In India, when the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi begins a sentence with ‘Friends…’ (mitron, in Hindi), the nation’s knees begin to wobble. This is the result of the night of 8 November, 2016, when the unprecedented, unheard and most unexpected move of demonetisation was announced. If my fellow Mauritians need reminding, this measure saw the removal of 500 and 1000 Indian rupee bank notes from the market, literally overnight, in an endeavour to counteract a number of plagues in the country, notably black money which is considered to be the backbone of a lot of the illegal activities, including terrorist ones, in the world’s largest democracy. So, in a truly ‘friendly’ move, Modi gave us a starring role in his Poli-wood blockbuster: “I am glad to announce that starting with Mauritius, we are working to put in place new procedures and documentation requirements so that the descendants of Girmitiyas from this country could become eligible for OCI Cards. We remain committed to addressing similar difficulties of PIOs in Fiji, Reunion Islands, Suriname, Guyana and other Caribbean States.”
Meanwhile in Mauritius, news outlets, had been all about ‘Brexit’, or the retirement of François Hollande, or the equally unexpected election of Donald Trump. This indeed dominated my Mauritian social media newsfeed, because we are, after all, quite geopolitically close to the United States (or so Mauritians imagine). It was a relief that my former media colleagues were very aptly on the ball on January 8, however, when their Google keyword alarm for ‘Mauritius’ probably exploded their inboxes and put their smartphone ringtones and buzzes in overdrive. Suddenly, Modi gave the Mauritian media a headline for the rather dull time of the year, which could now forsake the astrological forecasts and articles on school stationery to focus on something a little more ‘headlinish’.
Now to the factual part: the PIO or ‘Persons of Indian Origin’ scheme was introduced in 2002, in a bid to enable the diaspora to work, live, study, purchase some types of property and basically have pretty similar rights to Indian nationals, except for some political ones, including the right to vote. People who could prove up to 4th generation ancestry were eligible and granted the card for 15 years. The card turned to lifetime validity in 2014, and finally merged into the ‘Overseas Citizen of India’ scheme, which is a similar scheme set up in 2006. Therefore, all PIO holders were asked by the Government of India to convert their PIO to OCI cards. And whilst this transition was occurring, PIO applications were just no longer received or processed. Modi’s announcement, has in fact, set this ball rolling again, allowing those who were previously eligible under the PIO scheme to now apply for the OCI. And so Mauritius has the privilege to do the honours…
But I doubt Mauritians actually know what the honour really is about. To most of my fellow citizens, going to India is generally about a few things: going on the 15-day tour of Bombay, Delhi, Agra and so on; shopping in Santa Cruz or Chandni Chowk and getting a load of paani-puri or butter chicken, until the dysfunction of their bowel movements. So when I actually tell them that I live here as an OCI and by choice, not because I married an Indian citizen, or was offered a job here… but because this is the place which the west has longed ceased to be. So then, they choke on the paani-puri or spit out the butter chicken. How ludicrous! Migrate to the US, UK, France, Australia, Canada… maybe even South Africa if you have to, but India?! The minds boggle! And so does mine, as I look at my fellow Mauri-citizens, proud of their little PIO/OCI cards, chanting to their naanis and bhabis that they don’t need a visa now, and that’s the only perk that they think is worth having.
Truth is, the potential in India is enormous, but the possibilities are unexplored by Mauritians, who are much too ‘western’ to even consider their ancestral land for expatriation. Many ignore the incredibly modern life in the Indian metropolitan cities… the digital drive which means everything (from banking to beauty treatments) is done by tapping on a smartphone screen. This is the country where the median age is 26, meaning that its youth has to be catered for, which translates into many learning and job opportunities, not to mention the huge choice of leisure and entertainment. Health is top-notch, unemployment is as low as 5%, retail brands from all ‘top’ countries line up the malls of the big cities, while entrepreneurship is just a second nature. The country is energetic and alive, and has so much more to offer than a lifetime visa. It is self-sufficient in food, has a brimming industry whether in pharmaceuticals or car manufacturing, and a gamut of other fields. Although the opportunities pay in Indian rupees, there is very little shame in that, especially since with Modi’s demonetisation policy, earnings will probably be squeaky clean.
The sun rises in the east… and if you’ve ever seen the sun rise in India, you will know for certain that a PIO/OCI card isn’t just about a visa-free entry. If my fellow Mauritians were humble enough to remember their origins (the Indian ones, I mean), they will most certainly recognise that the future is east. India is definitely a land of opportunity, but one which PIOs and OCIs should have the brain to both recognise and seize!