The Modi government’s key programmes, including Make in India, would be highlighted during the Jan 7-9 Pravasi Bharatiya Divas (PBD) being held in Gandhinagar, Gujarat, that is expected to see around 3,000 Indian diaspora attending.
The annual PBD is being held in Gandhinagar to mark the centenary of the return of the “sarva sreshtha pravasi Bharatiya” or foremost Indian diaspora member, Mahatma Gandhi to India from South Africa, said External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj who is also minister for Overseas Indian Affairs.
An exhibition on Mahatma Gandhi and his contribution to India’s independence would also be inaugurated besides other events to mark the centenary of Gandhi’s return to India.
Foreign Minister of South Africa Maite Nkoana-Mashabane has also been invited, but her confirmation is awaited, said Sushma Swaraj.
The chief guest of the 13th PBD would be Guyana President Donald Ramotar.
PBD is the world’s largest annual gathering of people of Indian origin aimed at enhancing networking and reinforcing commercial linkages. There are 25 million people of Indian origin residing outside India.
The Pravasi Bharatiya Divas would be “different” from earlier PBDs, stressed Sushma Swaraj.
The PBD would be hosting some special events, including a special session for the diaspora youth and also four special sessions. These are – to deal with the concerns of diaspora living in the Gulf countries, for those living in Francophone countries, a session for countries where the descendants of Indian indentured labour live and another session to address concerns of the associations of Indian diaspora, she said.
Gujarat is the partner country for the event. Ten Indian states, including the non-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) states of Uttar Pradesh, Kerala and Nagaland, are participating.
The BJP states are Gujarat, Goa, AMadhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Haryana and Maharashtra.
Asked if West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who is at loggerheads with the BJP, was invited, Sushma Swaraj said that she had sent letters of invitation to all chief ministers, and so far 10 had confirmed they would be attending.
Finance Minister Arun Jaitey and Commerce Minister Nirmala Sitharaman would be addressing the session between the 10 chief ministers and NRI businesspersons, she said.
The officials looking after the Make in India, Swachch Bharat, Skill India, Clean Ganga projects and Tourism would tell the diaspora about the schemes and invite investments from the diaspora.
Sushma Swaraj also denied that the decision to host the event in Gujarat this time was taken after the new government came into power.
She said that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had four years ago, while he was chief minister of Gujarat, proposed hosting PBD in Gujarat in 2015 and had written about it to the then prime minister Manmohan Singh.
To another question, she said that the ministry is working to merge the Overseas Citizenship of India (OCI) cards with the Person of Indian Origin (PIO) cards and ensure lifelong visa to the holders.
On a proposal to grant voting rights to NRIs, Sushma Swaraj said that they are examining several suggestions, including having Electronic Voting Machines placed in embassies during elections, allowing proxy voting or having the diaspora member to come home to vote.
“There is no decision yet, we are thinking of a solution,” she said.
To criticism that the PBD events end up becoming places for the businesspersons to interact, she said that this time they have “tried to balance the aam admi and the businessperson” and cited the special events being held for the diaspora to address their concerns.
The Indian ambassadors of six Gulf countries have been invited to address the special session on diaspora living in those countries.
The event would kick off Jan 7 with a Youth PBD where the children of Indian diaspora would participate and be given an insight into the culture and heritage of India as well as its achievements, including in space and IT.
On Jan 8, Prime Minster Modi would Ainaugurate the main session and Jan 9, President Pranab Mukherjee would give away the Pravasi Bharatiya Sammans to 15 eminent diaspora members.