On touchy matters of politics, most chief executive officers (CEOs) of large corporations go by the mantra that discretion is the better part of valour. So when a CEO as high-profile as that of Microsoft, Satya Nadella, offers an opinion on our newly amended citizenship law, it makes us sit up and take note. Speaking to a group of editors in New York, he reportedly described what’s happening in India as “sad", adding that he would love to see a Bangladeshi immigrant set up a company here that goes on to achieve unicorn status, or ascend the corporate ranks to become the CEO of, say, Infosys. Shortly afterwards, Microsoft India issued a formal statement by its India-born global chief, saying that every country should “define its borders, protect national security and set immigration policy accordingly", and as someone who has been shaped by his Indian heritage, early life in a multicultural country and experience as a migrant to the US, he hoped for “an India where an immigrant can aspire to found a prosperous start-up or lead a multinational corporation benefitting Indian society and the economy at large". In a few short words, Nadella has drawn our attention to an aspect of modernity that was getting lost in all the political noise—the value of diversity in a truly open economy.
Having scaled a career peak in the US, Nadella has had a good vantage point to observe what people coming from various places with a wide variety of thoughts can achieve if they focus on shaping the future. The success of America is best attributed not just to its original promise of freedom, but also to the fact that it has always been a land of immigrants. The US has come a long way in welcoming the world’s “huddled masses", the “homeless" and the “tempest-tossed", as an inscription on the Statue of Liberty puts it. Today, most of those who’re “fresh off the boat" are professionally qualified and keen on making the most of its vast opportunities. This allure has worked well for the US. California’s Silicon Valley, which bustles with techies and oddballs from just about everywhere in the world, offers a fine illustration of how the exchange of ideas among diverse minds can yield novel perspectives, creative visions and worthy innovations. Without openness, neither Microsoft nor its chief would be the household names they are. Had the US been a closed country, it would probably have got left in the dust by cost-efficient rivals.
That point is well taken, some would argue, but how is it relevant to our citizenship debate? For one, regardless of whether incomers are in need of refuge or not, they should be seen as a gain to the country for their potential, not as a drain on resources. Many of them may be poor and illiterate today but, as Indians, they or their children could well give us something to be proud of someday. Immigrants tend to have that fire in their bellies. If we learnt to care less for where people came from and more for where they are headed, we would set the stage for the aspirations Nadella spoke of. For another, an economy must always be open to ideas for it to thrive. Thus, it must not close its gates to anybody on the basis of such arbitrary criteria as personal beliefs or the profession of a specific faith. Doing so offends the principle of equality and constrains our advantage of diversity, and that’s sad indeed.