Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's speech at the inaugural session of the First Pravasi Bharatiya Divas celebrations, January 9, 2003.
Your Excellency, Sir Anerood Jugnauth; Eminent representatives of the global Indian family; Distinguished Guests,
My simple greeting to all of you here today is: Welcome Home.
Many of you are citizens of your adopted countries. Over 20 million of you have set up home in scores of countries, near and far. But each one of you shares a common identity -- your Indianness -- and a common origin -- this Motherland of your forefathers. Therefore, this great gathering, which is the first of its kind, is truly a homecoming.
It is also a grand occasion for the country to pay tribute to its sons and daughters who have succeeded in reaching the pinnacle in so many diverse fields of human endeavour all over the world.
There is yet another important aspect of this unique celebration of the Pravasi Bharatiya's association with his land of origin. Many of you -- or your forefathers -- left India in search of fortune or a better
livelihood. Today, India has itself become a land of opportunity. We want to share with our extended family our achievements, hopes, concerns, aspirations and goals. Your awareness of our current national course and understanding of our perspectives would enrich your bonds with India and heighten your sense of belonging in the global Indian family.
The odyssey of our people to the four corners of the globe has been a saga of courage, enterprise and character. In ancient times, our forefathers went to distant lands as traders, monks, teachers and temple builders. A century and a half ago, Indian indentured labour was sent forth to sugar, tea and rubber plantations in near and far-flung parts of the British Empire. They worked on lands as far apart as Fiji and Mauritius, Suriname and Sri Lanka, Trinidad and Burma, Guyana and Malaysia.
The next wave of emigration was of entrepreneurs and traders who sailed intrepidly into uncharted waters for unknown countries. Since the 70's, young Indian professionals have been migrating abroad to corporate boardrooms, research laboratories, engineering workshops and university faculties. The emigration of doctors, nurses, engineers, managers, plumbers, and electricians to West Asia and the Gulf, has seen a steady growth.
Today, the success of every category of these emigrants all over the world testifies to the indomitable spirit, which they carried from Indian soil. It is a tribute to their patience and forbearance in the face of hardship, rebuke and denial. It speaks of their dedication to their chosen professions, overcoming various trials and tribulations.
On this day, 88 years ago, Mahatma Gandhi returned to India after nearly 20 years as a Pravasi Bharatiya in South Africa. His struggle against discrimination, deprivation and exploitation of Indians in South Africa not only fired the imagination of Indian patriots, it also inspired a spate of freedom movements right across the African continent. Out of those freedom movements emerged Pravasi Bharatiya heroes like Seewoosagar Ramgoolam of Mauritius; Yusuf Dadoo and Monty Naicker of South Africa; Cheddi Jagan of Guyana; Jagernath Lachmon of Suriname and many others.
Not many people today remember the painful Kamagatamaru episode of the early 20th century, when a boatload of Sikhs from India were most brutally left to fend for themselves on the high seas off the coast of Canada. Today, Sikhs are among the most prosperous Canadians and are increasingly influential in Canadian politics. In Ujjal Dossanj, we honour one such prominent Canadian figure.
Even the illiterate indentured plantation labourers empowered succeeding generations through a determined pursuit of education. Sir Vidia Naipaul, Sir Anerood Jugnauth, Dato Samy Vellu and millions of others are living symbols of the transformation of an oppressed community to leaders of society in the space of a few generations.
Let us remember that unlike the British, the French, the Dutch and the Germans, India was never a maritime power. All the same, Indians ventured forth across the seas to set up new homes in new lands. They went in peace, often with nothing more than faith in their destiny. No country can claim that Indians entered its territory in the spirit of colonialism. This also is a glorious tribute to you and your
forefathers. Few people who entered foreign lands can claim such a testimony.
Pandit Nehru once remarked that wherever there is a Indian, a bit of India goes with him. Pravasi Indians have truly taken India abroad -- Indian culture, Indian society and Indian traditions, not to mention Indian films and Indian cuisine!
The outside world has also attracted the best Indian talents, skills, brains and abilities -- like Amartya Sen and Jagdish Bhagwati, E C G Sudarshan and S Chandrashekhar, Hargobind Khorana and Zubin Mehta. The Pravasi Bharatiya family today also includes:
- Indian writers in English with an international readership;
- Entrepreneurs and industrialists with a global reach of operations;
- Management and lifestyle gurus with a huge following; and,
Filmmakers, sportspersons, artists and performers of great popularity.
They have dramatically changed the world's perception of Indians, and hence of India. They have provoked a new appreciation of this land which has produced and exported so many achievers. They have built bridges of understanding between the international community and India.
The benchmarks for success, which the Pravasi community has set, are a challenge for us in India. They make us examine why the Indian is so much more innovative, productive and successful abroad than in his own country. They prod us to create a business, investment and economic climate, which is as conducive to success as anywhere else in the world.
I assure you that we are fully committed to creating such an environment in India.
We are modernizing our infrastructure. Our telecom facilities are already as good as anywhere in the world. The combination of India-based IT companies and Indian professionals abroad have made India a premier software power. We are building world-class highways through our National Highway Development Project. Our rural roads network is being upgraded. We have ambitious plans for airports, ports, and railways. Housing construction has acquired an unprecedented speed. Literacy, especially women's literacy, has registered a marked rise over the last decade.
