GRM 2010 GRM 2011

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Issues of Indian Migrant Labourers and Prospects of Indian Policy in the Arab Gulf Region
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There are profound changes in India’s policy in the Arab Gulf region in the post-9/11 international context. There is a growing synergy between India and the GCC states as both the regions share considerable symmetry in the perception of regional and global economic and strategic issues. From a narrow basket of issues (oil and labour exchange), which was often taken for granted by both sides, India-GCC economic relations has now graduated to more dynamic engagement. The change has been mirrored in the technological field. Indians’ confidence in the region has grown immeasurably over the years thanks to the success of its professionals and firms. India is making real strides and finishes first among the countries that provide cheap and cutting edge technologies to the GCC countries. On the strategic front, India has established strong military ties with some of the Gulf countries in response to the phenomenon of al-Qaeda-inspired radicalism. The defense ties have risen to a higher level following some of the GCC countries’ decision to institute a strategic dialogue and sign defense cooperation agreements with India.
Similarly, the global financial meltdown has necessitated the search of Gulf Countries for alternate countries for investment. In the likelihood of a ‘post-American’ phase of global economy, governments in GCC see India and China as arenas of greater importance for the diversification of their economies beyond oil. Current international economic and financial situation provides a unique opportunity for India to leverage the vast surplus funds in the Gulf for its development needs and to accelerate trade and investment flows. There is a plethora of economic opportunities in the region in technology and services sectors that go beyond India’s erstwhile role as provider of labour force and importer of oil. There has been an avalanche of recent bilateral agreements, a massive flow of investment capital and almost a ritual sort of exchange of business delegations between India and GCC States. The GCC is now a target market for India’s main export products, including garments, food stuffs, machinery and mechanical appliances. By now, India has outstripped many erstwhile suppliers of technology. The present ‘look east’ policy of the majority of the Gulf States in terms of technology and advanced services makes them heavily dependent on Indian and China. This dependency is quite explicit in software, machine tools and automobile Industry.
Nonetheless, Indian policy in the region is still an enigma to those who watch it closely. No comprehensive re-examination has been undertaken in this newly configured global and regional situation. Indian policy makers believe that the purposes are better served by continuity; status quo is comfortable and there is no internal pressure to change the policies. The labour issues, no doubt, mark India’s inability to trade its regional influence for the betterment of its peoples in the GCC and generate a volley of perplexing questions. Is Indian policy in the region based on a realistic view on India’s strengths and interests? Is India getting unnecessarily bent out of shape? Why are large sections of our policy makers so uncritical of the incompetent labour rules in the Gulf Countries? And why do they always love to ignore the fact about the criticality of Indian workers in a more globalized world?
India seems to be holding an insubstantial fear, which has constantly been dubbed by media and diplomats that if the Indian government complains about the treatment of citizens in the Gulf, then the Gulf States can seek low-wage labor elsewhere. Such a fear and zealous avoidance of criticism leaves Indians to accept the stringent rules imposed by the Gulf Countries unilaterally. But, unlike in 1970s and 80s when the majority of Indian labourers had little bargaining power, the present Indian migration in the Gulf cuts both ways; contributing significantly to the technological well being of the receiving countries, simultaneously doing so to the welfare of sending country. With the advent of globalization the in-flow of foreign workers is purely determined by economic factors. The movement of foreign labour in the Gulf, therefore has, to a large extent, been influenced by the force of global free market. With business firms searching for the cheapest workforce, as cheaper to employ and more efficient workforce, Indians have taken the advantage of the situation. That is the reason why Indians are being given priority in recruitment even when gulf countries are cutting down on expatriates in order to nationalize the work force with a view to overcome the pinch of recession and to bring down the unemployment rate among its citizens.
It is true that with an array of formal labour agreements India has been tactically involved in massive negotiations with the GCC states for last few years. But these agreements with slim prospects could not produce tangible advances towards the formulation of a better policy and the current Indian claims are not so much transferable in the region or often fail to project much of new dynamics in the India-GCC relations. The Indian policy in the region has come under virulent attack for its alleged lack of comprehensiveness to accommodate the new realities in the post-Cold War era. A close look would reveal that many of policy determinants remain almost intact, though most of them have lost their rationale in the new context.
Unlike earlier migrations, the massive flow of Indian laborers to the region obviously epitomizes globalization. Indian workers have developed an expertise of global standing and continue to contribute in economic development in most of the receiving countries. This is quite evident from the Gulf employers’ reluctant attitude to replace Indian labourers with cheap labourers of other nationalities, despite tremendous pressures. Similarly, the present experience suggests that rulers are keen to avoid the political challenges to their authority that the presence of expatriate workers from various Muslim countries including Pakistan might pose. Muslim countries’ misfortune represents a giant Indian opportunity in the Gulf. Against this backdrop, India’s GCC policy needs a radical shift and the efforts are required to address a magnitude of problems, which would otherwise remain unsolved.