The word ‘Diaspora’ has its origin from the Greek word ‘diasporás orthografía’ which means to scatter. Diaspora communities are people who reside outside the country of their origin (home country) or ancestral land but have a strong affinity towards the homeland. These people have an intense emotional attachment to the country of their origin and a sense of nostalgia that binds them emotionally to their ancestral land. Diaspora includes both emigrants and their offspring who work to foster the interest of their countries of origin by building amicable ties between their host and home country. These communities act as an important agent of diplomacy and help in lobbying for positive changes in bilateral relations between the countries of their origin and their residence. Since they share a psychological attachment to their ancestral land, their presence as a civil society act as a strong voice in positive policies relating to the home country.
The Indian Diaspora in the United States of America (USA) is one the strongest with a population of about 4,402,363 in 2017. It reflects the growth of about 38 percent in the last seven years (PTI 2019). As one of the strongest and economically well-off communities today, migration to the USA started as early as the 1820s and remained low till the mid-1960s due to the Immigration Act 1917 and the subsequent Immigration Act of 1924 also known as the Johnson-Reed Act. Thereafter, with the passage of the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965, also referred to as the Hart-Celler Act, the earlier restrictions on immigration were eased, and the ‘new land’ welcomed talent, skill and encouraged educated professionals and students to travel and settle down in the land that acknowledges talent and capability. Reiterating similar objectives, the Immigration Act of 1990 facilitated the entry of highly skilled labor in America, especially those specialized in the fields of science, technology, medicine, which furthered the development of America. Needless to state that the Indians who migrated to America were highly skilled, educated, and English speaking professionals. It is worth mentioning that at present, there are more than 650-700 companies in the Silicon Valley that are owned by Indian-Americans who also form one of the majority professional groups in California’s tech hub. All these contributed to the creation of a robust Diaspora in the US whose role in strengthening Indo-American relations is especially commendable in the post-Cold War era.
The Indian-Americans have been actively involved in the domestic US politics, which includes prominent leaders like Dalip Singh Saund, Bobby Jindal, Kamala Harris, Pramila Jayapal, to name a few. The Indian-Americans lobby consists of diverse networks such as Indian-American Forum for Political Education, Indian American Committee for Political Awareness, and the US-India Political Action Committee. It is important to note that the bipartisan Indian Caucus formed in the US Senate is remarkable in the sense that for the first time a Senate caucus was set up dedicated to a single country (Sharma 2017). Indian-Americans have played a significant role in US elections by campaigning and raising funds, and therefore have a strong voice in the issues that concern India and US-India relations.
The Indian Diaspora in the US has a strong voice in matters concerning economic and diplomatic ties between India and the US. In the aftermath of India’s nuclear tests in 1998, the Indian Diaspora worked towards assuaging US concerns and lobbied for lifting the World Bank sanctions imposed on India. During Operation Vijay (Kargil war), it was due to the efforts of the Indian Diaspora and the India Caucus that a resolution was introduced in the House of Representatives by Benjamin A. Gilman, Gary Ackerman, and Frank Pallone among others, condemning Pakistan’s armed intrusion (Bagoria, 2013). Again, to cite an instance, on the back of overwhelming support by the American India Public Affairs Committee, Kashmir issue has been time and again referred as an internal matter of India, besides the reiteration that the US would not interfere in the sovereignty of India (PTI, 2019).
Coming to Article 370, which granted Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) a ‘special status’ under the The Government of India on August 5, 2019 moved a resolution for the J&K (Reorganisation) Bill, 2019 which became an Act on August 9, revoking the ‘special status’ of J&K by abrogating Article 370 and Article 34A.
Indian Diaspora in the USA wholeheartedly welcomed the move by the Modi government and urged the Trump Administration to “fully support” the move. Voicing the sentiments of the Kashmiri Pandits, Indian-Americans under the Houston Chapter of Friends of India Society International (FISI) and the Houston chapter of Global Kashmiri Pandit Diaspora (GKPD) have hailed the move by referring to Article 370 as ‘draconian, discriminatory’, and hailed ‘Indian secularism’ and ‘democracy’. Indian-Americans at large are assessing the undoing of the Act as a major step towards ‘enhanced peace and security’ of the people of J&K (PTI, 2019).
It is worth mentioning that the Indian-Americans voicing their support for the revocation of Article 370 view the move from a broader perspective of ending the ongoing conflict in Kashmir, specifically Pakistan’s interference in the internal issues and its involvement in cross-border terrorism that has compromised peace in the region since the Partition. Peace and prosperity of the people of J&K is the end that leaders across the spectrum would have in mind. Indians living within and outside the geographical border would pride upon a strong and united India, the world’s largest ‘Sovereign Socialist Secular Democratic Republic’ where people celebrate unity in diversity and a country which since time immemorial has been the upholder of and crusader for world peace.
*** The author is Assistant Professor at Department of International Relations, Jadavpur University, Kolkata ***
Basu, Durga Das (2009), Introduction to the Constitution of India, New Delhi: Lexis Nexis
Bagoria, Mukesh (2013), “Indo-US Relations and the Role of the Indian Diaspora” in Mohammed Badrul Alam (Ed.), Indo-US Relations: Dimensions and Emerging Trends, New Delhi: Shipra Publications.
PTI (2018), “Indian-American population grew by 38 percent between 2010-2017: Report”, URL: https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/nri/nris-in-news/indian-american-population-grew-by-38-percent-between-2010-2017-report/articleshow/69840204.cms
PTI (2019), “Indian-Americans up in arm against Congressman over Kashmir remark”, URL: https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/nri/nris-in-news/indian-americans-up-in-arm-against-congressman-over-kashmir-remark/articleshow/70628557.cms
Ministry of Law and Justice: The Gazette of India (2019), “The Jammu And Kashmir Reorganisation Act, 2019”, URL: http://egazette.nic.in/WriteReadData/2019/210407.pdf
Sharma, Ashok (2017), “The Indian-American lobby that’s quietly pushing Washington towards New Delhi”, URL: https://qz.com/india/1016611/the-indian-american-lobby-thats-quietly-pushing-washington-towards-new-delhi/
PTI (2019), “Indian-Americans Hail Scrapping of Article 370, Bifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir”, URL: https://www.news18.com/news/india/indian-americans-hail-scrapping-of-article-370-bifurcation-of-jammu-and-kashmir-2265347.html