State and People: A Country and Its Diasporas

Published in: |

Healthy discontent is the prelude to progress. M.K. Gandhi

I: Who are NRN?

“Who are Non-resident Nepalese (NRN)?” I thought that the answer to this seemingly innocent question was obvious. But after spending a month in Nepal traveling as well as attending a weeklong conference of the Non-Resident Nepali Association (NRNA), I was compelled to think otherwise. Being among the thousand delegates and observers in the largest of conference in NRNA history, listening to the President and Prime Minister of Nepal to “who is who” of Nepalese politics, businesses and diasporas from over 50 countries, and interacting with common people in the cities, towns and villages, made me realize that NRN is a well heard but poorly understood term. Consequently, instead of writing a report on the conference, I am pondering on above question with the context that made me rethink. This article is written with a hope to divert some of the intellectual energy currently expended in anchoring divisive thoughts onto healthy debate on NRN identity.

The history of migration of Nepalese in South Asia would be older than Nepal itself. However, we are concerned here with what is known in the world as Nepal, and Nepali, on the present context. Taking their distinct languages and cultures with them, Nepalese people migrated along the Himalayas and the environs, including Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Sikkim, Bhutan, Burma, Bangladesh and Tibet, for long. The rate of international migration increased in the last few decades and started to span into countries of all continents. According to the United Nations, 3.2% of Nepal’s population has become international migrant in recent times [1]. Although cause of migrations of all times is mainly the interests of individuals, migrations of earlier times had not caught much attention of the Nepalese state, which saw no opportunity for stimulating knowledge, innovation, trade, and investment on the foundation of those migrations. The migration of the last few decades has, however, caught the attention of the state as well as the general populace. This may be because of the outflow of people and inflow of remittance ($3.1 billion in the last year [2]) at an unprecedented rate and also due to efforts of the NRNA.

People are emigrating in different ways, including as temporary workers, students, refugees, skilled emigrants, business-entrepreneurs, employees of international organizations, or even illegal migrants, and working in wide range of areas including as laborers, domestic workers, scientists, technocrats, bureaucrats, entrepreneurs and industrialists. However, in every part of Nepal, I was asked with two questions the most frequently that related to NRNs. “How much investment have been brought?” and “What development work has been done?” It meant that the nature of NRNs is differently understood, less diversely than it actually is. Appreciably, the NRNA was built and popularized as a credible organization by friends of certain credentials. Yet NRNs are of too many kinds and only a small percentage of them qualify as wealthy businessmen, investors, INGO-friends, and philanthropists as sought by the questioners.

Today, as the need of the individuals and the state are somehow affected by emigration, varying perspectives are emerging on the subject. The debates on the rights and responsibilities of migrating people have become the cause of acrimony and passionate debate among people in-and-outside of the country. Views on emigration range from selfishly inflicted brain-drain, intellectual servility, exodus of disloyal citizens – the “non-reliable Nepalese”, a compulsion of a citizen with no near-term prospect, an assurance for future for children, quiet response of the capable to political corruption and instability, reflection of human tendency of seeking a greener pastures, to an opportunity for bringing knowledge and investment capital. And from the viewpoint of each individual, their views are respectively right. However, problems arise when a person taking one perspective loves to marginalize other views. Entrapped between the prevailing views of alarms and opportunities, the political decision makers of successive governments have refrained from making concrete decisions on NRN policy for a fear of being devoured in the next election.

Such indecisions, or discrepancy between the talks and the deeds, could be explained by the range of views prevalent in the popular mindset. Some see alarm, a threat of population pressure, disloyalty, Sikkimization, deserters getting rights in multiple places, inflation of real estate price, and economic burden on Nepal if those who left returned back. Some see NRNs as takers and say that the NRNs should prove them useful to Nepal and take responsibilities before seeking rights. Some are optimistic and think emigrants could reduce population pressure, help pay national debt, bring development, be catalyst for progress, and be a bigger GDP than of Nepal to tap onto. Some are political people who seek political support for or against specific parties or ideals in Nepal. Some are sentimental with love of mother and motherland, want that Nepal utilize their children than them being tourists in Mexico, and fear the loss of identity and heritage. Some are of giving nature and question on the appropriateness of special identity versus dual citizenship with limited rights.

