Everybody has been asking the question. Ever since the First Pravasi Bharatiya Diwas held in New Delhi from 7h to 9 January 2003, initiated under the Vajpayee Government to coincide with Mahatma Gandhi’s definite return to India from South Africa on 9 January 1915, there has been a constant gathering of thousands of people from the worldwide Indian Diaspora in New Delhi, Chennai, Hyderabad or Mumbai . In between, regional PBDs have been held in New Yolk, Nairobi, Singapore and Mauritius to name but a few such hubs. This year the 9th regional PBD was scheduled in Los Angeles, California, USA.
Why then the great happening did not take place this year?
Shrimati Sushma Swaraj talks to PIOs, NRIs of five countries
Actually as Shrimati Sushma Swaraj, Minister of External Affairs of the Indian government stated at a video-conference from New Delhi on Saturday 9 January 2016, a new format has been adopted this year which has been deemed as a fantastic event. Why? This new format in a video-conferencing with Minister Sushma Swaraj assembled key figures of the Indian diaspora, keeping in mind the Time Zones , from 5 different countries: 1. United Kingdom 2. Dubai 3. Mauritius 4. Malaysia and 5. Singapore, on Saturday last for about one and a half hours. Two representatives from each country were chosen to put specific questions to Shrimati Sushma Swaraj concerning issues related to the Indian diaspora. She replied in Hindi with an immediate translation in English. The objective is to develop a new paradigm for engaging with the diaspora over the next ten years. Ms Priti Patel, Minister of Employment in David Cameron’s Government and Champion for Indian Diaspora affairs in UK and General V.K. Singh, State Minister of External Affairs, India were also present and addressed the gathering.
The video-conferencing in Mauritius was held at the Mauritius Telecom Centre in Port-Louis following an informal get together by Shri Anup Kumar Mudgal, High Commissioner of India to exchange ideas over some important diaspora issues. Socio-cultural organisation leaders and heads of institutions were convened. Two questions were put by dignitaries from each country. Armoogum Parsuramen, former Mauritian Minister of Education and UNESCO Director in India, focused his question on the extension of the PIO-OCI card to fifth generation of PIOs.
The Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs created in 2004 at the request of a large number of Overseas Indians and PIOs was merged recently within the Ministry of External Affairs. This has generated the fear that this merger may dim or sidetrack the affairs of the Overseas Indians and People of Indian Origin. Gulshan Sooklall, Acting Secretary General of the World Hindi Secretariat put his apprehension forward to Shimati Sushma Swaraj who reassured that as she was herself the Minister responsible for the two Ministries, this merger was therefore done in a spirit of good governance. Especially as the issues of the Indian Diaspora are eventually taken up by the Ministry of External Affairs and dealt with through the Indian Missions abroad.
Several other questions relating to E-Migration, scholarships to under privileged students, the creation of a PIO University in India, the contribution of PIO and NRI investment in India, Bank Transfers, the problem of women workers in Gulf countries and Saudi Arabia, security of Indian nationals in conflict zones abroad were also put to Shrimati Sushma Swaraj from different countries engaged in that video-conferencing.
New PBD Format deemed more effective
This new PBD format as from this year would enable more link and direct interaction with the diaspora countries throughout the world, said Shrimati Swaraj emphatically. There would be greater and more meaningful dialogues involving experts from diaspora countries and India on a month-to-month basis meet in New Delhi and problems of diasporic people would be solved in a more realistic cadre. The grand traditional PBD Festival would be held every 2nd year and in a more effective way. This decision was in fact taken at the last PBD held in Gandhinagar to mark the 100th anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi’s return to India. This will create more bonding and deepen the ties between India and the Indian Diaspora at all levels culturally, economically, socially including diplomatically and at touristic and hospitality levels.
Shrimati Sushma Swaraj encourages Indians who have done well for themselves and contributed immensely to the development of their host countries to pledge to make a substantive contribution also to uplift the poor villages from which they originated back in India in terms of sanitation and the ‘Clean Ganges’ campaign.
The idea of this new approach is to enhance the welfare of the Indian Diaspora and re-energize the diasporic platform.
There is no doubt that the annual three-day meet of Indian diaspora was a great extravaganza and Mela, a great festival held in a spectacular way, with great prompt. But after three days of celebration, everybody went back home and not much concrete follow-up work resulted thereafter. It was also observed that only a handful people from the diaspora came to the PBD. The great majority remained untouched. Hence this new format of the PBD would help to involve all Indian Missions abroad to maintain a more dynamic link with locals. It will involve more people to people interaction between diasporic Indians and the Motherland.
Far-Reaching Histories of Diasporas
The Indian Diaspora people have shown a great connectivity among themselves over the last few years, and they interact actively and fruitfully globally. The GOPIO International Organisations and other similar bodies have focused on transnational meetings of both classical and modern Indian Diasporas. On the other hand, linguistic and cultural Diasporas too have been very active. For the occasion of Makar Sankranti or Pongal which falls on this 15th January, there has been a vibrant cultural interaction between Chennai, Malaysia and Singapore with the active participation of the Mauritius Tamil Temples Federation involving international media coverage of a 100 artists group presentation of heritage items in the premises of the Mahatma Gandhi Institute.
The new President of the MTTF Mr Madeven Sooben told me that he would like to see greater sharing and collaboration not only within his own linguistic group across the diaspora but also with all other communities of the island with common destinies and shared cultural heritage.
If for Shrimati Indira Gandhi, Mauritius appeared as a “Chotta Bharat” to Shrimati Sushma Swaraj Mauritius is an “Aur ek Bharat – Another India” beyond the shores of India. She also added: “You are us, We are you”. In fact Diasporas whether Jewish, Chinese, Mauritian or Indian have this common shared history – movement of people across marked political boundaries. As a global phenomenon, diasporas have far-reaching histories and multi-located populations. In today’s postmodern and globalised world people have learnt to live with multiple identities.
The recent International Diaspora Conference at the MGI early in December 2015 of Mauritians settled abroad and doing well did in fact throw light on the immense contribution that new diasporic people can make to help Mauritius expand economically and globally.
The Indian diaspora reaching 30 million globally definitely is a capital asset for India economically, culturally, socially and politically. The PBD is a definite platform for India to re-energise its links with global Indians. The next great PBD meet is henceforth scheduled for January 2017.
* Published in print edition on 15 January 2016