Cash cow = a fully paid investment which keeps producing a steady cash flow without any further outgo of money.
Invisible = remittances from abroad, i.e. payments with no goods or services involved.
Let me explain.
An average middle-class family in India spends, or let’s call it ‘invests’, about Rs1.5 crore to bring up and educate a child, from birth through school and college.
Say, the child, now an educated adult, goes abroad to take up a job and becomes a non-resident Indian (NRI).
Does the country lose the investment made in the child’s upbringing and education – the famous ‘brain drain’?
- India has plenty of such people. Losing some of them is not a problem. In any case, we keep hearing complaints about rising unemployment, which implies that there aren’t enough jobs for all such youngsters. We can’t moan about ‘brain drain’ and ‘unemployment’ in the same breath!
- NRIs are not ‘lost’ forever. They earn money and send it back to India and, eventually, most of them come back.
Thus, the investment made in nurturing future NRIs is not lost. Instead, it gives great returns.
This year, remittances from abroad will touch US$112bn (billion) - about Rs9.25 lakh crore, comparable to:
- This year’s budgets for defence + railway + health.
- Annual GDP of Odisha state.
- Total cost of the Bharatmala project (national highway network).
It is like having an entire new state that demands nothing, gives no trouble, needs no attention – just adds to the economy, in total silence.
Not bad, eh?
This year is no ‘flash in the pan’ either. Remittances have been growing steadily year on year.
I hasten to add – the government didn’t do the investing, and therefore it doesn’t get the return. The families paid for the investment, and naturally, the returns go to the individual NRI and his family.
The point is – the money comes into India. It adds 3% to the country’s GDP, helps to keep the current account deficit in check, and bolsters the forex reserves.
Even though the ownership of the remittance money remains with individuals, the money flows into the economy as expenditure, savings in bank deposits, investments in shares or property, etc.
India has to do nothing to keep it coming.
Well, nothing tangible.
We do owe our NRIs some respect and recognition. We must remember that NRIs have worldwide options for their investments, not just India.
Petty officials at airports used to behave shamefully towards the workers returning from the Gulf after two years of ‘hard labour’. These workers had cost the country little, and had sent back their hard-earned money. In return, they were treated like thieves, and squeezed to extract duties or bribes. Hopefully, things have improved in the last ten years, but if not, this burning shame still remains on our country.
There is another group we need to consider - the diaspora. It means people, who themselves, or whose (grand)parents, were originally Indians but have settled in other countries – NRIs turned foreigners.
Many of our diaspora are second- or even third-generation citizens of their countries. These people are not Indians anymore. They are, at most, PIOs (people of Indian origin).
For example, presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy was born in the USA, and Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Singapore’s president-elect, was born in Singapore. India had spent nothing on their upbringing. Yet, we proudly include them amongst the Indian diaspora.
Do such ‘zero-cost’ people send remittances to India? Maybe some do, but that is not where their value lies, from India’s viewpoint.
Like NRIs, our diaspora needs respect and recognition, too.
We need to understand that life is not a bed of roses for our NRIs and our diaspora. Life is tough everywhere, not just for the labourers in the Gulf, but even for the better-off folks in the Western countries.
The ‘white collar’ diaspora has to work harder than most of us do, because (s)he works at a job and at home. After work, (s)he can’t afford to lounge on a sofa at home and shout, “Ramu, khana lao”.
How do our persons of Indian origin (PIOs) look at India?
They ‘feel good’ about India, increasingly so in recent years as India climbs towards prosperity.
Our PIOs like to see India progress. They admire Rishi Sunak, Satya Nadella, and Ajay Banga. They support India at cricket. When our prime minister (PM) salutes them in public, they respond with loud cheers, not just for him, but for the country he represents.
This ‘feel good’ factor benefits India in many ways, which cannot be quantified, such as:
- When PIOs travel to India and see the developments, they can visualise how the slums of today can turn into something good tomorrow. They see India as an investment destination in ways which other investors cannot.
- They provide a bridge between Indian needs and Western technologies, and help in the crucial task of selecting the right technology which best suits India.
For our own selfish reasons, we need to keep the ‘feel good’ factor strong, so that these benefits keep coming at no cost and with no prior investment, a virtual ‘cash cow’. Besides, a virtuous cycle can develop – ‘feel good’ can prompt action which produces visible results, leading to more ‘feel good’.
Inevitably, as more of our diaspora become second- and third-generation foreigners, their legacy bonds with India will become increasingly weaker. This has already happened elsewhere in the world. The US was populated by European diaspora – immigrants from the UK, Ireland, Germany, Italy and so on. Their descendants do not consider themselves even 1% ‘European’.
We should not let this happen. We must keep the ‘feel good’ factor alive, and the bonds strong. Otherwise, we will lose our diaspora, forever.
Negative actions from India, such as decrying our country before foreign audiences, benefit nobody, but only damage the ‘feel good’.
Our NRIs and PIOs do vote on India, not with a finger on an EVM, but a finger on a phone – which chooses who will be called or where investments will go.
Our benefits lie in helping India become the preferred choice.
(Deserting engineering after a year in a factory, Amitabha Banerjee did an MBA in the US and returned to India. Choosing work-to-live over live-to-work, he joined banking and worked for various banks in India and the Middle East. Post-retirement, he returned to his hometown Kolkata and is now spending his golden years travelling the world, playing bridge, befriending Netflix & Prime Video and writing in his wife’s travel blog.)