By Nilesh Sahita
The article at TOC re: Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) of India by Mr Ravi Philemon (“Total Defence and Implications of divided loyalty of new citizens”, dated Feb 16, 2014 – referred to as “Mr Philemon’s Article”) is not only factually inaccurate but has attempted to link with Singapore’s defence unnecessarily and arbitrarily.
After Mr Philemon’s Article was published, Straits Times carried a very prominent story in Home section of the newspaper on Feb 18, 2014 – titled “Indonesians here take keen interest in polls back home”.
In the ST story on Indonesians in Singapore, it was clearly highlighted and explained why Indonesians living in Singapore take an interest in politics back home. This is natural and to be expected.
Here are the reasons why I think Mr Philemon’s Article is a case of a misdirected hit.
1) Mr Philemon’s Article says “It has been reported that besides the citizens of India who are not resident in that country, people of Indian origin (non-citizens of India) have also donated large sums of money to this political Party.”
This is not correct. As per the Indian laws, only Indian citizens (whether living in India or overseas) and Indian companies are allowed to donate to Indian political parties.
In fact, the online donation section of the AAP website (https://donate.aamaadmiparty.org/) clearly requires explicit declaration by the donors to the effect that he/she is an Indian citizen without which the donation would not be accepted.
The Indian laws do not prohibit active interest in Indian politics and other forms of non-monetary contributions (e.g. volunteering time) to Indian political parties by Non-resident Indians (NRI) who may not be citizens of India. Most non-citizen NRI’s also carry OCI (Overseas Citizenship of India) – a special category perpetual visa that allow them indefinite visits to India to work / study in India as well as make investments including property investments.
There are only five things that non-citizen NRI’s are explicitly not allowed to do. They are: (A) Vote in an Indian election (B) Contest any Indian election (local ,state or federal level) to run for public office; C) Apply for Government jobs; (D) Make monetary political donations to Indian political parties; and (E) Buy agricultural land property
Other than these five explicit restrictions, ex-citizen NRI’s who hold OCI visa are treated on par with other fellow Indian citizens (whether living in India or overseas) for the purpose of applicability of Indian laws in India.
So such assertion that non-citizens of India have donated large sums of money to AAP is plain wrong and without any basis. Such donations by non-citizens would not be acceptable under applicable laws of India either.
Mr Philemon’s Article further says – “According to one news site, the Party collected about $40,000 (Indian Rupees 19,000,000) from donors in Singapore.”
Last year when Delhi state assembly elections campaign was in full swing, Straits Times in one of its news had mentioned that Singapore based AAP supporters had raised close to S$200,000/- for AAP’s campaign for Delhi state elections. According to one of the AAP supporter, the actual figure of donations made by Singapore based supporters last year during Delhi state election campaign was S$144,000/- (INR 7,100,000). Since Delhi state elections, AAP has carried out another round of fundraising so as it stands now, Singapore based supporters must have donated close to S$200,000 to AAP for election funds so far.
However, all these donations were made directly by AAP supporters based in Singapore to AAP in India and no funds were raised or collected in Singapore itself.
2) Mr Philemon’s Article says – “The Party also has an official network here in Singapore.”
This is a misleading statement. Yes, there are expats (with very few immigrant Singapore citizens) who are supporters of AAP but it is an informal group of people and there is nothing “official” about the group. The group has social media presence through which it tries to promote AAP party news and views.
3) Mr Philemon’s Article says “The official network of this Party had reportedly tried to deceitfully hijack an official celebration in the Singapore High Commission, to raise funds for AAP.”
This again is also not accurate and misrepresentation of what had actually transpired with the High Commission of India (HCI) incidence.
On the night of Sunday, Jan 19th, one of the AAP supporters had uploaded a reminder for all friends to join for republic day celebrations at HCI on Sunday, Jan 26th. However, the AAP supporter forgot to remove the tag line that mentioned about how to donate to AAP (for benefit of AAP supporters). It was an oversight and a mistake that was recognized by another AAP supporter, it was corrected within few hours of being posted to FB group.
However, some overzealous supporters of rival political party in India decided to make issue out of this. They complained to HCI even after the offending poster was removed. HCI contacted the supporters of AAP and the matter was promptly clarified with them too.
So the assertion that supporters of AAP “tried to deceitfully hijack an official celebration in the HCI, to raise funds for AAP” is a far stretch and further from what actually happened with that incidence.
4) Mr Philemon’s Article says “The official network of AAP in Singapore organised a get-together with Indian politician and executive member of AAP, Shazia Ilmi, yesterday.”
There is no “official network” of AAP in Singapore. It is just bunch of supporters who share their views online and once in a while get-together informally in small settings over lunch/dinner on weekends.
