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'The Indian Diaspora is a rainbow'

January 10, 2003 17:22 IST

A new day of new and promising beginnings dawned today in the history of India's relationship with its Diaspora. Of that history I have been a student and a witness for all of our 55 years after we attained independence and that is why I believe that Pravasi Bharatiya Divas marks the birth of a new idea, a far reaching new perception, a vibrant new conception and a pioneering inception. It is the first step in a journey of thousand miles, and the first step is always the most crucial, the most significant, the most memorable and the most momentous.

Pravasi Bharatiya Divas is meant to acknowledge the Diaspora from the Pacific and the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic and the Caribbean, from Africa and West Asia to West Europe and the Americas, who have in their own different ways done India proud. Today, by common consent they are a force to reckon with and constitute what I termed long ago as the National Reserve and Resource of India. For them India remains an emotive core and will I hope become a destination for a meaningful and practical partnership in common endeavours.

There is much we can do together. I hope and pray that Providence will bless this propitious beginning for a fascinating journey of fruitful exploration and endeavour, and that in the years to come we may look upon it as the starting point of a consecrated and purposeful new pilgrimage of the kindred togetherness of the Global Indian family.

This, and here and now, is future history in making, for Pravasi Bharatiya Divas is not merely about the Past and its problems or the Present and its Challenges. This Diaspora Utsav is about our resolve to contribute to our Common Future.

The High Level Committee on the Indian Diaspora which I had the honour to chair proposed and the Government of India agreed in the choice of 9th January as the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas, which has the everlasting fragrance of Mahatma Gandhi's vision and his life and work, for it was on that day that he returned to India from South Africa to lead the Indian nation in its freedom struggle and the renaissance of the spirit and genius of India and the best of our heritage. Pravasi Bharatiya Divas is an attempt to take on board the unfinished agenda of our freedom struggle and of our post – Independence contemporary concerns for the Indian Diaspora and for the Indian Diaspora's heartfelt need to relate to India and to relate to its own different segments in order to maintain the hub and spoke relationship with India and to create a new network of a web which embraces within its orbit all the concentric and multicentric convergences.

Towards that end we have to follow the poetic invocation calling upon us to climb every mountain, to ford every stream, and to follow every rainbow till we find our dreams and make them come true.

Pravasi Bharatiya Divas has been preceded by a whole lot of homework by the High Level Committee on the Indian Diaspora as well as by the Organizing Committee for this extraordinary and unprecedented congregation of unity in diversity. But the proof of the pudding is after all in the eating, and I hope that the organising committee which represents all the concerned departments of the government and the partnership of the government with FICCI has produced a pudding which will prove itself in the eating.

The Pravasi Bharatiya Divas is an affectionate gift of Mother India to its overseas children, a gift of the prime minister's commitment to the idea of building bridges between India and the Indian Diaspora. This is a theme on which I dared to dream long ago and the seedling and the sapling of which I have nursed for more than four decades. I have had the opportunity to interact with each one of the distinguished prime ministers of India on issues relating to the Diaspora. I recall how Shri Rajiv Gandhi warmed up to the idea and was keen to inscribe it on his agenda for the 21st century. Shri P V Narasimha Rao clearly saw the rationale of the idea. But the time for the fruition and the fulfillment of the idea arrived when Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee came to the prime ministerial office. It is to him as the karta of the large and sprawling global Indian family that we owe the vision of cultural statesmanship which has brought the Diaspora into focus for India and for the Diaspora itself.

It is to him that we turned for strength and inspiration in the work of the High Level Committee on the Indian Diaspora. He made it possible for us to disprove the cynical adage of Dr Johnson who had said that a committee consists of individuals who can do nothing individually and decide collectively that nothing can be done. Happily, the idea of a new approach to the Diaspora has proved to be resilient and we can now say with confidence that our committee was not a device to defer and push Diaspora issues into oblivion.

Mr Prime Minister, in the ultimate analysis, a report is only as good as its implementation. Pravasi Bharatiya Divas and Pravasi Bharat Samman constitute only the first installment of the implementation of the recommendations of our committee which has made in all some 160 recommendations based on a hard headed and a warm-hearted study of vast and massive data including a large number of country profiles and equally on the perceptions and representations of the worldwide Indian Diaspora and the inputs provided by the entire apparatus of the Government of India and the state governments. Our recommendations cover every part of the world, every walk of human endeavour and every department of the government and civil society.

Mr Prime Minister, at this juncture, may I suggest that we need to modify President Kennedy's exhortation to say to all the segments of the Indian Diaspora: Tell us what we can do for you and ask yourself what you can do for India and for each other globally. That is what the High Level Committee did. Our recommendations offer an integrated blueprint of a practical and purposeful partnership and solidarity between India and the Indian Diaspora.