The most damaging are the one with inflammatory – the “No, no, no!” and “you must” type – views, who use languages like “traitors”, “deserters”, “opportunists”, “stupid”, “know the facts”, “jealous”, “you don’t know”, “corrupt” and “will see”. And also innocently damaging are pessimist views like “Talent has left, incapable remain!”, “we have no future here”, “don’t go”, and “don’t come back”. The words of politicians and bureaucrats like “come home”, and “we will create the environment” also do not pacify the anxiety. The list goes on. However, the debates turn problematic when we have confusion on who these people are and towards what aim we want to engage them.

Then, who are NRNs? I would think that NRNs are the same poor and the rich, uneducated and the literati, immoral and the moral, clumsy and the smart, gossiper and the prudent, jealous and the contented, greedy and the generous Nepalese, like the ones who live in Nepal. They love and hate Nepal as those living in Nepal do, while building wide varieties of skills, knowledge and potentials. The key difference is that their emigration and foreign employments have been the major causes of departure of talent, youth, and unskilled and skilled human resources from Nepal and essentially helps build their adopted country. Their work and their chances of returning from their comfort are slim except from select host countries that do not permit permanent settlement. Those who return are either daring entrepreneurs who think that they will do something better in Nepal, those who get selectively invited for their specific talents, and occasionally those with family obligations, who could not “take it” or faced some difficulties abroad. Nevertheless, if the recent history of China, India, Taiwan and Ireland are any indicators, their utility to Nepal could be undeniably positive in the presence of appropriate avenues, even when the majority remain where they are and a select few come back.

II. The Utility of Diasporas

The utility of diasporas would be directly determined by the purpose the country wants to fulfill from them. The purpose is determined by the vision for the future developed by those who lead the country. What are the resources and natural advantages? What are the aims? Trade and industry, science and technology, humanity and philosophy, self-reliance and independence, global partnership, or what! A land of pure Nepali pride or a land of world encompassing thoughts! Defended by large militarily or by an intellectually and defensively capable citizenry! Once the strength to be built is known, then only the kind of people needed to build such a country could be determined. Then comes the prime time for acquiring talents and the use of diasporas knowledge, skills, and entrepreneurial zeal.

In fact, a country would have to reach beyond its diasporas and to the broader frontier of the world to develop its capabilities. That is the route successful empires of centuries ago and those of today take to prosper. In the 1200s, Khubilai Khan – a Mongol Emperor of China, had employed a Tibetan Buddhist as his Chief Advisor, Confucian scholars as administrators, and Muslims from Central Asia to look after trade, architecture and finance. He brought in and employed many foreign scholars as top-officials [3]. USA gained upper hand over Europe in the field of science and technology by actively recruiting European scientists of all nationalities, most feverously during 1930s and 1940s [4].

Sentimental nationalism and hard work of patriots are insufficient for a nation to be technologically, economically and morally superior. A country has to employ many devices, including exchange of knowledge, information, goods and services with the world, to reach that stature. Secretive nationalisms can fall prey to disturbances. The gravity, once discovered by the Greeks, never got rediscovered until the time of Newton. Early mathematical breakthroughs died for a thousand year, again to be picked up in the 17th century from where it was left [5]. Once mighty, Roman Empire died and never came back to its existence. Therefore, an aspiring nation has to use right strategies to accelerate its progress, and today’s globalized citizenry and economy offer unique opportunities to that end. A country destined for enduring success opens itself up for exchange of knowledge with others and offers special incentives including favorable internal policies, immigration and citizenship to build the needed intellectual capacity, knowhow of things, resources, and collaborative opportunities. This holds true not only for small countries but also for the large ones like China, India, USA, and Brazil.

That the opportunities of the industrialized and industrializing nations have absorbed the citizen of less developed countries like Nepal, the best people the latter can solicit for collaboration or help would be their own diasporas. Countries can look forward to their diasporas to be conduit to bring collaborations in all frontiers of knowledge and innovation, business and entrepreneurship, ethics and stability, and systems and the rule of law. They may need right people not just from among diasporas but also of any nationality in the world if that person can help strengthen the capacity of the nation. And, considering how the issues of nationalities get debated in Nepal, this issue needs a special mention.