The visit by Ms Shazia Ilmi of AAP to Singapore was facilitated by the High Commission of India (HCI) in Singapore at the invitation of Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA). MFA had invited a team of young Indian politicians from different political parties and AAP’s MS Shazia Ilmi was part of the multi-party delegation from India. Since Ms Ilmi was in Singapore, the AAP supporters had arranged to meet her in a private get-together. The private meet was at a private venue and not a “public hall”.
Is there anything wrong with this? Looking at what ST reported about interest and activities of Indonesians living in Singapore re: their interest in politics back home, it doesn’t look like these Indian expats did anything wrong. So what exactly is the problem, who has the problem and why?
5) Mr Philemon’s Article then tries to link activities of AAP supporters in Singapore with what happened during last year Malaysian elections during which a Malaysian politician tried to do canvassing in Singapore.
Again this is completely uncalled for and an irrelevant comparison.
Ms Shazia Ilmi’s visit to Singapore was an official visit at the invitation of MFA. Her informal get-together with AAP supporters while she was in Singapore did not involve any outdoor public campaign or canvassing for her party (AAP) in Singapore.
Moreover, to canvass in Singapore for votes just makes no sense either given the fact that while Malaysians can take few hours ride by road across the border to vote in Malaysia whereas most Indian citizens living in Singapore would find it just too cumbersome to fly to India just to vote in Indian elections. And the Indian system does not allow voting by her citizens living overseas.
Hence, this comparison of Ms Shazia Ilmi visit with what happened during Malaysian elections is far too much of a stretch.
6) Mr Philemon’s Article then makes a very dangerous assertion that “If indeed there are citizens in this network of supporters of the Indian political party, then that would be very troubling because their loyalty to the nation is not only perceived to be divided, it would actually be.”
This assertion is completely uncalled for.
In today’s interconnected global world living in global city, to expect that expats or immigrant citizens would not be interested in politics of their country of birth is naive and any fears with such interests are completely misplaced.
An immigrant citizen’s loyalty to Singapore is not diluted by his/her interest in politics of country of his/her birth.
7) Mr Philemon’s Article then says “With more than 40 percent of the population here being foreigners and with the perceived affluence of the country, Singapore is an attractive target for foreign political parties and related organisations to reach out to its nationals and others with emotional bonds to the ethnic groups, to raise funds for its cause.”
In today’s global interconnected world, to expect that overseas political parties will not reach out to their citizens in other countries is too simplistic and just not realistic – particularly for ex-citizens of large countries such as India or Indonesia.
For e.g. the supporters of another prominent Indian political party – BJP (Bharatiya Janta Party which means “Indian People Party”) has very active group of volunteers / supporters based in US calling themselves as “Overseas Friends of BJP” (OFBJP – https://www.ofbjp.org/). OFBJP has been active for many years based out of US, supporting BJP in India. A significant number of Indians who are part of OFBJP are also American citizens. And yet neither USA nor India has any problem with US Citizens NRIs taking active interest in Indian politics or supporting an Indian political party. So again – what exactly is an issue here? And why?
8) The concluding remarks / assertions of Mr Philemon’s Article (“In the absence of such laws, it will certainly serve Singapore well if we are more selective about who we give our citizenships to, for if we are not, it may have huge implications for our total defence. The undivided loyalty of all citizens should be towards Singapore.”) is not only impractical but somehow seems to imply that any interest by immigrant citizens in politics of their country of birth is somehow dangerous to Singapore, akin to disloyalty to Singapore and hence detrimental to the interests of Singapore.
What the Singapore Government and society at large rightfully does not want to let happen is letting such interest in political affairs of foreign country ballooning into unrest in Singapore with outdoor protests etc or foreigners trying to influence domestic politics of Singapore.
Such concerns are reasonable. Government needs to watch out for it and foreigners as well as immigrant citizens need to be mindful about this. But the solution to such concerns is better sensitivity as well as enforcement of existing laws and not necessarily arbitrary scanning or second guessing who amongst potential immigrant citizens are likely to be interested into politics of their country of birth.
The implied assertions by the Mr Philemon’s Article TOC article in question that any active interest by immigrant citizens in politics of their country of birth means disloyalty to Singapore is plain wrong. Such misplaced assertion also has danger of feeding into feelings of jingoism and hatred towards law abiding foreigners working in Singapore as well as immigrant citizens.
No doubt there are some issues and challenges arising out of less than desirable assimilation of section of immigrants into Singapore society. But the solution to such challenges lies elsewhere (for e.g. in the way Government’s immigration policy is designed and implemented) and not with the immigrant citizens and expats interest into politics and society of country of their birth which is natural and to be expected particularly amongst the first generation immigrants in today’s global and interconnected world.