Rackets, threats and good sense

Handling the Nigerian kerfuffle in Goa

Only the credulous will be surprised that there are a number of organised criminal groups involved in the drug trafficking business in Goa. Russian, Israeli, Nigerian, Chinese and presumably local syndicates have carved out the market geographically, in terms of the drugs peddled and so on. Again, only the credulous will believe that this state of affairs can exist without connivance of the local politicians and law enforcement authorities. As Mayabhushan Nagvenkar reported in FirstPost last month, a report tabled in the state legislative assembly says as much.

It is in this context that we must see the murder of a Nigerian and the subsequent events it triggered. To be sure, not all Nigerians in Goa are involved in drug smuggling, just as not all Goans are anti-Nigerian racists. Yet the existence of Nigerian criminals, crooked cops, corrupt politicians and racist Goans is undeniable in this case.

On Thursday, a mob of over 200 irate Nigerians, who police allege are part of a narcotics gang, blocked a national highway for several hours and attacked locals and policemen, protesting the murder of their compatriot, allegedly by a local rival gang operating from Chapora, a coastal village and “hub” for the drug trade.

What followed the blockade was a bloody and sordid episode where one Nigerian was nearly beaten to death in police presence and a sustained outpouring of racist tripe against the ebony-skinned Africans on the social media network, the mainstream media as well as the public at-large.[Nagvenkar/DNA]

Policing in India is not known for its sensitivity or, well, discrimination. After the state government ordered a ‘crackdown’, police have been out and about the place looking for foreigners and verifying their papers. Now, because there are a number of foreigners — of several nationalities — in Goa without proper documentation, the business of police verification has caused, as of now, something bigger than a kerfuffle and smaller than an upheaval.

It is a diplomat’s job to be concerned about the well-being of a country’s citizens in foreign lands. Given the consular problems concerning Nigerians in India — from undertrials to deportees –, accusations of maltreatment by Indian authorities and further accusations of racist attitudes, it is fair for the Nigerian consular officials to take a proactive role in managing the tensions in Goa.

What Jacob Nwadidia, reportedly a Nigerian consular attache in India, said transgresses all norms of civilised diplomacy. If the Goa state government’s crackdown does not stop in 24 hours, he threatened, “that hundreds of thousands of Indians will be thrown out on the streets in Nigeria.”

If you have heard of the order of the authorities, especially Michael Lobo who is the MLA of Calangute, I am giving him 24 hours from tonight to cancel his ‘order’ that Nigerians should be thrown out on to the streets. If he does not cancel (it), I am telling you that hundreds of thousands of Indians will be thrown out on the streets in Nigeria. And I’m serious about it. India is five hours ahead of Nigeria. There is still enough time to reach my headquarters and tell the Nigerian government that Nigerians in Goa have been thrown out on the street,” he said.

“If Michael Lobo does not cancel that ‘order’ I am telling you that news will come that Indians in Nigeria have been thrown out on the street. That’s what I’m telling you and I mean what I’ve said,” he told Herald. Referring to the ongoing police verification drive in Parra and surrounding areas, he added: “Police should stop from going house to house to eject and evict Nigerians. If that does not stop in 24 hours then Indians should bear responsibility for what happens in Nigeria,” he said.

“There are only 50,000 Nigerians in India but over one million Indians live in Nigeria. Several thousand Indians will be on the streets if forcible eviction of Nigerians in Goa does not stop,” Jacob Nwadidia is reported to have said.[Herald]

If Mr Nwadidia indeed made the threats as several media reports indicate, New Delhi should declare him persona non grata and expel him. Diplomats don’t threaten mass violence against innocent people. Thugs do. The Nigerian High Commission in New Delhi would do well to repudiate the comments made by one of its officials.

Mr Nwadidia was not only wrong in form but also wrong on facts. According to the Indian High Commission in Abuja, the size of the Indian community in Nigeria is around 35,000 persons, of which 25,000 are Indian citizens and the remaining persons of Indian origin. India has demonstrated that it can evacuate such numbers of its nationals if the need arises.

The threat is especially dangerous because of Nigeria’s deteriorating security situation. In January this year, the Indian mission issued a security advisory noting that “Indians living in Nigeria came under unprecedented level of insecurity and were, occasionally, unfortunate victims” and calling upon nationals to take precautions.

In a subsequent advisory issued in May it said

“(in the recent past), security situation in some parts of Nigeria has deteriorated. There have been violent incidents in the north, north-centre and north-east of the country. A sharp increase in cases of kidnappings in coastal belt, particularly by pirates in the Gulf of Guinea, has also been noted. These instances of insecurity have occasionally involved Indian nationals as unfortunate victims. While in most cases they were passive victims of a situation or a criminal conspiracy, there are cases when they were specifically targeted for kidnapping or physical harm.”[IHC Abuja]

India is among Nigeria’s top trading partners, not least due to oil and gas imports. Indian companies are increasing their investments in West Africa and Nigeria is a big recipient of Indian investment. Last year, 40,000 Nigerians received visas to visit India. The nature of bilateral relations indicates that there is a lot that the two countries have to lose if irresponsible talk leads to violence on the ground. If memories of Idi Amin’s actions against ethnic Indians are brought up to scare the Indian government, the Nigerian government can’t be unaware of the more proximate example of Robert Mugabe’s ruinous policies in Zimbabwe.

