At the recently concluded second Pravasi Bharatiya Divas in New Delhi, comparisons with last year were inevitable.
The first Pravasi Bharatiya Divas saw a number of high-profile speakers like Nobel laureates Amartya Sen and V S Naipaul, management guru C K Prahalad, and former McKinsey chief Rajat Gupta at the event.
In contrast, this year there were few speakers of comparable calibre.
Amit Mitra, Secretary-General of Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry, in an interview with Special Correspondent Priya Ganapati, talks about what sets the event apart this year, the absence of high profile speakers and the lack of representation from opposition party members. FICCI is the organiser of the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas.
What are the key differences between the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas event this year over the last year?
This year the entire registration effort was online and the payment of the small fee we charge was also done online.
The entire US delegation, barring a few, registered online. The entire registration process was done without having to speak to or write to anybody in India. This also helped us get a rich database.
Sixty-five per cent of the delegates from abroad came through online registration.
The second thing is that people came last year as individuals to see what this tamasha, or the festival, is all about. This year they have become more serious. They started enquiring about trade possibilities and joint ventures from six months ago.
And this year they have come in terms of associations, be it the doctors or the motel owners association in the United States. We have fixed them meetings with the ministers concerned so they can interact directly.
Finally, FICCI has signed a MoU (memorandum of understanding) with 16 chambers of Indian origin across the world not only to interact with India, but also with each other.
We have also had a major session on law and people of Indian origin. For instance, issues like divorce, child custody and property have become increasingly important to Indians who have gone abroad.
What kind of logistics and expenditure has gone into the event?
The budget would be in the range of Rs 8-9 crore (Rs 80-90 million) or about $2 million. Over 200 officers of FICCI have been working for last seven to eight months. The ministry of external affairs has put a strong foot forward.
So the effort became easier because of the huge manpower. Approximately 2,600 delegates came in making it the largest conference in India.
This year the event seems to not have got the kind of high-profile speakers that it managed to last year. V S Naipaul, Indra Nooyi, Kellogg's Prof Bala Balachandran all seemed to have dropped out.
I don't agree. We had major gains in the quality of speakers in some areas; some people had other commitments. We think that the quality of speakers in terms of their stature and seriousness has gone.
For instance, last year you didn't have many Lords from the Upper House of Britain. This year we have five. So, we had many new high-profile speakers. Others had some other commitments and could not come.
This is normal in any international conference. So I think overall the standards have gone up.
There is a limited pool of high-profile speakers to choose from when it comes to Non-Resident Indians. So can the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas sustain quality year after year?
We think so. . . as long as there is something fresh about it every year. For instance, a lot of young people have come this year because the emphasis is on youth. A lot of professionals have come this time because of the sessions on healthcare, social development, et cetera.
We think that as long as the focus keeps changing and remains fresh, this will become a meeting point for people of Indian origins from across the world.
The Pravasi Bharatiya Divas has become a marketplace for interface of cultures, ideas and business. So in a way, this will sustain because people will treat it as a pilgrimage to India.
Is the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas independent of the party in the government? If yes, why do we see no representation from the opposition parties in this event?
There was Jyotiraditya Scindia from the Congress in the session on the Diaspora Youth. It was because there was no government policy in it to discuss. So we took advantage of that and asked a member of the opposition to come for it.
The reason why government participation is much higher is because the people of Indian origin want to hear about policy.
The opposition cannot make policy statements. It has to be done by the government. So my submission is that it is the demand of the people of Indian origin that we want to talk to ministers and secretaries of departments so that they can solve our problems and answer our queries.
So what does the event ultimately want to achieve?
The event aims to expand and deepen the global family of Indians in 20 or 30 dimensions. The Chinese Diaspora is the main investor in China. Seventy per cent of China's FDI (foreign direct investment) is from them. We don't have the large business houses that the people of Chinese origin have in many countries, but our Diaspora has tremendous knowledge capital.
The Pravasi Divas will become the bridge to access that knowledge capital. It will be where people of Indian origin will exchange knowledge and also bring in investments.
What do you think was the high point of the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas this year?
I think the best moment was the prime minister's announcement of fresh measures, which even we at FICCI came to know only the previous night. The prime minister's announcement takes the whole thing forward by many more steps.
Most people didn't expect the prime minister to do this. They expected a sweet visionary statement, but not a policy statement.