Wednesday, February 16, 2011

India’s African diaspora risks being left out in the new scheme of things

Friday, February 11 2011 at 18:52

Set deep in south Delhi is a park named for the red-flowered Gulmohar tree and which provides the location for Gumolhar Park Journalists Colony, a tranquil neighbourhood associated with the capital’s more affluent residents.

House Number 47 would pass for any of the tens of old-style Hindu villas in the estate originally established for journalists in the 1970s, only that its upper storey is home to a unique venture that seeks to reconnect the widely disseminated Indian diaspora.

A private online portal, the People of Indian Origin (PIO) TV studios are rather cramped and give off a whiff that is both sipid and musty in nature, perhaps an apt reminder of the chasm that has for decades existed between India and its 30 million-strong diaspora, and which it is now scrambling to redress.

“Every day we get about 3,000 hits or more, but during all these big events like the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas or overseas PBD’s, we get about 70,000—80,000 [hits],” said the manager of the Indian operation of the family-run outlet, Kuldeep Yadav.

The Pravasi Bharatiya Divas—Non-Resident Indian Day—is India’s best known move towards reconnecting with its diaspora. Held annually around January 9—a date the marks Mahatma Ghandi’s return from South Africa—the jamboree has in recent years sought to celebrate the achievements of its diaspora.

New Delhi’s arm-length treatment of its diaspora had been partly informed by a need to avoid being seen as interfering with sovereign ties, but also by the fact that most of its relatives are fiercely proud of their African roots.

Political influence

But the success of the diaspora in North America and western Europe where they now yield immense economic and political influence has awakened the country to the potential benefits of a community whose gross income is worth an estimated $1 trillion, and who send home more money than any other country.

But as India seeks to delicately re-engage with Africa, its three million-strong diaspora on the continent are unwittingly caught in the middle with ironically the same historical links it trumpets playing against it.

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