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Vol. XIII, No. 148, April 2014

Travel || Report || Commentary || Essay || Book Review || Theater Review || Film Review || Obituary || Archive

Indian Diaspora Meet Is a Huge

Success, but BJP's Narendra Modi

Mars It with Partisan Jibe

 

By M.P. PRABHAKARAN

President Pranab Mukherjee of India (eighth from left), with this year's recipients of the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman (Non-Resident Indian Awards), at the valedictory session of the 12th Pravasi Bharatiya Divas, held in New Delhi on January 7-9, 2014. Also in the picture are Vayalar Ravi (seventh from left), Minister for Overseas Indian Affairs, and Prem Narain (sixth from right), Secretary, Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs. (The picture is reproduced by the courtesy of the Press Information Bureau, Government of India.)

 

 

Gone are days when pravasi Indians (Indians living abroad) used to be considered fit targets for exploitation by those living back home. Thanks to the marvelous contributions they have been making to the economic growth of India, they have lately become a respectable lot. The government of India now looks up to them as bridges to the rest of the world and as valued sources of investments in the country’s economy.

Many of them, especially those living in the West, also possess expertise, experience and talent in varied fields. With a view to exploiting those precious resources to mutual advantage and meeting its moral obligation to protect their interests abroad, the government established a separate ministry nearly a decade ago. It, the Ministry of Non-Resident Indians’ Affairs, later renamed the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs, has steadily grown in size and stature. “Now,” as Vayalar Ravi, Minister for Overseas Indian Affairs, said in an interview with Ranvir Nayar, editor-in-chief of India & You, a Paris-based bimonthly, “Indians all over the world believe and feel that there is a ministry and a minister to look after them.”

In its decade-long existence, the ministry has accomplished a lot. To celebrate pravasi Indians’ accomplishments and their contribution to their mother country, and also to encourage them to do more, the ministry has been holding an annual event at different parts of India. The event, which the ministry organizes in collaboration with the Federation of Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), is called Pravasi Bharatiya Divas – roughly translated as Non-Resident Indians (NRI) Day. A notable feature of the event is the conferment of the prestigious Pravasi Bharatiya Samman – samman in Sanskrit means award – on individuals of exceptional merit for the role they have played in India’s growth and in projecting the country’s image abroad. Among the 13 award recipients this year were Mahatma Gandhi's granddaughter Ela Gandi, who continues in South Africa the social service work Gandhi started there over a century ago, Lisa Maria Singh, an Australian senator of Indian origin, and the Ramakrishna Mission of Fiji.

The NRI Day is actually a three-day event, from January 7 to 9. January 9 is included in it for an important reason. It was on January 9, 1915, that Mahatma Gandhi returned to India from South Africa to lead the country’s struggle for independence from Britain. Thus the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas is also an annual celebration of the homecoming of the most famous pravasi Indian known in the county’s history. The event also provides a forum for discussing key issues concerning the NRIs. There are 25 million of them, spread over 100 countries.

This year’s PBD, the twelfth in the series, was held in New Delhi, at Vigyan Bhavan. The cultural programs and dinner associated with the event were held at two hotels – The Ashok, on the first two days and the Taj Palace, on the last day. The Taj was also the venue for an extended event, jointly put together on the fourth day, by the Global Organization of People of Indian Origin (GOPIO) and India & You. Its theme: “The 12th Dialogue with India.” The two events attracted over a 1,000 people from around the world.

 

Pilgrimage to India

 

For the first generation of NRIs, it was just another visit to India. But for those whose ancestors left the country, voluntarily and involuntarily, generations ago, it was a pilgrimage. The pride and reverence with which some of them referred to the country of their forebears gave goose bumps to this reporter. “I am a Maharastrian Parsi,” proclaimed Lord Karan Billimoria, whose ancestors had left India two generations ago, at a session titled “India’s Soft Power.” Billimoria is a member of the House of Lords in Britain. For a person of Indian origin, it is no mean achievement. Many of the participants had similar stories of achievement to tell.

