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The debate around India’s dual citizenship

The genesis of the dual citizenship debate in India can be traced back to the late 1990s when the BJP-led government introduced the Person of Indian Origin Card (PIO Card) to address the demands of the diaspora. 

Indian OCI card / http://Ociservices.gov.in

India's journey towards recognizing dual citizenship has been marked by a complex interplay of historical, political, and security considerations. Since the late 20th century, the Indian government has grappled with the demands of its diaspora communities while navigating the challenges posed by security threats, both domestic and international. 

Dual citizenship, also known as dual nationality, refers to the status of an individual who is concurrently recognized as a citizen of two countries. This legal concept enables individuals to enjoy the rights and privileges of citizenship in both their country of origin and their adopted homeland, affording them greater flexibility in matters of residency, employment, and travel.

Across the globe, a growing number of countries have embraced dual citizenship, recognizing the increasingly transnational nature of migration and the complexities of modern identity. Examples include the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, and numerous European nations, where dual citizenship is legally permitted and widely practised.

India's stance on dual citizenship

The Constitution of India, specifically the Citizenship Act of 1955 governs matters pertaining to citizenship. It outlines provisions for single citizenship and does not recognize dual citizenship.

Origins of the debate:

India's history plays a big role in its citizenship policies. Back during the fight for independence, leaders like Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru pushed for unity among all Indians. 

They wanted everyone to see themselves as part of one nation, regardless of religion, language, or region. Dual citizenship, where people could be loyal to more than one country, didn't fit this vision. So, India decided to keep it simple with just one citizenship per person.

The genesis of the dual citizenship debate in India can be traced back to the late 1990s when the BJP-led government introduced the Person of Indian Origin Card (PIO Card) to address the demands of the diaspora. 

This move was followed by a comprehensive review by the High-level Committee on the Indian Diaspora, which culminated in the adoption of the Citizenship Amendment Act in 2003. This legislative endeavor aimed to grant dual citizenship rights to overseas Indians, acknowledging their significant contributions to India's socio-economic fabric.

In the wake of burgeoning diasporic engagements and mounting calls for greater recognition of overseas Indians, then-Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee convened the High-Level Committee on the Indian Diaspora in 2000. Chaired by esteemed constitutional lawyer L.M. Singvi, the committee was tasked with reviewing the status of overseas Indians and formulating policies to address their needs and demands.

Interviews with committee members revealed a delicate balancing act, with security concerns looming large in deliberations. The specter of "dual loyalty" and the potential for mass expulsion in the event of hostilities underscored the gravity of policy decisions.

The first Pravasi Bharatiya Diwas in January 2003 marked a pivotal moment, as Prime Minister Vajpayee announced the government's intention to grant dual citizenship to overseas Indians. 

Security concerns and policy shifts:

However, amidst these efforts, India was grappling with pressing security challenges, particularly in the aftermath of the global surge in terrorism. The early 2000s witnessed India being significantly impacted by terror acts, prompting heightened vigilance and security measures. 

The fear of separatist movements and the specter of terrorist organizations exploiting diaspora networks for their nefarious agendas loomed large.

Historical precedents, such as the support garnered by militant Sikh groups from the Sikh diaspora in the 1980s, underscored the complexities of diaspora engagement. Additionally, the vulnerability of ethnic Indian communities in host countries, as evidenced by incidents in Uganda and Fiji, added another layer of concern.

Not dual but “Overseas Citizenship”

In light of these events the inputs of the High-Level Committee on the Indian Diaspora, led by constitutional expert L.M. Singvi, played a pivotal role in shaping India's diaspora policies. 

The committee's cautious approach, balancing diaspora aspirations with national security imperatives, laid the groundwork for the Overseas Citizenship scheme, which stopped short of granting full dual citizenship.

The role of Overseas Citizenship of India (OCI):

The Overseas Citizenship of India (OCI) scheme, introduced as an alternative to full dual citizenship, represents a compromise aimed at addressing the demands of the diaspora while assuaging security concerns.

It offered a pathway for diaspora engagement without bestowing full-fledged citizenship rights.

Who is an Overseas Citizen of India?

The Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) status was introduced by the Indian government in 2005 to accommodate persons of Indian origin (PIOs) who migrated and acquired citizenship in foreign countries other than Pakistan and Bangladesh. 

OCI status allows individuals certain privileges such as a lifelong multiple entry visa to India, exemption from reporting to authorities during stays in India, and parity with Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) in various fields except for the acquisition of agricultural or plantation properties. However, OCI holders do not possess the right to vote or hold certain high-level governmental positions.

To be eligible for Indian citizenship under OCI status, an individual must have been registered as an OCI for at least five years and have resided in India for at least one year out of those five years before applying.

In recent years, the trend towards dual citizenship has gained momentum, fueled by globalization, advancements in travel and communication technologies, and evolving notions of citizenship and belonging. 

In 2023, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar acknowledged the economic and security challenges posed by providing dual citizenship to Indians residing abroad, stating that the debate on the matter is ongoing. 

He highlighted the Overseas Citizenship of India (OCI) as an alternative step towards fulfilling the demand for dual citizenship, emphasizing its role in balancing diasporic aspirations with national imperatives.
 

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