The Henley Passport Index, which measures the world’s most powerful passports, released its 2020 report on Wednesday. The Japanese passport has emerged as the world’s most powerful passport for a third consecutive year, followed by Singapore. Germany and South Korea have tied for the third post. On the other hand, Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan have emerged as the countries with the weakest passports.
Pakistan’s passport is the fourth worst passport in the world, occupying the 104th position. Meanwhile, India has slipped two positions to the 84th place in terms in the Henley Passport Index. India has tied for this spot with Mauritania and Tajikistan. The Index measures the strength of a country’s passport in terms of the number of destinations which allow passport holders to travel without a prior visa.
In India’s case, 58 countries allow visa-free entry. The number is rather unimpressive when compared to a country like Japan, which is allowed visa-free entry to 191 countries. The Pakistani passport, on the other hand, boasts of the visa on arrival facility to only 32 countries.
The weakening of the passport has an adverse effect on the economic strength of a country. In fact, a research paper published by N. Kulendran and Kenneth Wilson in the Journal of Applied Economics showed that data pertaining to visa approvals and foreign investment proved that countries with stronger passports boasted of a more conducive business environment.
India ranks lowest among the BRICS countries, which are at a similar stage of economic development as India.
India has forged strong ties with several countries across the world, especially after the Modi government stormed to power in the year 2014. Therefore, the status of the Indian passport is not commensurate with its strong diplomatic position in the world today. Moreover, as per a 2019 report, India grants visa on arrival to citizens coming from 113 countries. The number is far higher than the number of countries that allow the Indian passport holders to travel without a pre-approved visa.
However, it is not as if the problem cannot be fixed and there are specific issues which must be addressed if the Modi government wants to ensure that the Indian passport comes to enjoy a status commensurate with India’s international standing.
First of all, India must make full use of its strong diplomatic relations with countries around the world to push for visa-free entry. India is no longer the country that it used to be say a couple of decades ago. Today, Indian citizens boast of a very high purchasing power, and that is a major incentive for other countries, especially those countries whose economies are tourism-oriented, to allow entry to Indian passport holders without a pre-approved visa.
In fact, the ability of the Indian citizens to spend is the reason why the number of countries that allow Indian citizens to travel without a visa, has gone up from 41 countries in the year 2018 to 58 countries presently. There is no reason why the spending capacity of Indian citizens cannot lead to an even greater number of countries allowing visa free travel to India.
What is also hampering India’s prospects when it comes to a dramatic rise in the strength of the Indian passport, is the nefarious anti-India agenda that certain insidious elements are pursuing within India. Take, for instance, Article 370 abrogation and CAA. The rumour mills within India went berserk and portrayed a very negative image of India.
Such elements have been maligning India’s image by portraying a false sense of inner divide and disturbances within India. Journalists like Barkha Dutt and Rana Ayyub have even gone on to write fake stories in international media outlets in an attempt to tarnish the country’s image. After the CAB was tabled in the Parliament, Barkha Dutt, while writing for the Washington Post, had claimed that it is “for the first time in India’s history, citizenship has been linked to religion.”
This was particularly misleading, as the reality is that the amended citizenship law has only paved the way for conferring citizenship on the minorities persecuted in Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan. It did not create a citizenship law based on religion contrary to what is being claimed by Barkha Dutt. Ayyub had also written a rhetorical, anti-India story in the Washington Post on the issue of the Citizenship Amendment legislation.
In fact, even after Article 370 abrogation, fake news stories, which even went to the extent of spreading falsehoods by claiming that the Indian security forces fired on the protesters, were flying thick and fast in a clear attempt to foment anti-India sentiment. Such propaganda has the effect of maligning India’s image and creating a wrong perception of disturbances within India, which is a major reason why many countries might not allow visa free access to India.
India needs to counter such propaganda and ensure that the correct position is communicated at all times. In fact, by inviting envoys from 15 nations to visit Jammu & Kashmir, and reaching out to other countries in the issue of CAA, the Modi government has already shown signs of moving in the right direction.
Moreover, the individual travellers must also guard against mischief. Reports like the one about 150 Indians mostly hailing from Punjab getting deported, which came out in November 2019, do not augur well for India. They were deported from the US for illegally entering the country or flouting visa norms. One of the deportees confessed, “This was the fourth time I have been deported,” before the media.
In fact, Lakhs of Indians also stay as illegal immigrants in the UK. Many of them live on fake passports, while others destroy their real passports on arrival, so that deportation efforts are slowed down. The enforcement agencies have to set the offenders free who admit to having no passports. Such offenders never report back and move to some other part of the country.
Such cases of individual non-compliance give a bad name to an average Indian passport holder. While the Government of India is continuously working on improving ties with countries across the world and augmenting its diplomatic capital, such errant behaviour throws an obstacle in the way of improving the strength of the Indian passport.
Such cases of individual non-compliance have to be corrected, if India wants to emerge as a country with an exceptionally strong passport.