Modi enters Overseas Indian Congress in Ahmedabad
PRIME Minister Narendra Modi appealed to millions of people of Indian origin around the world to bolster their homeland’s economy, after easing visa rules to attract overseas talent.
In his remarks at the annual Pravasi Bharatiya Divas (PBD) in Gandhinagar on Thursday (January 8), Modi urged the millions-strong Indian diaspora to consider returning home, saying the country was “brimming with opportunities”.
“It was a time when your forefathers did what was necessary. They ventured in search of opportunities to unknown countries,” Modi told an annual meeting for people of Indian origin in his home state of Gujarat.
“Today, times have changed rapidly and now opportunities await for you here in India. The world is now looking with great expectations at India,” Modi said.
“Times have changed very quickly. India is brimming with opportunities.”
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader has long appealed to overseas Indians who gave him a rockstar welcome during official visits to the United States and Australia last year.
India’s President Pranab Mukherjee has in recent days signed an executive order paving the way to make it easier for Indians who left the country years ago to get lifetime visas back in their nation of origin.
“Indians living outside the country are a big asset. But it’s not a one-way thing, it should be two-way. India must also reach out to its people,” Modi told the 4,000-strong audience which included Indians currently living in more than 50 countries.
More than 21 million Indians live outside the country, according to government figures. Indians also sent home $70bn (£46.17bn) in remittances in 2013, the World Bank said in a report last year.
Now in its 13th year, this edition of the Pravasi Bhartiya Divas at Mahatma Mandir marked the centenary of Mahatma Gandhi’s return to the country from South Africa.
Gandhi had his political baptism in South Africa after arriving there in 1893, with his experience of racism in the country shaping his future political activism back home.
Modi told the audience of Indian-origin delegates: “My conviction is that Indian diaspora is a great capital for us in the global context. The more we nurture it, the more strong will be our presence globally.”
The Prime Minister the world was eager to engage with India with “love’.
“After taking up my new responsibility, I have had the opportunity to meet the heads of state of over 50 countries. We spoke with an open heart. I feel the poorest of the poor and the richest of the rich nations are looking up to India. Such occasions are rare.”
He added: “A measure of love the world has for India was reflected when the United Nations accepted my proposal to observe the World Yoga Day - 177 of the 193-member UN co-sponsored that resolution, over 40 of them Islamic nations, and it was passed in just 100 days, a record of sorts when such resolutions normally take two years to pass.”
While he acknowledged the role of the Indian community abroad in helping strengthen ties between their adopted countries and India, Modi said it was a challenge to meet the expectations of the global community.
“Now it is our responsibility to prove equal to the expectations of the world with confidence which Mahatma Gandhi showed even while sweeping the streets, popularising khadi and doing other services to the nation as he led the freedom movement,” Modi said.
Contributions by Indian expatriates need not always be in dollars and pounds sterling, the prime minister added.
He addressed concerns among some people who felt Modi was engaging more with the diaspora to fulfil some “expectations”.
“It is not so,” Modi said, “meeting our own people gives us strength, sharing our pain and pleasure gives us energy.”
The prime minister recalled how a Muslim girl of Indian origin, born in an African nation and settled in Canada and whose parents had never seen India, stayed in Kutch for months to help the 2001 earthquake victims.
“Whenever there is a painful occurrence, a tragedy, all of you experience the same pain as we do here. When Kutch was hit by a devastating earthquake, there was no Indian living abroad who did not try to wipe the tears of the victims,” he said.
“Today, people in Guyana get drenched in colours on Holi the way we do, their ‘diyas’ continue to inspire us on Diwali. The Ganga Sagar lake in Mauritius, filled with water from Mother Ganga, continues to inspire and unite all people of Indian origin there,” he said.
Modi said he had fulfilled the promise he made in his address at Madison Square Garden in New York to combine the Persons of Indian Origin (PIO) and Overseas Citizens of India (OCI) schemes.
The government on Tuesday (January 6) promulgated an ordinance to merge the two schemes into one which will benefit PIO card holders and give them benefits such as a life-long visa to India and exemption from appearing at local police stations if they stay for extended periods of time.
“Now you will no longer have to run to embassies and present yourself before police every week. Today, the authorities know how we value your pride,” Modi said.
A Pravasi Bhartiya Kendra in New Delhi will also become operational soon, he said.
Modi repeatedly invoked Mahatma Gandhi in his speech, saying his thoughts, particularly on humanism, had the power to resolve complex problems facing the world.
Pravasi Bhartiya Divas, the government’s outreach programme for overseas Indians, was launched in 2003 by the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government to mark the return of Gandhi to India from South Africa. It has been held every year since.