Chanakya left his kingdom to do higher studies in Takshashila and spent his adulthood there only to return to Patna after Greek invasion of Takshashila. He is said to be the best contributors to Takshashila and then also to Maurya empire. Confucius is said to have left his country and lived in half a dozen kingdoms before returning home at the age of 68. Einstein, a German citizen, was brought to USA and died as US citizen but he is considered one of the greatest scientists of the 20th century. Fermi an Italian citizen and Bell a Scotish then Canadian citizen, were regarded as great American scientists and inventors. And core strength of technological and inventive prowess of USA was built by active recruitment of intellectual citizens of other countries. European history is full of such movements of thinkers and businessmen alike. All in all, people who venture around the world bring new thoughts, inventions, science, technology, business, and values from other countries and societies that could be used for the betterment of their adopting country. Diaspora Nepali people would also do the same. I wish, after sending hundreds away if a country could bring home one Chanakya, one Confucius, one Einstein, or one Bell! However, with desire for consolidating the national strength and a right philosophy to define nationalism, it is possible to attract skills and talents from the world.

III. Why don’t they return?

Since some adventurous Nepalese have returned and made some remarkable contributions to Nepal, many others are asked “why don’t you return?” A retrospection of my own journey leads me to believe that it is a natural tendency for a person to stay put unless something very positive or very negative situation unfolds. A person in any situation leaves the existing base only with a better opportunity in hand or by a necessity like a marriage. A person in negative situation leaves in a “hope” of better fortunes or having no options available to stay. Once left, return requires compelling reason such as family obligations, easier or better options at home, or a dislike of the new environment, and better or equivalent stability at homeland. A person settled somewhere unknowingly asks himself, “Why should I return?” and returns only if rational reason is found; unfortunately, love is not enough. Therefore, there is a burden of duty on both the diasporas and the government of the country to create an environment of return if so is genuinely sought.

When we look at the notable Nepalese I know who returned to Nepal, most had one of three reasons: entrepreneurial ambition of their own, comfortable home base, or institutional invitations to play an honorable role. Except the occasional returnees due to family obligations and other problems! The returnees sometimes, however, overlook their history and inappropriately use “intellectual servility” (Bauddhik Lahure) term to refer other non-returnees. Let’s not forget, all Indians celebrated with pride when Indian born Dr. Kalpana Chawla became an US astronaut. She inspired Indians without returning home. But measurable numbers of talents would return if invited for their specific talents with space to contribute onto. Many Chinese, Indian, Irish or other diasporas gave up their comforts with a sense of duty due to such efforts by their countries. When India established Indian Institute of Technology, it had also established schools for the children so that returnee scholars did not have to worry about the education of their children. Today in Nepal, most salaried professionals of academia and bureaucracy latch onto other avenues to buy quality education for their children. Therefore, the presence of social security in industrialized nations is one big factor in dampening the rate of return.

Therefore, it could be argued that more Nepalese professionals would return to Nepal provided that there is an avenue of safe landing. An emigrant heads out either with a admission in university and a scholarship in hand, a guaranteed job, or paper of permanent residence and already established guarantee of social security and free education. The person hesitates to return due to not having similar safeties and securities in hand. A successful person hardly ever leaves everything and just lands on the place of uncertain future. Even European scientists did not return home when World War II was over unless invited for specific positions. People leave their comfortable position only if there is a guarantee of something worthy for them to pursue. Nepal has even greater uncertainties then post war Europe.

Although the monarchy, the old bastion of autocracy, was boldly overthrown, there is a great deal of uncertainty in Nepal on whether the autocratic thinking has been defeated. India, Burma, and Pakistan became democracies and China and North-Korea became socialist states shortly after WWII. However, Burma, Pakistan and North-Korea could not free the government away from the clutches of the military. Consequently, all three entered into a poor state of social and economic development. China and India were able to cleanly separate the civilian and military machineries and then bring the military under the command of the civilian – be that a dictator or a democrat. They enjoy the benefit of stable states and proud citizenry as a result. As of today in Nepal, it is uncertain whether the civilian government has the upper hand over the military or the military has the upper hand over the civilian government. Let alone doing the army integration and bringing about peaceful dissolution of the Maoist army. It could be said that aspiring diasporas would more readily return to a Nepal if it is headed to become either like India or China but not like Burma, Pakistan or North-Korea where army generals call the shots on what happens in the country.

