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Mahatma Gandhi is seen in this historic photograph with Indian traders in Zanzibar Island | Coastweek

ZANZIBAR Tanzania -- On his voyage to South Africa, Mahatma Gandhi is seen in this historic photograph with Indian traders in Zanzibar Island off the East African coast. This years marks the centenary of his return to India. PHOTO - COURTESY: KUL BHUSHAN

Mahatma Gandhi centenary dominates 2015 Diaspora Conference

NEW DELHI -- It’s much more than a coincidence: This year happens to be centenary year of Mahatma Gandhi’s return to India to launch his independence crusade, writes Swami Anand Kul Bhushan Kulive Kulove Kulaugh.

This year’s Pravasi Bharatiya Divas (PBD) is being held from 7 to 9 January at – appropriately – Mahatma Mandir Gandinagar in Gujarat.

The delegates will also visit Mahatma Gandhi’s Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad and the riverfront, a Modi showcase of re-development.

This year, the biggest museum on Gandhi’s legacy will be inaugurated during the PBD.

No wonder Prime Minister Modi’s Government selected Ahmedabad where the Vibrant Gujarat Conference, the biggest investment promotion meet, is also being held soon after PBD to rake in new investment.

In fact, the Modi Government will hard sell its six key projects to the diaspora during this three-day event.

After a redesigned website for this event, introducing a theme song, it has been promoted aggressively by all Indian government missions abroad with personal invitations from Prime Minister Modi to prominent NRIs.

So it is no wonder that this 13th event will show an upswing after it had been neglected by the previous government.

The participants dropped to around 2,500 from the initial event in 2003 with 5,000 initiated by the then BJP government.

This year, the participants are estimated to touch 4,000, if all goes well.

This is possible since the Modi government has a strong base and constant inter-action with overseas Indians. In fact, the Indian diaspora has supported Modi with great zeal, cash and professional inputs.

The Gujarati community in the diaspora which makes up over a third of the total 21 million is naturally a committed supporter and should turn up to be counted, seen and interact with the bigwigs of the BJP government.

For the first time, the PBD would have a plenary after the inaugural session in which different Union Ministers would make a presentation about the flagship programmes of the government like Namami Ganga, Swatchh Bharat, Digital India, Make it in India, among others, and invite NRIs to participate in them.

Besides, there would be separate sessions on ‘Girmitya’, as these Indian migrants to countries like Mauritius and the Caribbean.

Mahatma Gandhi monument | Coastweek

Mahatma Gandhi monument | Coastweek

Mahatma Gandhi monuments. PHOTO - COURTESY: KUL BHUSHAN


Other sessions will be held on Indians in the Gulf; Indians in French speaking countries and a plenary on the achievement of the Indian diaspora, including an exhibition of books by NRIs.

Earlier on January 7, the PBD youth segment will be held on the themes of ‘Bharat ko jano’ and ‘Bharat ko mano’, to familiarise the young NRIs with Indian traditions and history and its modern achievements in science and technology.

But what does PBD 2015 hold for the millions who do not attend it?

It will be the opportunity for them to see what progress Modi makes on his promises made during his trips to USA and Australia on dual citizenship and voting in Indian elections by Indian passport holding NRIs.

After the merge of PIO (Person of Indian Origin) and OCI (Overseas Citizen of India) cards which provide lifelong stay in India for NRIs, the next step is dual citizenship demanded by them.

And why not?

Since the majority of 21.9 million NRIs have strong emotional ties with India and sent over $80 billion – yes, billion – to India that amounted to three percent of the country’s national income in 2012, they have a stake in India.

And since ten million of them hold Indian passports, they want to vote in Indian elections.

Right now, they can vote in person if they come to their constituency during the elections.

In this digital age when India has pioneered with electronic voting machines, it is unfair to deny them to vote at the Indian missions.

And why don’t many more NRIs plan to attend this PBD?

"This conference is more about investing in India and less about NRI issues," said a British NRI.

"We shall see what benefits are rolled out to NRIs and how much time is devoted to hearing us rather than listening to Indian leaders."

Another NRI from Kenya commented: "We certainly support Modi.

"Under the Congress, PBD was neglected and Keralites were prominent because the Minister for Overseas Indian Affairs was from Kerala.

"Thus around 40 per cent of the awards went to Keralites.

"Now it remains to be seen, how this trend is changed."

A professional from Australia said, "Coming from Australia to India to attend this meeting is an expensive exercise unless you get tangible results in business contacts.

This time, there is a chance of extending your stay to attend the two-day Vibrant Gujarat Summit and meet more businessmen.

Perhaps it will be worthwhile for businessmen and industrialists."

It is no coincidence that Modi, as Chief Minister of Gujarat, requested the former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to approve the 2015 PBD for Ahmedabad for the centenary of Gandhi’s return to India.

And it is no coincidence that Modi is inaugurating this PBD as the Prime Minister.



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