The Pravasi Bharatiya Divas, the first of its kind involving the Indian Diaspora, was held in New Delhi, India from January 9th to 11th, 2003. It was organized by the Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India, along with the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry and created a successful consciousness of global Indian family among most participants and a message of togetherness of India and its Diaspora came out loud and clear.
This was the largest gathering of the global Indian family with 1,904 foreign delegates and 1,200 domestic delegates – a truly remarkable figure by any yardstick. The most satisfying feature was the representation from across 61 countries, including advanced and developing world, which indicated the wide reach of the message of the conference among Indian community worldwide.
No less impressive was the quality of panellists and speakers at the Conference. The three Plenary Sessions, the 10 Parallel Sessions and the 7 Parallel Sessions with the State Governments attracted some of the best minds of the global Indian family. The distinctive feature of the panellists was that they were drawn not just from the advanced countries but equally from the developing countries wherever Diaspora is found in noticeable numbers. Undoubtedly, it formulated a large number of action points to be taken up by the various ministries and the need for forming FICCI Diaspora Division emerged during the conference. If implemented, these will open new dimensions in India’s ties with its Diaspora.
One of the main highlights of the conference was action on the L M Singhvi Committee’s Report and significant policy announcements including that of dual citizenship by the Prime Minister, Finance Minister and other Cabinet Ministers.
The conferment of the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman Awards on 10 prominent members of the Diaspora, added a new and historic dimension to the event.
Organizationally, the event symbolized a successful multi-ministerial effort put forward by the Government of India and also a unique example of public-private partnership in which the MEA and the private sector represented by FICCI joined hands to successfully host the event. Apart from the MEA, which along with FICCI was the official host of the event., some of the notable contributions from the Government came from the Prime Minister’s Office, the Deputy Prime Minister’s Office, Home Ministry, Finance Ministry, Ministry of Information & Broadcasting, Ministry of Civil Aviation, Ministry of Tourism and Culture, the national Airports Authority of India, the Ministries of Health, Education, HRD, and Science & Technology. Several other government agencies like Doordarshan, Press Information Bureau, the India Trade Promotion Organization and the Sports Authority of India, SPG and Delhi Police also made noticeable contributions to the event.
Private sector capability was also mobilized across a broad spectrum and substantial sponsorship enabled the Government to keep its expenses of the event within the allocated budget.
To an extent, the conduct and outcome of the event has already been noted in the overwhelmingly impressive coverage accorded to it by both the print and electronic media. Virtually, all-important newspapers of India and TV channels gave the event extensive and intensive coverage before, during and after the event. A preliminary appraisal of the voluminous media coverage shows that well over 90 per cent of the reportage was positive and appreciative of the event as well as the historic initiative taken by the Government of India.
The conference was inaugurated by Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Prime Minister of India, during which he enthralled the audience with his poetry. The Prime Minister invited the NRIs and PIOs to not only share the vision of India in the new millennium but also help us shape its contours. A landmark announcement was made by the Hon’ble Prime Minister of the Government’s decision to grant dual citizenship for the people of Indian origin in select countries.
Nostalgia, warmth and love, all this was blended with the music of Bharat Ratna Pandit Ravi Shankar and Bharat Ratna Ustad Bismillah Khan which mesmerized the audience at the inaugural session.
The unforgettable invocation by the Bharat Ratnas was followed by the Welcome Address by Mr Yashwant Sinha, Minister of External Affairs, and a Theme Presentation by Dr L M Singhvi, Chairman, Organizing Committee of the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas, highlighting the role of the Indian Diaspora. Dr Singhvi marked this congregation of Indian Diaspora as an auspicious beginning and Global Diaspora network of bridges or what was called in the Indian antiquity “Setubndhanam”. Setubandhanam, as a metaphor, sums up the vision, which ought to be the heart of this festival of India and of the Indian Diaspora.
To recognize the goodwill and contribution of our Indian Diaspora, the Prime Minister, Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee, presented Pravasi Bharatiya Samman Awards to 10 members of the Indian Diaspora. The list included Sir Anerood Jugnauth, Prime Minister of Mauritius, The Lord Dholakia of UK, Freedom Fighter Professor Fatima Meer of South Africa, Dr Hari N Harilela of Honk Kong, Mr Ujjal Dosanjh of Canada, Mr Rajat Gupta of USA, Mr Shridath Ramphal of UK, H E Dato’ S Samy Vellu of Malaysia, Dr Manu Chandaria of Kenya and Kanaksi Gokaldas Khimji of Oman.
Mr Nazir Mohammad, one of the oldest original migrants to leave the shores of India, was also honoured.
This was followed by a Special Address by Rt Hon Sir Anerood Jugnauth, Prime Minister of Mauritius, who said that this first of its kind gathering was truly a homecoming.