Having said that, it is also important to note that opportunity for the diasporas to shine in Nepal exists today although the country is in transition and everything is murky. Once all the things become right in Nepal, beneficiaries would be those who established themselves in hard times and the multinationals with deep pockets. Therefore, the best opportunity for ordinary diasporas to dare something exciting is now when there are no competitors in the scene. A person rich in mind and daring in heart is sure to carve a rightful place in these times of economic germination. Further, despite many uncertainties, the likelihood for Nepal to head to an age of prosperity is very strong. Even without returning, NRNs have a duty to contribute on the economic transformation of Nepal. One should again ask, “Why are not they returning and missing the opportunities?”

IV. NRN Policies

It would be foolhardy for us to live in distant countries and tell Nepal’s professional policy makers and planners what to do. However, something could be safely said. The wonders of entrepreneurship not backed up by scientific and technological inventions do not last long and the wonders of inventions not backed up by their economic use also do not last long. Similarly, business in places devoid of ethics can push the entire population to real or virtual slavery, and over exertion of ethics may give short euphoria of freedom soon to be devoured by poverty and domination from other prosperous nations. Inventions not incorporated into systems (standardized and formalized ways of doing things) do not help us repeat our success, and over-systematization kills the environment of innovation. Only when working together, innovation and entrepreneurship bring intellectual and material progress but they bring it with a heavy price, which is the chaos or disorder. Ethics and systems together bring spiritual and social order but they bring them with a heavy price, which is the stagnation of material progress. Therefore, the planners of an aspiring nation must simultaneously look onto four frontiers: knowledge and innovation, business and entrepreneurship, self-cultivation and ethics, and system and rule of law. Accordingly, avenues should be developed to harness different types of knowledge, skills and capacity of the diasporas.

NRN policies may bear better fruit if they appear generous and compassionate to all diasporas and not just on those who are successful. Taking a thousand dollars for 10 year visa or not permitting overseas passport holder NRNs to stay more that 3 months seem to annoy many Nepalese. How many youth could be sent to yearlong internships to needy villages if such restrictions did not exist to NRNs and if foreign nationals sent by NRNA certified works were allowed to volunteer for a minimum of one year without exuberant visa fees? But such opportunities are squandered today by over-protectionist nationalism. May it be the worry that they would take national secrets? It would not be farfetched to believe that spies of all powerful nations are living and working right from the capital as exemplary citizens and friends of Nepal.

Another fear I noticed in Nepal is that of Indian hegemony. Most Nepalese think that India wants a submissive government and military in Nepal, and many even view their own government as subservient. Consequently, Nepalese fear to recognize the Nepalese living in India as NRNs, which has been apparent in the NRN Bill passed by Nepalese parliament and, consequently, in NRNA by-laws. The SAARC agreements and example of India not-recognizing its nationals in the SAARC as Non-Resident Indians are used as reason behind this policy but real cause can be no other than the fear of domination and, worse, Sikkimization. Born of fear, present treatment seems irrational. Yet, until this fear is alleviated, SAARC NRNs have little prospect for getting the same kind of citizenship or IDs as being envisaged for those living outside the region. However, it would be wonderful to allow SAARC NRNs to participate in NRNA as a special constituency and also in representation as proposed below. Be they in SAARC or away, if Nepalese are anxious about Nepal, it would be to keep Nepal soundly independent and never to sellout.

A worry of burden from NRNs on population and economy is also a product of instinctive fear than that of scientific investigation. Even when asked to return, only a small portion of entrepreneurial and the successful NRNs will return to Nepal. Most Japanese living in North America did not return to Japan even after its economic resurgence. On population, one should fear its geometric growth, not a stable number. Singapore has too many people and has not stopped taking qualified immigrants but is prosperous and without population problem, whereas Mangolia has big land and a few people but not so prosperous. Given choice, instead of present Mongolia, a person may migrate to Singapore despite its overpopulation. Therefore, it is better to be fanatical for knowledge, innovation, entrepreneurship, tools, techniques and expertise than for determining which Nepali is love-worthy. One who wants to prosper should not spend time in finding flaws on others but should rather use it in rectifying one’s own faults!