This year’s event was devoted to tapping the energy and entrepreneurial spirit of the young among the Indian diaspora. Its theme, “Engaging Diaspora: Connecting Across Generations,” is a reflection of the demographic reality of today’s India. As Mr. Ravi said in his opening remarks, over 50 percent of the country’s working population is in the 18-35 age group. It is “contributing immensely to the growth and development of our great country.” Pranab Mukherjee, President of the country, was making the same point slightly differently when he said, in his valedictory speech on January 9, that “soon one-fifth of the world’s working-age population will be in India. It is our hope that this demographic dividend from this young population will create self-sustaining economic growth in the coming years.”

            All major speeches and discussions centered on the same theme and made the case for the NRIs’ involvement in the country’s developmental activities. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, in his inaugural address, tried to dispel their concern over the slight economic slowdown the country has been experiencing lately. “I want to assure you,” he said, “that there is no reason to despair about our present or worry about our future. Indeed … we are heading into better times ahead.” He urged the NRIs to “remain engaged in the future of this country with confidence and optimism” and reassured them that “our economic fundamentals are strong.”

 

Mockery of PM’s Remarks

 

            At the morning session the next day, the topic was “Investment Opportunities in States.” The session was addressed by four chief ministers and moderated by Dr. Montek Singh Ahluwalia, deputy chairman of India’s Planning Commission. Three of them – Chief Minister Oommen Chandy of Kerala, Chief Minister Bupinder Singh Hooda of Haryana and Chief Minister Mukul Sangma of Meghalaya – convincingly argued why their respective states should be picked as investment destinations by the NRIs. While doing it, they were mindful of the fact that the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas is an apolitical event. But not the fourth one, Chief Minister Narendra Modi of Gujarat. The Bharatiya Janata Party Chief Minister turned his speech into a kind of score-settling with the Congress Party-led federal government, headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. He made a mockery of what the Prime Minister had said in his inaugural address, the day before. He had said that “we are heading into better times ahead.”

            This is how Mr. Modi did it: “I agree with the Prime Minister. Good days are ahead for India. I don’t want to say anything more. We should wait for four to six months. But good days are coming.” He was referring to the coming parliamentary election which his Bharatiya Janata Party hopes to win. The party has already anointed him as its candidate for prime minister.

            No matter which party wins the election, the federal Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs and the annual Pravasi Bharatiya Divas are here to stay. Let’s hope that neither gets turned into a forum for partisan wrangling under a possible BJP administration.

But for this foray into politics, for which Narendra Modi was entirely to blame, the 2014 Pravasi Bharatiya Divas was a huge success. Vayalar Ravi made it a point to keep the event above partisan politics. He showed up, even if it was for a few moments – and spoke a few words when called upon and answered questions from the audience – at every session, every panel discussion and every cultural event. That’s the sort of stuff leadership is made of. Kudos to Ravi and his fellow organizers of the PBD 2014!

 

 

A Punjabi dance group performing at a cultural show at the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas 2014.

 

 

(First published on January 24, 2014. It has since been slightly edited.)

(Readers are invited to comment. Send the comments to letters@eastwestinquirer.com)

 

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Reader's Response

 

Kerala, an Enchanting Place for Any Investor

 

I have not gone through the complete text of Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy’s speech at the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas meet. I should say one thing, though: Kerala is the most enchanting place for any foreign investor. There won’t be any labor unrest in this state because most of the youngsters are on the rolls of different political parties, fighting for the sustenance of those parties.

The government of the state has a way of handling them. These youngsters have no incentives to look for jobs because they are better paid by political parties. All that they have to do to get their pay is participate in agitations. The never-ending agitations convince the people, from whom donations are forcibly collected, that the parties to which they make the donations are still active and that their money is well spent. The political parties want these youngsters to remain unemployed, dissatisfied and frustrated so they can be used to carry on their political struggle until they become a spent force.

One may wonder from where the labor force that Kerala needs comes from. It comes from far-off states where wages are lower than the legal minimum wage of Kerala. Party chiefs in Kerala have sometimes opposed the state’s higher wages, which led to the use of migrant laborers. The reason for their opposition is that migrant laborers never join any political party.

Apart from this, educated and skilled workers are available in abundance in Kerala and they are doing wonders to the state’s economy. Also, standards governing pollution are very high because we want to retain the state’s reputation as God's Own Country.

Salim Hassankutty, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala State, India

January 27, 2014

 

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