The Economist: “INDIA’S diaspora of 25m people is something to behold. In colonial times Indian labourers and traders spread across the world, from Fiji to the Caribbean. A second wave of Indians left between the 1970s and mid-1990s, when the economy was in a semi-socialist rut. Migrant workers rushed to the Persian Gulf and South-East Asia, then booming. Educated folk and entrepreneurs fled to the rich world. Plenty struck gold, including engineers in Silicon Valley and Lakshmi Mittal, boss of ArcelorMittal, a giant steel firm. Often they now have little to do with India beyond sending cash to relatives and groaning as the once-vaunted economic miracle fades.
Yet alongside this distant diaspora, a network of people and places is more directly engaged with India’s economy. Its most conspicuous element is the plutocrat who owns firms in India, but like his Russian and Chinese peers shops in Paris, educates his children in America and Britain and sometimes has foreign citizenship: Cyrus Mistry, the boss of Tata Sons, India’s biggest firm, has an Irish passport. At the network’s core, however, is not the gilded elite but offshore hubs, including Dubai and Singapore, often with sizeable Indian populations and with their own economic strengths.
The idea that some things are better done abroad is hardly new. Hong Kong was a gateway to imperial and then Red China. In 1985 Yash Chopra, an Indian film-maker, led a trend of shooting Bollywood “dream sequences”—in which the hero and heroine sing amid meadows and snowy crags—in Switzerland. The Alps were easier, cheaper and safer than the more familiar location of Kashmir.
Film buffs now view Swiss dream-sequences as cheesy, but India’s big offshore hubs are more in fashion than ever. They present a mirror image of India’s red tape, weak infrastructure and graft. Dubai is a prime example. For long-haul flights Indians prefer its airline, Emirates, to their own. More than 40% of long-haul journeys from India go via a non-Indian hub, often in the Gulf. Indian airports no longer make grown men cry (Delhi’s is first rate), but few foreign airlines want to make them their base. Indian planes are usually serviced in Dubai, Malaysia and Singapore, reflecting a history of penal taxes in India and high customs duties on imported spare parts.