Diaspora, Development, and Democracy: The Domestic Impact of International Migration from India

Author:   Devesh Kapur
Publisher:   Oxford University Press
Reviewer:   M. Mahalingam
Designation:   Research Fellow, Centre For Policy Analysis, New Delhi

Diaspora, Development, and Democracy: The Domestic Impact of International Migration from India by Devesh Kapur, Oxford University Press, 2010, ISBN-10:019-807021-7.

The book examines the impact of skilled migration on source economy by focusing on India. The author argues that there has been abundant scholarship about impact of cross border flow of capital and goods in the era of globalization. But, there has been a limited attention or literature to third leg of the globalization triad. i.e the flow of labour. To fill the void, the author has brought out this book focusing the impact of international migration of skilled labourers on India. The author claims that the cross border flow of labour has been very influential in the realm of economic and political landscape and has left a profound and transformative impact on both sending and receiving countries. The book has nine chapters that have a discussion about scope and objectives, research methodology of the study, economic and political effects and ends with conclusion. In the absence of constructive data on the theme, he has generated a quite substantive data on his own.

 In the first chapter, the author argues that the economic and political effects on the sending country depend on the criteria such as who leaves, how many leave, why they leave, the legal basis on which they leave, where they go, how they fare, and how long have they been gone. Having discussed that, he explains about the scope and objectives of the study very coherently.

In the second chapter, the author presents an analytical framework outlining four key channels through which international migration affects sending countries. The four channels are: 1) the prospect channel (“how forward expectations affect current behavior”), (2) the absence channel (“ what happens to those left behind when people who would otherwise be present are now absent”),(3) the Diaspora channel (“the effects of emigrants (and their descendents) living abroad on the country of origin”).(4)  the return channel  (that “ works when those who left come back home, often with augmented human capital (savings), foreign connections, ideas, and changed expectations”). The second part of the chapter describes the research design. The author has constructed five unique data sets for collecting data.  The author  conducted (1) the Survey of Emigration from India, covering 2,10,000 households in India conducted in 2003 ‘ to understand household migration preferences, migration characteristics, and links with the country of origin” (2) a comprehensive data base of the Asian Indians in the United States, covering 4,10,000 households or nearly three fourths of this group residing in that country; (3) a random sample telephone survey of 2,200 households drawn from the Asian Indian database ‘to understand migrant characteristics and the intensity of nature of links of the US based Diaspora with India”; (4)  a database on  various kinds of Indian elites compiled from who’s who in India and the 5,000 odd members of India’s elite civil service to understand the degree of foreign exposure of a country’s elites is determined by measuring their foreign education and work experience; a survey of Indian Diaspora nongovernment organizations (NGOs) in the United States “to understand the scale and scope of diasporic philanthropy and the nature of  transnational social capital”.  Through these channels, the author explains effects in the context of India.

In the third chapter, the author describes about selection and characteristics of   Indian emigration. The author shows the different characteristics of late 19th century emigrants and late 20th century emigrants. He argues the late post independence emigration of Indians were mainly drawn from higher castes and skilled professionals  to industrialized countries  unlike from late 19th century  unskilled emigrants from lower and middle castes  to various colonies of Imperial powers.  The skilled migration has high income  and enjoy good economic status. The unskilled and semi-skilled emigrants to Middle-East countries earn relatively less as compared to skilled emigrants of industrialized countries. So, the effects differ as per the economic status in the adopted countries. The author examines in this chapter the characteristics of contemporary international migrants from India including age, gender, education, occupation, religion, region, ethnicity, and destination country, reasons for leaving, political beliefs, and socioeconomic group.  By doing so, the author analyses the consequences and causal mechanisms linking these characteristics to economic and political effects on India in subsequent chapters.

 In the fourth chapter, the author dwells upon the main crux of the theme. He adopts three mechanisms namely financial flows, global networks and the Diaspora’s role as reputational intermediaries by which the author analyses the economic effects. Then, the author discusses how these mechanisms shaped the success and expansion of India’s information technology (IT) sector and the Indian diamond industry.  He provides a number of case studies about the growth of IT industry in India so as to substantiate his argument.  Through ethnographic study, the author demonstrates the role of Indian Diaspora in the development of Diamond industry. This chapter further explains the impact of remittance on Indian political economy. The author argues that remittance helped India to come of its financial mess in 1991. Simultaneously, he discusses about how the remittances have accelerated the income inequality among regions, social groups and households. He also briefs about micro level effects.  

In the fifth chapter, with the help of historical analysis, the author explains the impact of social remittance on India. The author argues that the contemporary elite characteristics of Indian migration enhanced the impact of social remittance because of Diaspora’s overseas success and their access to influential channels to transmit these ideas. The Sixth Chapter describes about the domestic political consequences and the systemic implications for Indian democracy due to increasing emigration of upper castes. He says that the political ascendency of   dominant lower castes could happen in the recent decades because of ‘exit options’- either shifted to private sector or emigrated outside the country- available to upper castes. Otherwise, it could have been much more contentious. He analyzes that the availability of political space for lower castes or ‘silent revolution’ of lower castes is due to ‘exit options’ of the upper castes. This has resulted in strengthening or endurance of Indian democracy.

In the seventh chapter, the author discusses about the external political consequences particularly in the field of foreign policy. For instance, ‘the changing nature and import of Indo-U.S. relations over the past several decades has affected the Indian American Diaspora’s ability to influence bilateral ties’. Further, ‘the Indian American community has also sought to strengthen Indo-U.S. relations by impeding the passage of policies that they believe would undermine relations between the United States and India’. The author  further demonstrates on the basis of his own survey that the preferences of foreign policy depends on the location of the children of Indian elites and less attention has been paid to other parts of the world.

In the eighth chapter, the author demonstrates the process of transnationalism of Indian diaspora. He discusses the intensity and forms of long distance nationalism and delineates the case of Hindu nationalism as well as among some sub-national group’s ethnic nationalism. However, Kapur finds the Indian Diaspora ‘to be relatively more prone to civic than ethnic nationalism’. He provides very surprising fact in contrast to popular beliefs that the principal cause of communal violence against Muslims in India was internal and ‘the role of the foreign hand’, whether a diasporic hand or any other, is marginal”.

The ninth chapter provides summary and findings. This is the one of the most comprehensive book discussing on the impact of International migration on India and it will be a good reference material for those who want to pursue further research in the same area. At the same time, the book does not talk in detail about unskilled and semi-skilled Indian labourer’s contribution from Gulf region though their remittances and their impact on Indian economy are higher.  Besides, the book gives thrust upon macro level impacts rather than micro level impacts. Further, the author perceives skilled migration as upper castes or elite migration to the United States after late independence. During the same time, one cannot over look the fact that many lower and middle castes from various parts of India had migrated in substantial numbers to the United States after having been educated by availing the reservation policy being implemented by the government of India. The author must have also included them in his data collection. The author has latched his study in the context of U.S.A. He could have included other industrialized countries in order to broaden his perspective. What interesting in this book is that the linking of upper castes’ emigration with the political ascendency of dominant lower castes is very striking. Overall, the book has a mind-boggling research material and a surfeit of information about India Diaspora engagement. It can be recommended for academic scholars, researchers and the lay man alike for widening his/her horizon of knowledge, perceptions and thinking on the theme of Diaspora and development.

M. Mahalingam,  Research Fellow, Centre for Policy Analysis, New Delhi, E-Mail: [email protected]

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