This was followed by a vote of thanks given by Dr A C Muthiah, President, FICCI, to conclude the Inaugural Session.
The inaugural session was followed by three plenary sessions.
The First Plenary Session was held with Hon’ble Mr Yashwant Sinha, Minister of External Affairs, on the theme “India and the Diaspora – Forging a Constructive Relationship”.
Mr Sinha commented on India’s relations with its Diaspora over the last 55 years. Chaired by Dr L M Singhvi, the session had a number of prominent panellists like Sir Shridath Ramphal (UK), Prof Lord Bhikhu Parekh (UK), H E Dato’ S Samy Vellu (Malaysia), Sir Mewa Ramgobin (South Africa), Mr Mahendra P Choudhry (Fiji), Mr Ernest Moutousamy (Guadeloupe), Mr B K Agnihotri (USA), Mr Ujjal Dosanjh (Canada), Prof Deepak Jain (USA), Prof C K Prahalad (USA), Prof Devesh Kapur (USA), Justice Ebrahim (Zimbabwe), Mr Rajat Gupta (USA), Ms Fatima Meer (South Africa), Mr Thomas Abraham (USA), Mr Bharat Kumar Shah (Dubai), Mr Dhandeo Bahadoor (Mauritius) and a Special Address by Nobel Laureate Prof Amartya Sen. Speaking on the theme “India and the Diaspora – Forging a Constructive Relationship”, Prof Amartya Sen warned Indians against adopting a “frog-in-the-well” attitude and made out a strong case for valuing, defending and fighting for the spirit of openness in which the Indian civilization has blossomed.
• Like India, a high level of diversity characterizes the Indian Diaspora. The diversity of the Diaspora has resulted in the emergence of different social groupings within the Diaspora based on culture, language, religion and region. This has perhaps prevented the establishment of apan-Indian unity amongst the Indian Diaspora.
• The Indian Diaspora is more organized and influential than anytime before.
• Rather than just forging a constructive relationship, we should think on a higher plane-a plane which endows the Indian Diaspora with renewed pride in India’s achievements, achievements across the border in the economic, social and cultural spheres, in the civil and political world.
• The Indian Diaspora has the technical and business skills, commercial relationships and financial capital that can be harnessed. It is a network which can be used to gather intelligence on global opportunities which can provide insights into India’s executive boardrooms while strengthening the raison d’etre of new government policy on deregulation and investment attraction.
• The material circumstances of India, as well as the Indian Diaspora have substantially changed over the last 55 years. India is now a strong and powerful nation which has emerged on the world stage. In fact, the pace and intensity of diplomatic activity that India is engaged is in itself a good indicator of our status in the world. The Second Plenary Session was held with Hon’ble Mr Murli Manohar Joshi, Union Minister of Human Resource Development, Science & Technology and Ocean Development, and was based on the theme “Science and Technology in India – Networking for Excellence”.
The Session was co-chaired by Dr George Sudarshan, Professor, Deptartment of Physics, University of Texas, USA and Dr R Chidambaram, Prinicipal Scientific Adviser to the Government of India. They spoke of the rich traditions of science, education, medicine and maritime science and navigation in India and of the history of scientific temper and experimentation. They invited the participation of the Indians worldwide in supporting endeavours and programmes in this area.
• In physics, mathematics, chemistry, metallurgy, medicine, and astronomy, we are the pioneers. Let us first have this confidence that India had a long history of scientific tradition. Today, India can compete in terms of space and atomic energy with the rest of the world.
• We need a constructive interaction between science and technology. The best of scientists help technology and best of technologies come to the aid of science. Science is not necessarily the lead horse and the technology is the cart that follows.
• Since Independence, India has made impressive strides in the field of education. The literacy rate, which was just 16.67 per cent in 1951, has risen to 65.38 per cent in 2001. The number of educational institutions, the enrollment of boys and girls and the number of teachers have all registered similar increases over the years.
• In space, India has indigenous capability for satellite design, launch and ground segment instrumentation, remote sensing technology for development, applications specific satellite such as Metset for your meteorological observation.
• In ocean development, India has the first indigenous ocean thermal energy plant nearing completion, special materials from polymetallic nodules from the sea and an Indian station in Antarctica. We are also now attempting to have another station for programme on exploration and use of gas hydrates.
• It is our own talent. Mostly, our materials. Mostly, our own designs. And, now we can compete in terms of space and atomic energy with the rest of the world. We have, in terms of nuclear technology, a fully self-reliant and globally-competitive technology, fully indigenous designs, fabrications, installation and commissioning of power plants, strategy for thorium utilization, which is unique to India, R&D in emerging nuclear systems such as accelerator-based power plants.
