The largest-ever Pravasi Bharatiya Divas attracted 8,000 delegates who heard Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s call to action
By a Staff Writer
With 8,000 delegates participating, a record since it started in 2003, the 14th edition of the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas convention that sought to build bridges between India and the over 30 million expatriate Indians, got off to a colorful start In Bengalaru Jan. 7, concluding two days later when President Pranab Mukherjee conferred the much-coveted Pravasi Bharatiya Samman on 30 of them, including six from the U.S.
In between the opening and concluding day, the mammoth three-day gathering of high-flying Indians from abroad, including governments, physicians, engineers, scientists and business magnates, heard passionate calls from Prime Minister Narendra Modi and various ministers from his cabinet, and some of the state chief ministers who attended, to contribute to India’ development and become part of its growth story.
Formally inaugurating the PBD convention Jan. 8, Modi urged the diaspora to first develop India by investing and contributing its expertise in the land of its origin.
“To me, FDI means First Develop India through Foreign Direct Investment, whose norms have been fully liberalized for Non-Resident Indians and Persons of Indian Origin and made on par with domestic firms for availing same benefits,” Modi said.
The prime minister exhorted the diaspora to participate in the government’s flagship programs like ‘Digital India’, ‘Make In India’, ‘Start-up India’, ‘Swacch Bharat’ and ‘Namami Gange’, or Clean Ganga, for the country’s all-round development.
“Diaspora can contribute to India by sparing their time and energy on implementing our flagship programs and stay connected,” said Modi during a 40-minute special address in Hindi and English.
The PBD has been held traditionally Jan. 9 every year to commemorate the return of Mahatma Gandhi as a Pravasi from South Africa to India. This year the event was attended by the Prime Minister of Portugal, Dr. Antonio Costa, who was the chief guest for the inaugural function. Costa is the son of Goan father Orlanda da Costa.
Besides him, ministers from Malaysia, Dato’ Seri S. Samy Vellu, special envoy of the government of Malaysia for Infrastructure, Dato’ Seri Dr. S Subramaniyam, minister of health, and Mauritius minister Prithvi Raj Singh Roopun also participated in the PBD as special guests.
The Indian diaspora this year mainly comprised overseas Indians from Malaysia, Mauritius, UAE and Qatar, although there were several NRIS from other countries, including the U.S.
The government decided in 2015 to hold the PBD conventions after an interval of two years with smaller, outcome-based PBD conferences in the intervening years. That is why the number of awards conferred on Indian expatriates during PBD 2017 doubled this year to a total of to 30.
While conferring the honors, Mukherjee noted that the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas has been a flagship event for the engagement of the government with the diaspora spread across the world.
“This convention does not only provide an interface between the government and the Indian Diaspora, it also provides an excellent opportunity for both the government of India and the state governments to showcase policies, initiatives and achievements in various sectors and invite the Diaspora to contribute and give back to the country of their origin,” Mukherjee said.
Earlier, asserting that engaging with the overseas Indian community was a priority area for him, Modi said that the government was trying to convert ‘brain drain’ into ‘brain gain’ by inviting the diaspora to contribute their mite in making India strong and self-reliant.
“Brain drain has been considered a loss for the country as Indians went abroad seeking jobs and better life. But for me and my government, such a movement is not a brain drain but brain gain as they can help us in the development,” the prime minister said.
For young Indians seeking jobs abroad, Modi said his government would soon launch a skill development program. “We will shortly launch a skill development program, the Pravasi Kaushal Vikas Yojana, targeted at Indian youth seeking overseas employment” he said. The program will train the job-seekers with soft skills so that they do not feel strangers in the country they migrate to in terms of manners and culture.
Modi also appealed to all persons of Indian origin living the world over to convert their PIO cards into Overseas Citizen of India card at the earliest.
“We are working on new procedures to ensure all descendants of Indians, especially their fourth and fifth generations living in Fiji, Suriname, Guyana and Caribbean states, to become eligible for OCI cards,” Modi said.
Clarifying that the government does not see the color of the passport but the blood ties, the Prime Minister said the PIO card superseded the individual’s passport as far as his or her ties to India were concerned.
Referring to Mahatma Gandhi’s return from South Africa, Modi said this day marked the return to India of one of the greatest Pravasis and that his government’s priority was to convert “brain drain” into brain gain”.
“NRIs and PIOs have made outstanding contributions. Among them are politicians of great stature, scientists of repute, outstanding doctors, brilliant educationists, economists, journalists, musicians, engineers, bankers and did I mention our well-known technology professionals,” Modi said.
A major focus of the three-day discussions, deliberations and addresses was on the young diaspora who were urged to take up social projects as part of their contribution to the motherland.
In a keynote address on the ‘Role of Diaspora in the Transformation of India’ at the convention,, Union Minister of State for Youth Affairs and Sports Vijay Goel said that his ministry would open single-window clearance to allow the diaspora implement social projects in any state or city at the earliest.
“The young diaspora will be allowed to take up renovation of heritage sites, including monuments and historical places and adopt them to serve the country better,” Goel told about 400 young diaspora at the inaugural session of the ‘Yuva PBD’, held at the Bengalaru International Exhibition Centre on the city’s outskirts.
“The government will encourage the young Indian diaspora to undertake social projects anywhere in the country, including states, cities or towns they originally belong to,” Goel said.
Admitting that children of the diaspora face problems when they come to India to study, be an entrepreneur or invest, Goel said the concerned ministries, including the Human Resource Development and Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs would address them to ensure they are solved in a time-bound manner,” the Indo Asian News Service quoted him as saying.
Union Minister of State for External Affairs General V.K. Singh also urged the young diaspora to be a part of India’s growth story by tapping the opportunities the country offers through various programs. “India offers opportunities to be part of its growth story and realize your dreams through the government’s flagship programs launched to achieve developmental objectives,” Singh said.
Asserting that global good could not be achieved by one country alone, as the global challenges were complicated, Singh said the Indian diaspora had to strengthen the bridges that connect it with the motherland and create new ones.
“You can transform your lives and that of India through four Ts – talent, technology, training and team work -– as the Prime Minister’s vision will make India the skill capital of the world by 2022,” the minister told about 400 young members of the Indian diaspora.
He mentioned that by 2020, the average age of the population in India will be 29, making it the world’s youngest country with 64 per cent of the population in the working age group.
“We will be happy to offer expertise in your areas of interest. Training can also be through internships, volunteering or even philanthropy. The choice is yours,” Singh said. “Whether you are looking for adventure tourism, quality education, tech start-ups or even a market for novel utility products, India offers plethora of opportunities in cities and towns across the country,” the minister said.
Others who were to attend and address the event included Minister of State for External Affairs M.J. Akbar, Union Human Resource Development Minister Prakash Javadekar, Union Minister for Chemicals and Fertilizers H.N. Ananth Kumar and Niti Ayog Chief Executive Officer Amitabh Kant as well as chief ministers of seven states, including Karnataka.
At the end, the Indian government described its engagement with the diaspora as “extremely substantive” and outcome oriented.
Secretary-MEA (OIA and CPV) Dnyaneshwar Mulay said it was a different format altogether and people were extremely positive about the format. “The attendance was extremely good, the economic engagement has been one of the important aspects of this PBD and economic engagements whether it is startups, innovation, human resource development – all these aspects were discussed,” Mulay, a former Consul General of India in New York, said.