Citizenship Striptease


Union Minister of State for Non Resident Indian Affairs Jagdish Tytler announced in early August that dual citizenship registration would begin this September.

If that is beginning to sound like déjà vu all over again, it is. Ever since the L M Singhvi report in 2002 proposed dual citizenship for overseas Indians in 16 countries – Australia, Canada, Finland, France, Greece, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Netherlands, New Zealand, Portugal, Cyprus, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom, and the United States of America – the Indian government has been engaged in a perennial striptease dance with overseas Indians.

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee announced dual citizenship with much fanfare at the first Pravasi Bhartiya Diwas in January 2003. What he was really declaring, however, was the government’s intention to grant dual citizenship. Legislation was introduced in parliament in May 2003 and just in time for another grand pronouncement at the next Pravasi Diwas in January 2004, the law was passed unanimously and received the president’s assent.

Unbeknownst to most observers, however, the bill’s language was artfully changed from “dual citizenship” to “overseas citizenship.”

Under the circumstances, the startling announcement by Tytler that overseas citizenship registration will begin this month has to be taken with a pinch of salt.

What is significance of this mysterious name change? It is yet unclear. What the law makes clear is that overseas citizens will not have political rights to vote or to run for public office or the right to public employment. The reasons for the name change are buried in the byzantine bureaucracy of the external, the home, and the law ministries, where the bill was slapped together.
And those real motivations may be sprung upon us only when the rules are finally promulgated. Ah, the rules…

You see, you were mistaken if you thought dual or overseas citizenship had come to pass when parliament approved the law. You underestimate the deviousness of the Indian bureaucracy. They now get to set the rules and so we are back in the mazes of the babus in the three ministries.

Under the circumstances, the startling announcement by Tytler that overseas citizenship registration will begin this month has to be taken with a pinch of salt. He is taking over a newly created ministry, presently operating out of a cubby hole of an office in the South Block, with a paltry budget of just $1.5 million, and is reportedly wrangling with the ministry of external affairs, which is leery of letting go of its NRI affairs division. Indeed there is considerable speculation that Tytler’s headline-grabbing announcement was a shot across the bow in his tussle with the MEA.

Citizenship matters ultimately fall under the jurisdiction of the home ministry and it has given no indication of being close to promulgating the rules. Tytler told one interviewer in mid-August, “It is almost done. Registration will start in less than a month. It is currently with the law ministry for technical reasons. Everything is clear.”

There was only one remaining hitch, Tytler dismissively told the reporter. “We just have to decide the registration fee that will be charged.”

Hmm…. Some roadblock, especially considering that the Pravasi Bharatiya Diwas website has been reporting for some time that the fee is “proposed to be fixed at $100.”

In any event, the rules can come into force only after they are tabled in parliament.

The Indian Embassy in Washington, D.C. reports cryptically, “The rules, regulations and requirements are still under process and our web site will be updated on this as and when instructions are received from Government of India.” Their phone hasn’t rung yet.

So don’t make a beeline to the Indian consulate anytime soon. We still don’t know if the striptease performance is finally over, or the latest curtain call is just an intermission before the next tantalizing act.  

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