We are aware of the slow progress in several areas of our social sector development, but we are determined to move faster than before. All in all, we are guided by the ambitious goal of making India a Developed Nation by 2020, free from all vestiges of poverty and full of opportunities for all our one billion people.
We would like to create an environment in India which will make you want to return, not just for sentimental or emotional reasons, but in the conviction that you can excel in this country as much as you could anywhere else in the world.
I believe that the Pravasi Bharatiya can be a catalyst for rapid change in this direction. Each of you, through your network of friends, relatives and acquaintances can create a strong urge for change in
India. Our collective attention needs to be rescued from the sterile controversies and trivial issues that dominate the headlines, and focused on the real tasks to be accomplished, so that Indian can catch
up with the developed world.
At the same time, you can project the truth about India to the world in a credible and effective manner. Misleading, one-sided and negative pictures are often put out due to bias, ignorance or design. Your
familiarity with the Indian reality and with the perspectives of your adopted society equips you to correct such misrepresentations. You could project a positive image of India -- not as propaganda, but as a true reflection of the reality on the ground.
- India continues to have one of the fastest growing economies, at a time when most developed economies have slowed down.
- Our exports grew by 19 per cent, in spite of a global slowdown and a strong rupee.
- Till recently, India needed to import food grain to feed its population. Last year, we exported food grain worth over 60 billion rupees to 25 countries.
- About a decade ago, we had to mortgage our gold to tide over a difficult balance of payments crisis.
Today, we have record foreign exchange reserves of nearly 70 billion dollars.
How often have we seen such facts quoted outside the country? It is far more likely that mindless political gossip or isolated acts of crime and violence would dominate the headlines around the world.
India has been deeply appreciative of the support of the Pravasi Bharatiya community, at times of need. Whenever Indian has faced a challenge to its security or to its territorial integrity, you have tirelessly championed its cause. When there was an effort to isolate India after our nuclear tests of 1998, you came forward to stand by India. Your enthusiastic response to our Resurgent India Bonds in 1998
helped us raise over 4 billion dollars, when we needed it most.
Many of you have been generously helping the schools, colleges, IITs and universities, as their grateful alumni. I commend this gesture of Guru Dakshina. Some of you have met me with interesting suggestions on how to expand the scope of Pravasi Bharatiya involvement in the development of
India's educational infrastructure. The Ministry of Human Resource Development also has taken some initiatives in this direction. Since education is going to be one of the main competitive strengths of India
in the emerging Knowledge Society, let us work together to seize the opportunity.
In this context, I will take the luxury of offering a word of advice. The Indian community abroad often reflects the diversity, which is the hallmark of our society here. We are proud of this diversity -- whether
it is linguistic, religious or regional. Groupings like the Telugu, Tamil, Punjabi and Marathi associations serve a useful purpose in preserving linguistic skills and regional cultures. But it is also necessary to strengthen the broader Indian identity in the country of your residence. When you are united as Indians, your voice carries greater weight: both for highlighting issues of your concern in your host country, and for promoting Indian causes. This is a truth of great long-term significance for Indian communities everywhere.
I have always been conscious of the need for India to be sensitive to the hopes, aspirations and concerns of its vast Diaspora. It is like a parental charge. It is also a obligation derived from our civilisational heritage.
It was with this perspective that we set up a High Level Committee, headed by Dr Laxmi Mal Singhvi, to examine all matters relating to the interaction of the community with India. I would like to congratulate Dr
Singhvi and his colleagues for the thorough and exhaustive nature of their report.
The idea of celebrating the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas annually flows from the recommendations of the Committee. The revised and improved scheme for PIO Cards is also based on the ideas of the Committee.
Indians who have chosen to settle in foreign lands should be loyal to their country of adoption. The biggest challenge facing every immigrant community is to integrate harmoniously into the political, economic and social life of the host society, while preserving and cherishing its civilisational heritage. Over the years, Indians have achieved this delicate balance virtually everywhere, without a contradiction between their adopted citizenship and their original Indian identity.
It is in this background that my government has decided to accept the High-level Committee's recommendation to permit dual citizenship for People of Indian Origin living in certain countries. We are now working on the administrative regulations and procedures governing dual citizenship. We will introduce the necessary legislation during the Budget Session of Parliament.
The NRI of today is the Pravasi Bharatiya of tomorrow. The welfare of NRIs in the Gulf region is of utmost concern to us. A compulsory insurance scheme for Indian workers migrating to this region will be unveiled shortly. Parliament is already considering a bill to establish a welfare fund for the overseas Indian workers. To meet the educational needs of children of workers in the Gulf, we plan to reserve a certain proportion of seats in our academic institutions for the children of the Gulf NRIs.
Our preparations for this first Pravasi Bharatiya Divas, and the encouraging response to it, have convinced us of the fruitfulness of this even. We will continue to engage closely with the communities of
Indian origin. For this, we are setting up an Advisory Committee, which will meet periodically to suggest new initiatives to the Minister of External Affairs.
We are prepared to respond to your expectations from India. We invite you not only to share our vision of India in the new millennium, but also to help us shape its contours. We do not want only your investment. We also want your ideas. We do not want your riches, we want the richness of your experience. We can gain from the breadth of vision that your global exposure has given you.
When you left this country, you carried with you the primary colours of the Indian ethos. A cross-fertilization of cultures over time has added new shades to those vibrant hues. Today we invite you to brush in some of these new colours onto the ever-evolving canvas of India's development.