International migration is not a new phenomenon for the globetrotting Indians who today constitute more than twenty-five millions living either permanently or temporarily in different countries around the world. While several studies have been conducted concerning the consequences of Indian emigration on the culture and economy of the host society and the socioeconomic impacts on India, there is hardly any systematic study on how this international migration affects the political economy of India’s development. Devesh Kapur’s book Diaspora, Development, and Democracy fills this gap by presenting a nuanced understanding of the phenomenon of international migration and its impact on India. The international labour migration, ‘the third and missing leg of globalization triad’ (p. 2), has produced mixed consequences for the country of origin and the country of destination. This book shows in what ways these consequences can be studied from the perspective of the country of origin and how international migration has affected the political economy of India.
Kapur has tried to answer, with substantial empirical evidences and historical analysis, several key questions such as: ‘How do diasporas shape national identity? What are the effects of long-distance nationalism? Do diasporas amplify or attenuate cleavages in the country of origin? Do diasporic networks tend to support more hard-line political parties in the country of origin or do they instead create conditions that provide a countervailing force to nationalism?’ (p. 14).
After outlining the scope and objectives of the study and explaining the mechanisms through which international migration affects the country of origin, Kapur presents the analytical framework and research methodology. For him, there are four important channels by which migration affects the country of origin: ‘prospect, absence, diaspora, and return’ (p. 23). In order to analyse these mechanisms he has taken several variables to discuss the complex interaction among them. One of the important shortcomings of research on international migration (and more recently on transnationalism) is the lack of empirical data which poses a serious challenge to the researchers. However, Kapur shows us how one has to overcome these limitations. The strength of this book lies in its primary data generated through three large surveys (presented in the appendices) on international migration from India: a) Survey of Emigration from India (SEI), b) Survey of Asian Indians in the United States (SAIUS), and c) Survey of Indian Elites (SIE) (pp. 45-48). Although all these surveys are unique in their own ways, the SEI survey is the most significant one in the sense that it is the ‘first attempt to specifically understand the characteristics of broader international migration from India’ (p. 55).
According to Kapur, two large-scale international migration streams from India after the sixties have been observed: migration of Indians to the Middle East, and migration of Indians to the United States. This study focuses mainly on the United States. The survey results demonstrate many interesting facts about the ‘selection effects’ of international migration, especially migrants’ educational background, rural and urban origin combined with class and caste backgrounds, religious background, elite background, and how all these characteristics are linked to the nineteenth and twentieth century patterns of Indian emigration to different destination countries. Kapur argues that, ‘international migration from India is of recent vintage’ and hence ‘has stronger links with the country of origin, and in turn, more significant effects’ (p. 60).
The chapter on the economic effects of international migration on India examines different mechanisms through which these effects are amplified. Most of the earlier studies on international migration, especially those focussing on the economic effects, either largely emphasizes on the diasporic remittances or the effects of brain drain. However, this study takes on in a new direction by studying the vast ‘Indian diasporic networks’ and their role in facilitating the global trade. The analysis here mainly focuses on two important sectors of the economy: the information and technology (IT) sector and the diamond-cutting and polishing industry. The study revealed that the success of Indian IT professionals in the Silicon Valley has impacted positively for the growth of the domestic Indian IT sector. While dealing with the growth of India’s diamond-cutting industry, Kapur traces the ‘historical trajectory of Indian emigres and India’s involvement in the global diamond trade since the early 1960s’ (p. 100) by providing two important case studies (the largest Jain-owned diamond companies in Antwerp—Eurostar and Rosy Blue) and illustrate ‘the linkages between the success of the Indian diaspora and India’s place in the global diamond trade’ (p. 101). There are several other areas that Kapur touches upon: how the success of the Indian American community has shaped the regulatory structure of India’s private equity and venture capital sector (p. 95), and the different financial flows from the Indian diaspora and its economic impact from a regional perspective (pp. 104-18). Although there have been several positive effects of the diaspora’s role in the domestic Indian economy, there are many other sectors of the economy where India has not successfully utilized the expertise of her diaspora, mainly the ethnic food industry and the health sector, as Kapur rightly points out.
In discussing the international migration of Indian professionals and its positive impact on India and the ‘flow of ideas both from the diaspora as well as from the return migrants’. Kapur argues that beyond simple remittances the ideas, expertise and the foreign experiences (which are called ‘social remittances’, a term he borrows from Peggy Levitt) of diasporas play a crucial role for the country of origin. The study explicates how the exposure of overseas education of key Indian decision-making elites—political, business, bureaucratic, and scientific elites—has played a critical role in ‘influencing and shaping the country’s future trajectories’ (p. 128) by analysing the two crucial periods of modern Indian history —first, when India became independent and second, during the launch of economic liberalization in 1991.
The main argument is that there exist high disparities in the recent international migration from India: ‘Indian elites have extremely high migration rates than the general population’ (p. 177), and this ‘elite exit’, as Kapur argues, has had a significant impact in sustaining India’s democratic tradition without having much intra-elite conflict. For instance, ‘Indian elite migration created space for the vertical mobility of new elites drawn from India’s historically marginalized communities’ (p. 183) and as a result it ensured India’s democratic stability.
Kapur examines two important roles the diaspora plays in relation to India’s foreign policy, highlighting the strategic asset of the Indian diaspora in encouraging and streng-thening the foreign policy between the United States and India as well as both the positive and negative side of India’s ‘long-distance nationalism’. For a long time, India had neglected the strategic asset of its diaspora ‘partly because of its regional preoccupations on the one hand and its fixation with Great Powers on the other’ (p. 188); however, this has changed since the late 1980s, especially after liberalization—a period when India gained in economic confidence and at the same time the Indian diaspora became successful in the United States (p. 190). The other side of the diaspora’s involvement that creates serious challenges for India’s foreign policy is the ‘support from members of the diaspora for India’s separatist movements and insurgencies’ (p. 209). However, Kapur rightly points out, this ‘appears to be somewhat exaggerated’ (p. 249) and hence needs ‘stronger empirical foundations’ without which ‘they will remain just that’ (p. 221).
Devesh Kapur’s book deals with one of the neglected and relatively unexplored areas of research on India’s international migration and hence will be an invaluable resource for students and scholars working in the field of international migration, diaspora and transnationalism.