India and its Diaspora

Date01 January 2017
Published date01 January 2017
Subject MatterArticles
India and its Diaspora:
Charting New Avenues of
Amba Pande1
The opening up of India’s economy in the early 1990s brought several shifts in
its policy approaches. One such definite and visible shift was in India’s approach
towards the Indian diaspora. Indians have been migrating since time immemo-
rial. However, the emergence of transnational diaspora communities which had
effective participation in the countries of settlement, while at the same time hav-
ing strong connections with the homeland, was baffling not only for India but in
general also for all the countries which had large-scale populations beyond their
borders. Although the multiple belongingness of diasporas has its both perils and
rewards, very soon they became valuable partners in the developmental pro-
cesses of their home lands. India was a bit late in realizing this hidden potential.
Since the 1990s, New Delhi has adopted a proactive policy to engage with the
diaspora which has opened up vast avenues of cooperation.
Diaspora, India, homeland, economic development, soft power
In the past few decades, diasporas have become an endemic feature of the prevail-
ing global conditions and a pivotal element in the understanding of present and
future trends. The concept of ‘diaspora’ is a historical phenomenon whose origins
can be traced back to the first dispersion of Jews, and for a long time, the Jew
paradigm remained at the centre of description of all the later diasporas.
Nevertheless, with the rise of nation states, increase in international migrations
and transnational connectivity, the concept has been reconstructed and reinvented
and has achieved a new prominence. Diasporic identities are shaped by both home
International Studies
54(1–4) 180–195
2018 Jawaharlal Nehru University
SAGE Publications
DOI: 10.1177/0020881718777592
1 Centre for Indo-Pacic Studies, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University,
New Delhi, India.
Corresponding author:
Amba Pande, Centre for Indo-Pacic Studies, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru
University, New Delhi 110067, India.
Pande 181
and the host-land dynamics (refer Clifford, 1994; Pande, 2013; Schiller, Basch &
Blanc, 1995; Sheffer, 1986) and their ‘in-betweenness’ moves beyond the binary
constructions like citizen and foreigner, native and outsider, and centre and
periphery. The multiple belongingness of diasporas resists the hegemonic homo-
geneities and problematize, the traditional disciplines and established concepts.
One of the concepts that diasporas have intruded into is the nation state, which
paradoxically plays an important role in the identity formation of the diasporas
and with which diasporas engage profoundly and deeply. This article aims at criti-
cally examine India’s approach towards its diaspora over the years and bring into
focus the important areas of engagement between the two. The article also tries to
identify and examine ways to increase the impact of diaspora participation in
India’s developmental process. The article also presents a theoretical discussion
on diasporas and nation states and see how the Indian diaspora reinforces the
Indian state and nation rather than challenging it.
Diasporas and Nation States: Challengers or Partners?
The discourse over growing transnational practices and the increasing importance
of diasporas often gets centred around the diminishing importance of states/nation
states and its territoriality as the source of identity and power. In the globalized
modern world, the nation state is said to have encountered limits to its supremacy
and challenge to its sovereignty and territoriality by various factors and one of
them is the transnational existence of diasporas. The post-nationalist scholarly
and intellectual discourse considers diasporic formations as a phenomenon that
superimposed or transcended the national identities and challenged the established
social, cultural and political trends. It signified the so-called an epochal shift in
the existing nation-states system and international relations (refer Appadurai,
1996; Clifford, 1994; Cohen, 2008; Kearney, 1991). Nevertheless, the more recent
scholarly riposte to counter this perspective is equally strong and emphasizes on
the complex and ambiguous relationship between diasporic formations and the
nation states. This set of scholars largely see the diasporas as ‘an extension of the
nation-state model’ (Soysal, 2002), something that actually reinforces the nation
state since they connect to the myth and politics of the homeland (Mishra, 1996).
Diasporas underline new practices of belonging and new forms of congruence
between territory, culture and identity beyond the fixed notions of national bound-
edness. Even the paradigmatic Jewish model did not negate the idea of territories
and states. It claimed its origins from a territorial state and continues to have their
attachment with it while at the same time thriving in the countries of settlement.
Diasporic communities from the very beginning have not only got involved in the
political process but have also claimed their rights as citizens in the countries of
adoption, as well as in their home countries, reinforcing the idea of state and
citizenship. Be it the Indian Indenture diaspora in various countries who fought
for citizenship and equal rights in the host lands or the traditionally settled Chinese
diaspora in Southeast Asian countries who continued to be overseas citizens of
China and helped in furthering Chinese interests in the region. Even in the countries

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