In January, external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj announced the merger of the ministry of overseas Indian affairs (MOIA), of which she was the minister, with the ministry of external affairs (MEA). Swaraj, explaining the closing down of the ministry, set up in 2004, said that the merger had the blessings of PM Narendra Modi and, as minister for both external affairs and overseas Indian affairs, she felt that substantial work of MOIA was being done through MEA missions abroad.
The earlier BJP government under AB Vajpayee had first focused on Indian diaspora affairs, with a high-level committee being formed under the late LM Singhvi in 2000.
The final report of the committee recommended, among others, celebration of Pravasi Bharatiya Divas on January 9 as a day dedicated to the Indian diaspora and the institution of Pravasi Samman Awards. The MOIA was later created by the UPA government with Jagdish Tytler as its first minister.
Considering that outreach to the Indian diaspora was initiated by Vajpayee and the MOIA, over the years, had actively engaged with overseas Indians in terms of policy initiatives and in dealing with their problems, shutting the ministry down by the Modi government came as a bit of a surprise, with the Indians overseas hoping that their issues don't get swept under the carpet by the MEA. "Most NRIs do not notice the merger of ministries but are focused on services. There has been an improvement in services, as you see how the MEA responds on social media, but the change has to filter down to the staff at various consulates," says Sanjay Puri, chairman of US India Political Action Committee.
The MOIA under Vayalar Ravi was very active in the last few years of the UPA government in signing totalisation or social security agreements (SSAs) with various Western countries. These SSAs provide benefits for globally mobile employees, including avoidance of social security contributions in the host country and portability of social security benefits on relocation.
A Didar Singh, secretary general of industry lobby Ficci, who was earlier secretary, MOIA, says that with a separate overseas Indian affairs (OIA) division, there would be adequate focus on diaspora and migration-related issues within the MEA.
But Ashook Ramsaran, president, international operations, Global Organisation of People of Indian Origin, is surprised that while many countries have adopted the template of India's MOIA to enhance their outreach to their diaspora, India has reverted to the 2003 organisation structure."MOIA had a minister whose portfolio was the Indian diaspora and who regularly visited countries with significant and sometimes smaller populations of NRIs and PIOs. That high level of engagement would have to be surpassed in other ways as the economics of migration continue to be significant in policymaking decisions," he said.