• Now, the Indian experience can be shared by several of those countries where the Indian Diaspora is in large numbers participating in R&D and their experiences can be shared by us. Now, we, and what we are doing that can be shared by others can share that experience. So, India can become a platform where we can receive from one end and can transfer it to the other end.
The Third Plenary Session was held with Hon’ble Mr Jaswant Singh, Finance Minister of India, on the theme: The Global Business Matrix and the Indian Diaspora.
In his Keynote Address, Mr Jaswant Singh recognized globalization as being irreversible and foresaw in it, a great future for both India and for Pravasi Bharatiyas. The announcement of relaxation of some important policy parameters governing the flow of funds and investments by the Finance Minister were greatly appreciated by the visiting delegates and panellists. The Chairman of the session, Singapore’s Senior Minister of State Tharman Shanmugaratnam, focussed on the merging of a new network of global influence in which China, India and South-East Asia would be the driving forces. Session’s Co-Chair, Mr Manu Chandaria, a leading industrialist from Kenya, urged that the Pravasi Bharatiyas should be seen as ambassadors of goodwill for the Indian way of life. Eminent Indian industrialist, Mr Rahul Bajaj, pointed out that we need to focus on Indians who live on less than one dollar a day. This was followed by presentations by eminent NRI and PIO panellists highlighting some of the key issues, which were perhaps best summed up by Mr K Sital of Honk Kong with the words, “India is not our destination but our destiny”.
• South-East Asia was not just an economic nexus but a cultural nexus between China and India.
• ASEAN-China trade is growing by 30 to 50 per cent per annum depending on which country you look at. ASEAN-India trade is growing by 30 per cent per annum. India- China trade has grown 52 times in the last ten years, 52-fold increase from a very low base, of course.
• For every one billion dollars of Chinese exports, there is a half billion dollars of intermediate inputs into China that supplies the process leading to those exports. Thus, the manufacturing corridor largely, so far, between South-East Asia and China, defines one set of supply chains. There is also a services corridor between India and East Asia that is flourishing, particularly founded on IT and IT-enabled services.
• Investments only flow where there is peace, law and order, predictability, where investors have freedom to operate, where there is little harassment. Any country which creates these, such environments reap the benefit. Investments see no colour, see no creed. It goes where it is wanted, it is honoured, it is cuddled and it is protected. This is a pre-requirement.
• Technology is a great social leveller. It puts two unequal human beings on an equal footing. It cuts across cost, race and religion. Special programmes are urgently needed to take technology to the masses in rural areas. Unfortunately, in India technology is something urban, elite, exotic, fancy, intimidating and sexy. It is not problem-solving.
The second day featured a Special Interactive Session with Hon’ble Mr L K Advani, Deputy Prime Minister of India.
The session was chaired by The Lord Navnit Dholakia (UK) and co-chaired by Senator Hon’ble Dr Linda Baboola (Trinidad & Tobago). Mr Advani inaugurated a web site on Indian Diaspora and released a Hindi translation of “Beyond Belief” a book by Nobel Laureate Sir V S Naipaul. This was followed by the Keynote Address by Mr Advani and a Special Address by Sir V S Naipaul.
Parallel Breakout Sessions
Parallel Breakout Sessions were held during the second half-day of I0th January, covering various fields. A large number of eminent NRI and PIO panellists shared the dais and set the tone for fruitful discussions with lively question-and-answer sessions in each of the above parallel sessions. Panellists included experts in their areas from both within India and the Diaspora.
Science and Technology
The Session on Science and Technology was based on two themes.
The first theme was — Advancing Indian Research in Partnership with STIOs Abroad
The discussion on this theme was presided over by Dr R Chidambaram, Principal Scientific Adviser to the Government of India, and Prof E C G Sudershan, Department of Physics, University of Texas.
The session was co-chaired by Prof V S Ramamurthy, Secretary, Department of Science and Technology, Government of India, and Dr Bhakta B Rath, Head, Materials Science & Component Technology Directorate, and Associate Director of Research, Naval Research Laboratory (NRL), Washington, DC.
Many eminent speakers and about 30 scientists, technologists, government officials, industrialists and entrepreneurs participated in this discussion.
The second theme was — Enlarging Technological & Business Opportunities in Partnership with STIOs Abroad.
The discussion was co-chaired by Dr R A Mashelkar, Director General, Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, and Secretary, Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, and Dr Praveen Chaudhari, IBM Research Division, Thomas J Watson Research Centre, New York.
Indian universities should get more funds by endowments from individuals and corporates (from Diaspora) for scientific research.
India’s participation in megascience programmes like CERN, rice genomes sequencing, international megascience and technologies projects, etc. to be explored in future, jointly by Indians and STIOs (Scientists and Technologists of Indian Origin).