The Indian Diaspora now looks up to you, Mr Prime Minister, to offer them what they expect and to tell them what is expected of them. A segment of the Indian Diaspora expects to hear your government's decision on the unequivocal recommendation we have made to you with regard to dual citizenship. All other segments of the Diaspora long to be inspired and guided by you in a hundred different ways. And they would like your Diaspora initiative to be sustained over the years if we are to achieve enduring results.

I would suggest that the government should formulate a comprehensive Diaspora policy, cultivate an informed interest in the Diaspora and its core concerns including its human rights and human dignity, and create an effective coordinating mechanism for Diaspora affairs. India and other countries of the world should strive in the international fora to achieve international consensus on a more rational approach to migrations and migrants and an approach to fight racism and prejudice. I think the Diaspora, on its part, should engage itself in the task of assisting India to transform itself into a power house of development and moral and cultural strength.

I hold the view that the strength of the Diaspora is the strength. I hold the view that the strength of the Diaspora is the strength of India and the strength of India will be the greatest source of strength and safety for the global Indian family.

Mr Prime Minister, you spoke in your famous New Year Musings of connectivity of all kinds in a forward – looking manner for the transformation of India. The Indian Diaspora and Pravasi Bharatiya Divas is a shining example of the great potential of the human connectivity of the global Indian family. That connectivity makes for yet another global highway which would be akin to the Pradhan Mantri Yojna for better connectivity through roads and highways within India.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the first Pravasi Bharatiya Divas has many firsts to its credit. It is for the first time that such an ingathering of the global Indian family from some 60 countries is taking place. It is for the first time that a great Listening Post has been created institutionally to hear the voices of the Indian Diaspora carefully and systematically. It is for the first time that we have an opportunity to welcome a sizeable delegation of our French and Dutch speaking Indian Diaspora. And it is for the first time we have the most eminent statesmen, scientists, academics, entrepreneurs, business leaders and the youth of the Diaspora at a purpose-oriented conference where we would discuss themes such as investments; tax problems; airport reform; cultural centres and programmes; tourism; ecology; technology transfer; education, health and philanthropy sectors; building of a Pravasi Bharatiya Bhavan by the Diaspora somewhat like an India International Centre; media; rights and obligations of the Diaspora; migration policies, Diaspora pensioners etc.

We shall also have a glimpse of the performing arts of the resident Indians and of the Indian Diaspora and most important of all, we shall have opportunities for fellowship and for discovering beauty and grace in the many splendoured diversities of the Indian Diaspora.

The Indian Diaspora is a rainbow, and if I may say so, my head soars with a fond aspiration and my heart leaps with boundless joy when I behold the rainbow of India and Indians over the globe. I also behold and hope for the globalisation of India in the right perspective and Indianisation of the globe in the right proportion, with our Indian Diaspora as the catalyst for cross-fertilisation. This congregation and this auspicious beginning will, I hope, build a global Diaspora network of bridges or what was called in Indian antiquity, Setubandhanam. 

Setubandhanam as a metaphor sums up the vision which ought to be at the heart of this festival of India and of the Indian Diaspora, and to highlight that message I composed a few lines in Sanskrit some ten years ago:

  Setubandhanam Sarvaranjanam
  Setubandhanam Margasadhanam
  Setubandhanam Snehkarnam
  Setubandhanam Vikasmoolam
  Setubandhanam Utkarshikaranam
  Setubandhanam Vihit-tamam
  Setubandhanam Sada Bhavyam
  Setubandhanam Sada Divyam
  Sada Satyam Sanatanam

Freely and roughly translated (with my own gloss), it would mean: 'Bridges may be built to secure welfare and happiness of all (Sarvaranjanam); to blaze new trails and facilitate passages (Margsadhanam); bridges may be built for the cause of affection among individuals and groups and for goodwill among nations and peoples (Snehkaranam); and as the foundation of development (Vikasmulam), for progress and prosperity (Utkarshkaram), for salvaging that which matters, and to reduce distances with a view to increase togetherness and speed arrival and advancement (Vihit-tamam). Let this Setu be ever magnificent (Sada Bhavyam), let us always be graced by divine purpose (Sada Divyam). Let it always represent the eternal truths enshrined in the enduring and universal vision of Indian (Sada Satyam Sanatanam).

Dr L M Singhvi, MP and Chairman, High Level Committee on the Indian Diaspora, is Chairman, Pravasi Bharatiya Divas 2003. This is the speech he delivered at the inauguration on January 9.

 

Dr L M Singhvi