The ‘sweeping’ changes in the Indian political arena after the Delhi assembly elections a few weeks ago became the backdrop of the just-concluded 12th Pravasi Bharatiya Divas (PBD) conference in New Delhi. Whether it was Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s inaugural speech, the keynote speeches by cabinet ministers or the farewell address by President Pranab Mukherjee, the common refrain of highlighting the government’s achievements over the last decade, especially the last five years, was always present.
Manmohan Singh reassured NRIs by urging them not to despair about India’s future. To support his contention, he cited an annual economic growth rate of 7.9 percent over the last nine years and predicted five percent growth this year. He said that India was headed towards better times.
This big picture can be justified in all fairness as the government believes that its successes get swept under the carpet with sensational news about scams and corruption. However, with the April-May Lok Sabha elections and the acceleration of the political temperature with fiery speeches by the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi, and the breathtaking sweep of the Delhi assembly elections by newcomer Arvind Kejriwal of the Aam Admi Party, with his symbol of a broom, have clearly put the government on high alert for NRI support. Many NRIs have been so impressed by the AAP that they have contributed significantly in cash and as volunteers for its success.
Although the BJP and the AAP were not mentioned during any plenary sessions, the two parties were the major topics of conversation between the visiting delegates and Indians during the breaks. During the three-day conference, a couple of news items appeared in the Indian print media. One news clip was headlined “NRIs see Mahatma Gandhi’s image in Kejriwal”. Another was headlined “Everybody praising AAP in Britain”.
A media highlight was Narendra Modi’s well-attended speech when he mocked Manmohan Singh. In sharp satire, Modi commented: “I agree with the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Good days are ahead for India. I don’t want to say anything more…We should wait for four to six months.” The jibe was all over the TV networks in no time and later in the print media.
The first day of the conclave was devoted to its major theme of connecting NRI youth to India. The Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs has been successfully running for some years a ‘Know India Programme’ for youths to discover the land of their ancestors. Since India has largely a youthful population with over a quarter aged between 15 and 29 years, NRI youth can easily connect with them based on common concerns and aspirations. This interaction would result in greater understanding, cooperation, creation of wealth, livelihoods and prosperity, according to Vayalar Ravi, the overseas Indian affairs minister.
Many youth leaders, both NRIs and Indians, addressed and participated in the different sessions and the major outcome was to increase the scope of the ‘Know India Programme’ and make youth interaction a regular feature at all future PBD. Basically, the aim is to introduce NRI youth to India and enable them get involved in Indian development projects.
The final session during which the president confers the Pravasi awards is usually a routine affair when leading NRI/PIO community leaders, intellectuals and business leaders are honoured by the country.
This year’s ceremony was different for two awardees. A huge cheer went up when Ela Gandhi, the grand-daughter of Mahatma Gandhi, and a peace activist, was given the award for enhancing India’s image in South Africa. A former member of parliament in South Africa from 1994 to 2004, she had been placed under house arrest for five years during the country’s struggle against apartheid. The other outstanding awardee was the Ramakrishna Mission in Fiji for community service since 1937 with an active role in education.
This PBD had a great deal of business interaction at the exhibition stalls, a great deal of cross-border conversations during the breaks and a great deal of Indian culture in the evenings. With the highest participation of 700 delegates after the initial 4,000 for the first edition, it ended on a bright note. The basic message for NRIs from a young India is: No more Mother India, she is now Miss India.
(14-01-2014 – Kul Bhushan worked as a newspaper editor in Nairobi for over three decades and now lives in New Delhi. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)