Involvement of STIOs in upgrading teaching and research in Indian institutions to share their rich and invaluable experiences and organizing bilateral and other exchange programmes.
The participation by the STIOs in the Indian R&D Centres and Technology Parks was recognized as an important area of collaboration between STIOs and Indian institutions. STIOs can promote India as a R&D hub for new-generation products and technologies (outsourcing research, product design, etc.).
Contribution by STIOs in the biotech sector with special emphasis on validation, packaging & commercialization of biotech results from India was recognized as a key area of cooperation
STIOs should create forums for establishing and enhancing institution-alumni relations.
The Department of Science & Technology (DST), as a nodal agency, needs to catalyze interface of STIOs with Indian research institutions and industry. The Indian missions abroad and other concerned agencies will be actively interacting with the nodal agency to strengthen the task. A communication channel could be immediately established as web site for soliciting interests of STIOs’ participation in the realization of the above opportunities in science & technology.
Voluntary Sector and Development
The Session on Voluntary Sector and Development: Diaspora and the Emerging Challenges in India’s Social Development – Role of Pravasi Bharatiyas was held with Mr I K Gujral, former Prime Minister of India.
Ms Ela Bhatt, Founder and General Secretary, SEWA, chaired the session.
Ms Priya Viswanath, Director & CEO, Catalyst India, gave the theme address.
This session witnessed two panel discussions, Regulatory Framework and Reforms and Networking for Effectiveness.
The session was conducted with a view that PIOs/NRIs are eager to donate generously for worthy development causes in India like the Chinese Diaspora has done. However, in India a plethora of rules and regulations, indifference and even hostility of the government machinery frustrate the efforts of the genuine PIO/NRI philanthropists.\
Urgent need to simplify rules and regulations that govern the setting up of voluntary agencies/trusts by NRIs/PIOs. Creation of a single-window mechanism for clearances from agencies like the Home Ministry, Central Excise, Income Tax and RBI.
Setting up of a Working Group comprising representatives from RBI, Home Ministry, CBTD, CBEC and active voluntary agencies of the Diaspora to submit a proposal to the Government within three months on a draft policy for facilitating speedier inflow of Diaspora donor money.
Simplification of FCRA, 1976 to enable India to receive more remittances from PIOs for philanthropic activities.
Awareness to be created by Indian Missions regarding government procedures and clearances required in this sector. Multimedia CD-ROMs and brochures can be developed and distributed for this.
Creating interactive modules for Diaspora’s voluntary agency networks.
The Planning Commission should come out with an indicative action plan, stating priority areas where voluntary work is needed the most and outline the appropriate action by the Diaspora agencies to speed up India’s development.
Work with the Government to facilitate easy transfer of funds by registered NGOs for activities anywhere in the country with only a reporting requirement to the RBI/Ministry of Home Affairs.
With the help of MEA, it shall organize programmes to encourage idealistic NRI/PIO students to come to India for voluntary work.
The education sector can play a vital role in strengthening linkages between the NRIs/ PIOs and India. India has to adopt a multi-pronged strategy in meeting the aspirations of the Diaspora and its own policy objectives in this crucial sector, especially to meet the demand for quality school education in India, which emanates from the Diaspora in the Gulf region.
The Session on Education – Developing Human Capital: Advantage India was held with Prof Y K Alagh, former Union Minister, Vice-Chancellor of JNU, Vice-Chairman of Sardar Patel Institute of Economic and Social Research, Ahmedabad.
Dr Kavita Sharma, Principal, Hindu College, New Delhi, chaired the session.
A number of eminent educationists from India and abroad spoke at this session.
Strengthening of ties between NRIs/PIOs and educational institutions in India.
Privatization of education sector in India to enable NRIs/PIOs to become investors in educational institutions.
Standardization in terms of teaching practices, syllabus, etc. in India to ensure recognition of Indian degrees abroad.
Special attention to be paid to children of Gulf NRIs, keeping in view their special needs. There should be no discrimination in the fee structures in India. More Indian schools to be opened in the Gulf.
Provision of seats in Navodaya Schools and good private schools in India for lessprivileged sections, which can neither afford to take their children abroad nor have the financial resources to send them to the residential schools in India. Moreover, increasing the number of seats in other existing colleges and universities.
Institutions like IGNOU should expand its tele-education facilities for the benefit of the Diaspora.
IITs and other specialized institutions should forge stronger networks with NRIs/PIOs to enhance the quality of its research programmes.
NRIs should be encouraged to support schools for primary and basic education by adopting villages and townships.
Educational fairs and exhibitions can be co-organized by the Ministry, State Governments