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Nepal’s soft power is Nepal’s diaspora

Nepal’s soft power is Nepal’s diaspora

The ICC T20 World Cup is currently being held in the United States and the West Indies. Although Nepal was eliminated in the group stage, their games drew immense support from thousands of enthusiastic Nepali fans at the stadium. Logan Van Beek from the Netherlands praised the Nepali fans for their overwhelming presence and fervor, stating, “I am not sure whether we are in Nepal or Dallas. These fans for Nepal were amazing. It was so loud. I am struggling to think half the time.” The strong support from Nepali fans has garnered praise from various cricket pages, experts, and enthusiasts, emphasizing the substantial influence of the Nepali diaspora. This article explores the significance of the Nepali diaspora and its potential as Nepal’s soft power.

What is diaspora and why is it important?

Diaspora refers to individuals who have left their home country to live abroad for an extended period. Kevin Kenny, in his book ‘Diaspora: A Very Short Introduction,’ describes diaspora as a concept that illuminates a world influenced by migration, especially relevant to groups that have migrated involuntarily, maintain connections to their homeland, and are dispersed globally.

The Ministry of External Affairs of India reports that the global Indian diaspora is the largest, comprising 13.6 million Non-Resident Indians (NRIs), 18.6 million Persons of Indian Origin (PIOs), and nearly 32.3 million overseas citizens of India. Additionally, 2.5 million Indians move abroad every year. Similarly, Nepal has a sizable diaspora, with over 4.5 million Nepalis living outside the country. Since passports were first issued on November 26, 2010, over 10 million have been issued.

Every day, around 1,500 to 3,000 Nepali people leave Nepal for work, study, or travel. In 2023, more than 1.6 million people went abroad for various purposes including employment, tourism, training, sports, residence, and study. According to the Department of Immigration, 70,915 people left to settle permanently and 808,415 left for employment in 2023, excluding those working in India.

The economic survey data shows that 102,504 students left to study abroad in 2078-079, 110,217 in 2079-80, and 90,179 NOCs were issued until Falgun 2080-81. Most students aim to settle in economically secure countries such as Japan, Canada, Australia, the UK, the USA, South Korea, India, the UAE, France, and Denmark. As more Nepali students move to these countries, the Nepali diaspora will grow.

Currently, Nepali citizens can enter 111 countries with an institutional permit and 178 countries with an individual work permit. In the financial year 2079-80, 771,327 young people went abroad, primarily to Malaysia, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, and Oman.

The importance of the diaspora is increasing. The contributions made by the diaspora play a fundamental role in the relationship between countries and contribute significantly to their home country's international presence, economy, and people-to-people relations.

Foreign policy and the Nepali diaspora

Nepal’s diplomatic outreach extends to 182 countries, reflecting its global relations, with the Nepali expatriate community playing a significant role. Known for their friendly and hospitable nature, as well as pride in their culture, traditions, religion, and language, Nepalis bolster the country’s reputation worldwide. Nepal’s ‘Foreign Policy 2077’ aims to harness the knowledge, expertise, financial resources, and networking capabilities of the Nepali diaspora to further national development.

This foreign policy vision strives to position Nepal as a robust, progressive, peaceful, and esteemed nation. It acknowledges the pivotal role of the Nepali diaspora in economic diplomacy and emphasizes mobilizing Nepali expatriates to safeguard and propagate Nepalese art, culture, language, and heritage.

The policy also stresses fostering positive attitudes toward Nepal, garnering support for its progress, and enhancing Nepal’s global reputation by tapping into the potential of the Nepali diaspora. It calls for unity, cooperation, and collaboration among Nepali expatriates, urging them to participate actively in the political and economic arenas of their host countries.

Additionally, the policy commits to providing legal aid to Nepalis in need and promoting efficient consular services for Nepalis living abroad. It advocates for establishing and operating Nepali language schools and training centers in countries with significant Nepali populations to preserve the Nepali language, culture, and traditions.

Despite these ambitious goals, practical implementation is often hampered by the limited budget allocated to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This budget primarily covers embassy rent and staff salaries, constraining the scope of operational activities. Bharat Raj Poudel, former Foreign Secretary and Nepal’s current Ambassador to Canada, highlights these resource constraints, noting that embassies operate with very limited budgets and small staff, focusing mainly on urgent issues such as rescuing Nepalis in need, leaving little capacity for economic and public diplomacy.

What can be done?

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his ministers prioritize interacting with the Indian diaspora during their foreign visits, encouraging Indians abroad to visit India with friends who are not Indian. This approach has strengthened India’s ties with other countries. Similarly, Nepal’s Prime Minister and other ministers should prioritize building and nurturing relationships with Nepalis residing overseas.

It is crucial to hold diplomats accountable and bolster the capabilities of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA). Restructuring MOFA and expanding Nepal’s diplomatic presence is necessary to enhance the country’s global image. Frequent diplomatic recalls driven by political motivations negatively affect Nepal’s reputation.

Creating adaptable legislation and policies to incentivize investments from the growing Nepali diaspora is important. Non-resident Nepalis (NRNs) can unite Nepalis in their respective countries. The government can support returning Nepali immigrants’ contributions to the Brain Gain Center (BGC) to aid in national progress. All political factions in Nepal should work towards unifying the Nepali people and promoting their contributions to national development.

The participation of Nepalis in Nepal Day Parades worldwide, including in the USA, Canada, the UK, Europe, Japan, Australia, and other regions, is crucial for celebrating Nepal’s diversity and culture. The government and political parties need to acknowledge and harness the potential of the Nepali diaspora for the country's advancement.