Wednesday, 30 September 2009

"It is our bad luck to have Pakistan as a neighbour"

That is what was written recently in one of our national newspapers by a commentator, and it is a sign of the degree to which we we have historically been psychologically preoccupied with Pakistan, and continue to be preoccupied with Pakistan.

But Pakistan is merely a thorn in our side and, it seems to me, will
continue to be merely a thorn in our side - no matter how adroitly or
maladroitly we manage it - barring a miracle of some sort, of course, which is always possible - but one does not count on miracles as an orientation for foreign policy.

On the other hand, our real bad luck at present is to have China as our neighbour.

The issue is not what we do about Pakistan, but what we do about China -
and our nation does not seem to want to face that question.

It is not Pakistan that is capable of taking over Kashmir but it is
China that is capable of taking over Arunachal Pradesh (and, actually,
Nagaland and indeed Mizoram). It is not Pakistan that has us surrounded. And it is not Pakistan that has the capability to deny us access to sea
lanes...and it is China that is opposing us in all international fora where we are seeking to have our rightful place.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Mistreatment of OCIs by Indian Officials

The PIO (Person of Indian Origin) scheme by the Government of India was greeted by a wave of disinterest as it was far too expensive and complicated, and did not offer enough to Indians abroad.

That is why the PIO scheme was supplemented with the OCI scheme (Overseaas Citizen of India).

This is less expensive (but as pointed out below, more expensive than a 10-year visa) but the OCI scheme actually creates unexpected and unnecessary hassles

In reading the rest of the material below, please be aware that everyone who successfully gets OCI status receives two things:
- a document which looks like a passport but is really only a sort of OCI "card", and
- a visa-like stamp in her/ his passport.

So here are two interesting stories:

1. A family friend of ours (a Canadian citizen) was recently denied boarding by airline authorities in Canada, even though she had both her passport and her OCI card with her, because the passport she had with her was a new one and she had not organised herself in the middle of her busy life to get the OCI "visa" stamped in her new passport. In fact, she might have been under the impression (as I was till then) that the OCI Card has a certain validity of its own. But apparently, an OCI has to have BOTH the stamp on the passport and the OCI Card - in which case it is difficult to see why the OCI card exists. It is worse than useless because it costs the Government of India money to produce, which could be put to better use by the Government if the document was not produced, and the system creates hassles for OCIs because they have to remember to carry an unnecessary document.

REAL dual-citizenship is accepted by much less developed countries such as Pakistan, as well as by much more developed countries such as the UK and Switzerland. The Government of India's refusal to provide REAL dual-citizenship seems to be part of a casteist/ feudal heritage of control of the people by an elite which does not want Indians to cross the Kala Pani (traditionally, Indians became untouchable if they left the shores of India by crossing the "black waters" of the oceans). For some curious reason which I have not been able to fathom or get any explanation for, our rivers are holy but our oceans and seas are unholy.

Anyway, here is the second story:

2. Dr Sujit K. Pandit M.D., Professor Emeritus of the Department of Anesthesiology at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor had an experience even worse than that of our family friend mentioned above. Here is the story in his own words, which he has given me permission to provide in this Blog:


My advice to all my friends who hold an OCI (Overseas Citizen of India) Card and those who aspire to get one.

I am an American citizen. I also carry an OCI card (Overseas Citizen of India) since 2007.

On Saturday, June 20, 2009 , I arrived at the Kolkata Netaji Subhas Airport from Detroit via Singapore, by Singapore Airlines (SQ 516) at 10:30 P.M.

I presented myself to an Immigration Officer (Mr. Biswas) for immigration clearance. I gave him my American passport and my OCI card. He demanded to see my visa from the Indian consular office. Unfortunately, that visa was attached to my old passport and I did not bring it with me.

I explained to him that I am sorry I forgot to bring my old passport but since I do possess a valid OCI Card that would automatically mean that I do also possess a permanent (life long) visa for India and there are proofs that I have traveled multiple times to India after I had received my OCI card.

Mr. Biswas detained me for two hours inside the airport and then he told me that he is going to allow me to stay in India for 72 hours and asked me to report to the Foreign Relations Regional Officer (FRRO) in the city within 72 hours. He kept my passport. During all that time I had no opportunity either to approach his OC (Officer in Charge) although I asked for it, or to contact my relatives who came to the airport to receive me and were waiting outside and had no idea why I was being held back or if I have even arrived.

