (Money Owners) no longer proud of Brand Bharat? India is growing at the highest rate. It has strong leadership and political stability. It is a dream market for global companies. Above all, it has an exceedingly business friendly government and environment. Ironically, the farewell crowd find the Indian system stifling, environmentally unhealthy and socially oppressive. Naturally, it is the middle class and neo rich who find life in India unattractive. According to published reports by various agencies, over two percent of Indian millionaires have chosen another country to do business and lead a better life. What has surprised India watchers is the continued interest of Indians abandoning their birth place even during the pandemic.
During the past two years, Canada, Singapore, England, Australia have seen the number of inquiries for permanent residency growing by over 60 per cent. Caste and poverty ground the majority of Indians from the benefits of education and prosperity. Indian intellectuals and professionals have headed for greener pastures in the West for decades. In the US, about 38 per cent of doctors, 36 per cent of NASA employees, 34 per cent of Microsoft work force and 28 per cent of IBM employees are Indians. Over a dozen Indian born technocrats and PIOs handle around 20 per cent of American wealth. Corporate stars like Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal, Google CEO Sundar Pichai, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen, Arista Networks CEO Jayshree Ullal, VMware CEO Rangarajan Raghuram, IBM CEO Arvind Krishna, MasterCard executive chairman Ajaypal Singh Banga are giants in their field.
Many Western academic and financial institutions are now run by Indians. But not all of them left India as economic, social or political dissenters. Indian corporates, senior civil servants and rich and famous Indians have been sending their children to study aboard for ages, spending over nine billion dollars annually. Most of these youngsters chose to stay back. Ironically, they are ones who contribute to the idea of India.
It has almost become a practice among wealthy Indian families to settle a member abroad. The exodus is spearheaded by people who earned both name and fame in India. Almost every top Indian industrialist has set up a parallel business abroad which is managed by their offspring. There is hardly a senior IAS, IFS or military official, serving or retired, whose progeny hasn’t acquired a green card, or permanent residency abroad. Most of them have renounced their Indian citizenship. Additionally, liberal foreign exchange remittance regimes have allowed them to own houses in foreign lands.
Of late, after Singapore, Dubai has become the most sought-after second destination for rich Indian businesspersons. Market mercenaries the world over have defined the new movement of manpower and money as an investment migratory industry. But in India’s case, it is one-way traffic. Investment is definitely flowing into India while the owners who invest for profit and expansion prefer lifestyles abroad.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi was aware of the dangers posed by the escalating velocity of the brain drain. At the 14th edition of Pravasi Bharatiya Divas 2017, billed as the largest ever gathering of the Indian diaspora, he had said, “During a discussion on brain drain before I became the chief minister of Gujarat, I used to wonder if all the good brains in the country emigrate, then is the country left with only fools? But today I can say with confidence that because of the steps taken by our government, we are changing brain drain into brain gain.”
Earlier, Manmohan Singh had expressed similar optimism. The decampment had slowed down during the past two decades. There is no agreement on the current reasons for the outflow of capital from India. Officials trot out the rationale that it is because of people like Vijay Mallya, Mehul Choksi and Nirav Modi who have tainted business records or are afraid of the wrath of agencies.
Modi’s detractors allege middle class industrialists are facing excessive interrogation and raids. Indian business houses find the judiciary and the State more intrusive than before. There are others who analyse that Indians are seeking a credible and safe alternative option to not only survive but also to thrive. With many financial institutions including banks either collapsing or underperforming, most citizens are skeptical about the safety of their wealth at home.
As a developing nation with just 75 years of decolonised freedom, India hasn’t evolved herself into a perfect model habitat of enterprise. Its diversity, roots and traditions were binding its people together for aeons. Ironically, India is seen as the country of tomorrow by many leading nations. Yet, the deadly duo of pessimistic elements and an indifferent establishment have failed to market the concept of a powerful New India in the making. India’s loss is a massive gain for other countries. The old saying goes that when you say goodbye, you die a little. For Indians who acquire foreign passports, it means you can live in plenty.
Follow him on Twitter @PrabhuChawla