The Pravasi Bharitya Divas (PBD), or “Overseas Indians Day,” is celebrated in India on the 9th of January every year, as a mark of appreciation of the contribution of the Overseas Indian community in the larger development of India. This year, the annual convention was held in New Delhi, from the 7th to the 9th of January, with the theme, “Engaging Diaspora: Connecting Across Generations.” As has been a usual practice, GOPIO (the Global Organisation of People of Indian Origin) also held its conference in New Delhi for two days preceding the PBD, which also saw several prominent Indian cabinet ministers and advisers participating in the deliberations. NRI Achievers brings you some vignettes of the PBD in this short feature …

A blanket of thick fog prevailed over New Delhi on the day the diaspora event was kicked off, resulting in several flight cancellations and delays that undoubtedly also impacted on the arrival of PBD attendees. Up-to-date information about the flagship event was also a mite scarce, with some parts of the official government PBD site still “Under Construction”. Glitches galore, these will surely need fixing in future for events to come in this new information age. What’s more, in today’s times of pervasive connectivity and an intensely networked world, no WiFi was made available at Vigyan Bhavan, the venue of the conference, making one wonder as to how the government of India contemplated hosting a global conference at this supposedly world class conference facility without making wireless internet available to attendees and media alike. A bit disappointing.

The event started off with a traditional lamp lighting ceremony, and the first speakers were Vayelar Ravi, MOIA Minister & Jitendra Singh, Minister of Youth Affairs and Sport. Prem Narayan of MOIA and Ranjeev Gupta of Youth Affairs and Sports were other panelists supporting their respective ministers. Their words echoed a renewed commitment to the Indian Diaspora from the government.

A second set of speakers were Renuka Katoor, Chancellor at the University of Houtson, Kirthy Matabadal, youth representative from the Netherlands and India’s Information & Broadcasting Minister, Manish Tewari. Dr. Katoor highlighted the hurdles one had to cross on the path to successful global integration: “What changes us are our dreams. Your dreams will define you, your dreams will hang you. You will be tested, you will get hurt. You will feel life is not fair. You will want to quit …” Kirty spoke about experiences of PIO’s around the world, including the challenges she faced in relating with India, specifically with the embassy in the Netherlands. She urged the creation of greater room for involvement of young leaders and women. Manish Tewari apologised on behalf of the GOI for the treatment meted out to Kirty Matabadal, before waxing eloquent on changes taking place in India, especially highlighting how the world wide web is changing lives across the country. Ironic, that GOI did not find it fit to provide wireless internet at Vigyan Bhavan during the PBD.

Concurrent sessions also took place. One was on “Sharing a Common Heritage: The Emotional Connect,” with Dr. Vidya Yeravdekar (Director of the Symbiosis Institute), Pallavi Iyer (Indonesia Correspondent of ‘The Hindu’ newspaper), Meghna Ghai Puri (Whistling Woods Int’l), Subash Razdan (the Gandhi Foundation, USA), and Dr. Jagvinder Singh Virk (GOPIO Australia) as panelists and speakers. The other was on “Young Achievers,” with Navin Jindal, MP, as the moderator and had among it’s speakers Supriya Sula & P. Rajeev (Members of Parliament), Dr. Mamta Singhvi (MD of the American Assn. Of Physicians of Indian Origin), and Dr. Ruby Dhalla (Canadian Politician). The concluding session was chaired by Sachin Pilot, Minister of State for Corporate Affairs, and was also addressed by Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi (Member of the NZ Parliament), and Ashok Tanwar, MP. The day was capped off with a cultural extravaganza that took place at the Ashok Hotel in the Diplomatic Enclave at Chanakyapuri.

The second morning commenced with Dr. Manmohan Singh inaugurating the show, followed by a day of presentations by various ministers and leaders. No Indian stretchable time here, the morning session did start on time. Minister Vayalar Ravi of the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs spoke again, and there was nothing new under the sun. he repeated information about the success of the Indian diaspora, his ministry’s work at furthering engagement, and the Government of India’s efforts to build bridges etc., followed by yet another lamp-lighting, this time by the Prime Minister. Shades of ‘Deja Vu’ … !