It is unclear if the Goa government is committed to a clean-up of the criminal activity in the state. If so, expect more such kerfuffles involving other foreigners. Given the international effects, the government ought to employ a lot more sophistication in its law enforcement activities. Beyond that, it would be out of place for one of India’s most open-minded and cosmopolitan states to allow racist sentiments to dominate the public discourse over this issue.

For New Delhi’s part, action against the errant Mr Nwadidia ought to signal its rejection of the suggestion that Nigeria is holding Indian nationals hostage. That should get saner heads into the equation.

The right visa

The Indian government does well to streamline visas for business and employment

Without doubt, India must reform its visa regime and be more welcoming to foreigners who wish to visit, live and work in the country. In the September 2009 issue of Pragati Salil Tripathi calls for the Indian government to relax its atavistic, paranoid policy of deciding what academics and journalists can do in India. Elsewhere, we have argued that it is in India’s interests to remain a magnet for talented individuals in the region. Where foreigners strengthen India’s human capital and engagement with the rest of the world, they must be welcomed. One important foreign policy objective that is not yet on the government’s radar is to strike mutual visa-free/visa-on-arrival travel arrangements bilaterally with important countries.

So what should we make of the Indian government’s decision—announced on 20th August—to ask those without employment visas (“E” visas) to leave the country by midnight tonight? When asked by Open Magazine’s Rahul Bhatia, I said: “It has been reported that the move targets the employment of Chinese blue-collar workers who enter the country on a business visa. This is supported by the fact that only 1800 of the 25000 or so Chinese nationals have now applied for an employment visa. But the government should have handled the matter with greater sensitivity and finesse. Doing it through abrupt emails and personal letters, without proper communications and media engagement, makes the implementation of a desirable policy appear dubious, high-handed and insensitive.” (The magazine published only the money quote)

Chinese companies have run into trouble elsewhere—in Africa, for instance—for importing unskilled labour where they operate. As the India-China economic relationship boomed during this decade, the UPA government—especially its home ministry under that monumentally inept Shivraj Patil—failed to prevent Chinese companies from bringing in unskilled workers under a business (non-employment) visa. Indrani Bagchi reports that the Chinese government was alerted as far back as March this year, but to little avail. It was only when local and Chinese workers clashed in Jharkhand in May that the Indian government was compelled to act.

Now, fears that this will adversely affect foreign investment are overblown—India’s appeal as an investment destination has powerful fundamentals. Besides, India offers more daunting challenges to a prospective foreigner than a mere visa application. Serious investors won’t worry.

Related Link: The home ministry’s FAQ on business & employment visas (PDF)

Uranium reservations

The Rudd government has created a window of opportunity for China to lock in Australia’s uranium supplies

Greg Sheridan writes that Australia’s policy on rejecting uranium sales to India will eventually change, but step by step.

Now, however, Australian policy suffers a serious contradiction. In supporting the deal, Australia is urging all other members of the international community to engage in full nuclear trade with India, including the supply of uranium, without which it will be impossible for India to build nuclear power stations.

Yet official Australian policy is that while it supports the deal and will engage in nuclear technology trade with India, it won’t supply uranium to the world’s biggest democracy because New Delhi is not a signatory to the NNPT.

This contradiction is, of course, madness. And make no mistake: while New Delhi fully understands Canberra’s position, deeply appreciates its support at the IAEA and the NSG and understands that the Rudd Government won’t support the various stages of the deal until they are actually agreed to, eventually a refusal by Australia to sell uranium to India, while selling it to China and Russia, would lead to deep trouble between Canberra and New Delhi.

That’s why eventually the Rudd Government will move away from its ban on uranium to India. Step by step, one stage at a time, in concert with the international community, but the destination of selling uranium to India is surely now inescapable as a result of the sensible decisions we’ve taken up to now. [The Australian]

Having overturned its predecessor’s decision, the Rudd government has only set the clock back by a few years. This gives China the opportunity to lock in Australia’s uranium supplies, and Chinese state-owned firms are doing just that. China’s failed attempt to block the NSG’s waiver to nuclear trade with India should be seen in this context.

Discussing Australia’s domestic debate on regulating Chinese investment into the country’s natural resource sector, Lowy’s Mark Thirlwell argues that while changes to rules on foreign investment are not necessary, “the number of cases where foreign government ownership will represent a challenge to Australia’s national interest will turn out to be very small. But ‘very small’ is not the same as zero.” It is for thinking Australians to consider whether it is their interest to allow the Chinese government to buy into its uranium mines before Indian companies are even allowed to purchase the ore.