Forgetting to bring my old passport was my own fault but I 'forgot' to bring it partly because I knew I have my OCI Card with me and I thought, that means something, I really believed that I am a citizen of India too. Why would a citizen also need a visa to enter his own country? I thought I have a dual citizenship for both the USA and India . Other wise, what is the difference between an ordinary foreigner and the OCI Card holder?

Next day was a Sunday, I called a friend in Ann Arbor who went into my house, got my old passport and sent me the scanned copy of my old passport and a copy of my permanent visa by e-mail.

So, on Monday I went to see Mr. Bibhas Talukdar, the FRRO. He hardly looked at the documents (the scanned visa) that I had with me he simply asked me to get my old passport by courier mail within another seven days. He appeared gleeful telling me that it is only out of "pity" that he is allowing me to stay in India for seven more days. He was totally unimpressed by either my status as a Professor Emeritus of the University of Michigan or my age (70+).

I called my friend in Ann Arbor again who then sent my old passport by FedEx. Three days later the passport arrived. Since I had to leave Kolkata for prescheduled visit to Bangalore, my niece took it to Mr. Talukdar. But due to lack of communication between the FRRO office and the airport immigration department my passport had not arrived at the city office even after 9 days. My niece had to go to the FRRO's office three times once waiting until 6 P.M. still they did not have my passport. They only promised: "it will come soon". At last, 12 days after my arrival, my niece got my passport.

From this painful and anxiety provoking experience I have learned a few valuable lessons:
1. The loud talk about "Dual Citizenship" for Indian Americans is just a political hoax.
2. The OCI card just does not have any value. It is just a piece of expensive junk. You still need a visa every time you travel to India whether or not you possess an OCI card. Only difference is that for the high price of getting an OCI card you will get a "life long " visa. A 10-year visa is much cheaper.
3. When coming to India always consider yourself a foreigner and bring your visa with you, there will be no exceptions. Your OCI card is not a visa substitute.
4. In fact, you will probably be treated worse than an ordinary foreigner arriving without a valid visa. Because a foreigner especially a white Caucasian will at least be treated with courtesy and probably offered a temporary visa if there is no reason to deny it, but not you.

Please feel free to forward this mail to any of your friends who may benefit from my experience. Especially feel free to forward this to any influential politician or civil servant in India that you may know.

Sujit K. Pandit M.D.
Professor Emeritus
Department of Anesthesiology
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor , MI
48109, USA

Saturday, 5 September 2009

Abolish the Registrar of Newspapers

Some colleagues are launching a fresh publication. One of the colleagues happens to be an OCI.

After jumping through several hoops whose existence defies justification, and after coming to hope that all the formalities had finally been completed, my OCI friend received a letter from the RNI (Registrar of Newspapers, India), apparently prepared on a certain date, and posted a full week later but in such a way or at such a location as to take two and a half weeks to arrive. This letter basically simply questions whether my friend is in fact an OCI.

This is an interesting and curious question, considering that the papers submitted include (as required) a licence by the seniormost possible member of the police force, who had (of coure) to check with the Home Ministry about the status of the OCI before the licence could be issued by the police officer.

Interesting question: does the RNI have the authority to question anyone's OCI or citizenship status?

If they do have such authority, is that not a criminal offence and should RNI not take it up with the policy authority that issued the licence - or indeed with the Home Ministry itself?

Or is this not simply an effort to delay registration totally unnecessarily - or perhaps another attempt to get some payment "under the table"? (My friends have resolutely refused to pay any bribes).

Under India's Right to Freedom Act, some activist in India needs to take up the question of how many such letters have been issued by RNI over let us say the last 5 years, as a proportion of the total number of publication licences granted.

How many months or years DOES it take from the initial application for registration to the granting of registration.

Indeed, under RTI someone needs to raise the question of whether it is necessary for the RNI to exist.

Abolish the RNI, say I, along with a multitude of other such useless offices, which simply waste government money (that is, the money earned and handed over to government by taxpayers)

I will offer to create a list of other such offices or functions that should be eliminated in order to reduce public expenditure.

Friday, 4 September 2009

How can our corrupt judicial system be cleaned up?

Supreme Court lawyer Prashant Bhushan deserves a Padma Vibhushana award for his heroic attempts to clean up our judiciry, specifically in terms of his role in the battle to have the assets and earnings of our judges declared on the public record.

Bhushan's calls for a National Judicial Complaints Commission and an independent Judicial Appointments Commission will not be the whole answer to cleaning up corruption in our judiciary, but they are certainly steps in the right direction.

See the interview with him in Tehelka Magazine, Vol 6, Issue 35, September 05, 2009, titled: "Half Of The Last 16 Chief Justices Were Corrupt"