PBD 2014’s Guest of Honor, Datuk Seri Palanivel, Minister for Natural Resources & Environment, and President of the Malaysian Indian Congress, spoke next. His talk in bullet points: Two million Indians in Malaysia, Malaysia is a major trade partner of India, Malaysia is the 18th largest investor in India, Indian companies are investing in Malaysia, India a major importer of palm oil from Malaysia, etc. “In a world where borders are breaking down, the world is becoming increasingly interconnected.” It did seem to end up becoming a bit of an “Invest in Malaysia” presentation. Not much of constructive criticism, no calls for policy change, et al.

Next, Dr. Manmohan Singh released a book by Deloitte and Touche, titled “Incredible Opportunities Back Home”. Sounded like it could be an interesting read. let’s see, once we are able to lay our hands on it. After the book release, Dr. Manmohan Singh’s inaugural address once again tells the participants about the success of the Indian diaspora and the achievements of the government.

The Prime Minister listed five 5 reasons to support his view that we are now heading into better times:

1. Strength of our democracy and its ideals are the bedrock of our country. Encouraging to see youth take active steps to shape their future. The future of our pluralistic democracy is secure.

2. Our economy has done well over the past decade. “The entrepreneurial spirit is very much alive and kicking.”

3. Emphasis on education. Almost every child in India is going to school.

4. India’s economic growth has become socially more inclusive and regionally balanced. Poverty levels are declining.

5. Clean government. The task is complicated because we need to overhaul. But we are moving in the right direction.

In retrospect, this came off as a bit of a “patting oneself on the back” speech. Of course there is no gainsaying that there have been successes, but it would have been infinitely more helpful if the PM had spoken about areas that still need attention and still need to be developed. A report card or list of achievements is not what a PIO or NRI needs, what they probably needed was to know more on what the way ahead is likely to look like, and what opportunities exist or may be made available for their fruitful engagement with the state.
Next on the agenda was a session on Economic Development, which had Satyanarayan Gangaram (Sam) Pitroda — Advisor to the PM on Public Information, Infrastructure & Innovation; Kamal Nath — the Minister of Urban Development & Parliamentary Affairs; Anand Sharma — Minister of Commerce & industry, Siddarth Birla — the President of FICCI (Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry); and Dr. G Mohan Gopal — the Director of the Rajiv Gandhi Institute for Contemporary Studies as panelists and speakers.

After the mandatory heralding of the achievements of the incumbent UPA government that seems to have set a norm at the PBD, Sam Pitroda did hold forth with a little more balance on what does needs to be done, although in overly very broad terms: “We have major issues of disparity, and we need to speed up development … grow at 8 to 10% if we are to really eradicate poverty and usher in prosperity.” Kamal Nath provided some interesting perspectives, although most of it was once again a bit of a repetition: “The complexity of governance in India is more than in any other country … the challenge is not growth, but how we can have inclusive growth … disposable income in urban centres and aspirational society in rural India is what is driving growth … we have moved from Mother India to Miss India … growth has preceded infrastructure, especially in the cities … there are 53 cities with a million plus residents, soon there will be 72 …” An emphasis on inclusive growth and sustainable development, which was once again emphasised later. The important question is whether this will translate into reality in the shape of policies the government will adopt.

The good in this session was that Sam Pitroda did not allow any soap-boxing like that which happened in some other sessions, a very welcome change indeed. The bad was that responses were often curt and unhelpful. Even as a doctor from the US asserted that he and others wanted to give back to India but did not know where and how, he was pontifically told to come to India and do it … unhelpful. When asked about how to overcome corruption, the response was “corruption will always be there,” … but you should not fall prey. Rather over-simplistic and unrealistic. Siddarth Birla cited instances on his recent work on some major initiatives without paying bribes. With all due respect, Mr. Birla, you are a multi-millionaire living in India, well aware of the local context and with rich connections to government to boot … most PIO’s and NRI’s do not have that luxury. Period.
Day three was practically a Narendra Modi show, with the Gujarat Chief Minister attracting the maximum attendance and attention of the diaspora. But that, and the cultural extravaganza that was put up as part of PBD 2k14 is the subject matter of other features in this issue, so read on !

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