Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the U.S. at the end of this month will be one of the most important trips he takes during his time in office. Whether it marks a watershed moment in bilateral relations – as his recent Japan trip did – remains to be seen.
In addition to the summit meeting between Prime Minister Modi and President Obama, a great deal of attention will be given to Modi’s engagement with the large Indian diaspora in the U.S.— among whom he enjoys strong support. His address at Madison Square Garden on September 28 to thousands of Indian-Americans represents an attempt to connect directly with members of this community and apprise them of the important role they have to play in transforming India’s place in the world. He will also be featured at a community dinner in New York, and meet with a select handful of Indian-American business executives.
Modi has made engagement with Indian expats a focal point of his overseas visits. Tapping into their knowledge and expertise in order to strengthen “Brand India” was part of his party’s election platform. During Modi’s recent trip to Japan, he addressed the NRI community there and that gathering might provide hints about what he says in New York this weekend. In Japan, he noted that “Internationally, Indians are praised as law-abiding citizens and contribute towards the economy.” He also specifically called on Indians settled abroad to help advance his “Clean India” initiative, which aims to provide every Indian with access to hygienic sanitation facilities by 2019 including separate toilets for boys and girls in every school in the country.
Modi noted that “If you go anywhere in the world, two or three things are narrated by the [Indian] expatriates like there being clean toilets elsewhere…that is why, in this regard, the biggest mission undertaken by me is of ‘Clean India’.” He urged the Indian community in Japan to support this cleanliness drive by writing to their relatives and friends in India and “[telling them that such is the cleanliness in Japan and the same should be replicated there.” We can expect Modi to make similar overtures to the Indian community in the U.S.
But there are other positive announcements that Modi could make to show that his administration is serious about deepening ties with Indian expats. One is allowing dual citizenship for non-Indian passport holders. The other is implementing absentee voting for NRIs. These are two issues that U.S.-based Indian groups have lobbied the Indian government on over the years.
Under the current framework, registered NRI voters must be present in their constituency on election day in order to cast their vote meaning they must travel to India to be able to vote. The BJP has previously shown support for adopting a simpler voting mechanism for NRIs and met with the Election Commission back in January to discuss the issue.
Modi could also talk about offering more concessions to NRIs for bringing foreign capital into the country— this, in turn, could expedite national development and is another area where NRIs have been hoping to see some movement.
If Modi voices support for these ideas during his U.S. visit and shows he is committed to carrying them into fruition, it would significantly bolster his party’s support within India and abroad.