A country intent on prosperity should seek talents, tools, technology, system and capital. And building of modern institutions requires talents that may not be practicable to produce internally. Globally scattered diasporas could come handy in building such institutions. And what better way there can be to track the where-about and the value-sets of the compatriots than through some form of NRN Citizenship, which may give the NRN most but some sensitive rights. What could be primarily targeted through this are business, investment, skills, science, technology, management, and specialized knowledge. Many group attempts to make skill directories have thus far ended in failures because it is hard for people to trust on the ethical use of data. Only credible institutions with legal statures which could handover something officially worthy in return could vouch for and adhere to ethical use of such data, and be trusted. Such institution could easily be a government ministry.

The issue of citizenship often evokes alarm unless certain assurance of superior rights for citizens living inside and means to alleviate the worries on sovereignty are offered. Understanding those concerns, NRNA has been seeking dual citizenship (not losing a citizenship when taking citizenship of another country), where the NRN Citizen would not have rights for political and bureaucratic posts. Only those who live permanently and pay tax to Nepal for more than a minimum period, such as 2 years, may be given rights of other citizens.

It should be noted that a citizenship includes a set of duties and responsibilities. Some countries, such as Israel, have gone as far as to require a compulsory military service for a year. Therefore, it should be plausible for a country to seek some compulsory investment in economic ventures through an officially accountable development fund, or contribution on debt-relief fund, personally chosen public institution, or service through knowledge and skills, for certain duration in return for worthy rights. Due to human tendency to give more readily to a clearly defined mission, such a specific school or hospital than to a general fund, a country would receive proud contributions for schools or hospitals of contributor’s choice, investment in specific infrastructures, contributions on debt-relief, or service for months. A country would, however, receive mostly curse in collecting a thousand dollars as a fee for a piece of document that expires in every few years. In the latter case, although it is collected by a government, the person is unsure of whether a portion of the fund is being used in a kind of purpose agreeable to his or her conscience, such as a penny from a pacifist going to military or war.

Although limited is certain rights, it would be in favor of Nepal to actively engage NRN Citizens in providing inputs on issues of interest to Nepal and NRNs. Nepal would be wise to adopt a provision of overseas constituencies where the NRNs would vote among themselves and send representatives to the parliament and the senate and provide their inputs through those representatives. Italy has 12 seats in parliament and 6 seats in senate reserved for citizens residing abroad and have special overseas constituencies for them to be directly elected from abroad [6]. They have four overseas electoral zones each electing at least one parliamentarian and one senator. This way oversees citizens could be excited about their roots without eating away a large portion of internal political pie!

V. Summary

Emigration and foreign employments have been the major causes of departure of talent, youth, and unskilled and skilled human resources from Nepal, while, on the positive end, becoming a major source of national income. Expression of grief and labeling of the emigrants as “non-reliable” is not going to help Nepal to become a country of prestige and prosperity. The best option available for Nepal is to exploit their affinity to Nepal and turn this loss into opportunities, not only as done by countries like China, India, and Ireland in recent times by reaching their diasporas and the investors but even better by also bringing in the knowledge capital of the broader world. Although gaining intimate knowledge of “what” and “where” of talents, skills, and potentials in the world is near impractical for a resource strained country, it is practicable to track the diasporas talents, skills and potentials and energize them and engage them for the benefit of Nepal through the offerings of some incentives such as dual citizenships, special privileges in investment in priority areas, a limited space for participating in Nepalese parliament through special NRN constituencies, and collaboration with organizations like NRNA. Nepal could accelerate its prosperity and moral-prowess in the world by utilizing the potential of diasporas and goodwill of world citizens in building durable institutions and inspired citizenry in the expansion of four frontiers: knowledge and innovation, business and entrepreneurship, self-cultivation and ethics, and system and rule of law.


[1] Trends in International Migrant Stock: The 2008 Revision, United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, (UN database, POP/DB/MIG/Stock/Rev.2008),
[2] Ministry of Finance, Government of Nepal, from October 2009 presentation of data.
[3] J.A.G. Roberts, A History of China, 2nd Edition, Palgrave Macmillan, UK, 2006, PP. 100-111.
[4] Science and Technology in the United States, Wikipedia, 2009,
[5] S. Singh, Fermat’s Last Theorem, Fourth Estate, London, UK, 2002, pp. 37-74.
[6] Parliament of Italy, Wikipedia, 2009,

Leave a Reply