The 15th Pravasi Bharathiya Divas Convention was held recently in the holy city of Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh from the 21st to the 23rd January 2019. This bi-annual conference organized by the Government of India is considered to be the one of the largest and most significant non-religious gathering of the Indian Diaspora in India.
GOPIO is proud to have been one of the instrumental organizations which had lobbied strongly to the Indian government leading to the formation of the High Level Committee (HLC). Subsequently, the decision was made in the year 2002 by the then India’s Prime Minister, Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee on the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas that would be held on the 9th of January every year.
The date was chosen to commemorate the return of Mahatma Gandhi from South Africa in 1915. It can be recalled that he returned to the country to lead the freedom march of the nation. Since its inception in 2003, PBD has been an annual event up until 2015 when it was changed to a biennial event.
This year, the convention was held in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh with a multitude of events and activities which not only made it a very special affair but an unforgettable experience. GOPIO Malaysia is extremely proud and happy to have led a delegation of almost 100 delegates from Malaysia to the PBD in Varanasi.
The main objective of the PBD is to strengthen the engagement of the overseas Indian community and reconnect them with their roots. In recent years however, the topics of discussion and the conversation have generally revolved around trade and investment in India. Although these are tremendous opportunities, it was generally felt that the PBD has become yet another event to lure in foreign investment to India. The focus of the PBDs has over the years, have gradually steered away from its initial core objectives which is to promote engagement with the diaspora and have focused more on the economic aspects with very little emphasis on the cultural and spiritual aspects in its engagement with the Diaspora.
This year however, the PBD in Varanasi has changed this perception by going back to its roots and reviving the spirit of the early days of the PBD. The government of India has done an excellent job of not only organizing this PBD in the most commendable manner but also for providing the most unforgettable experience to the to be cherished lifelong to the delegates. This PBD is undoubtedly, the largest and the grandest of the PBDs held so far, as quoted by some of the media.
This report will provide a day by day chronicle of the convention proceedings and to share the experience of the GOPIO Malaysia delegates throughout the convention, Kumbh Mela and the Republic Day celebrations.
The PBD in Varanasi began on the 21st January 2019 with the inauguration of the Youth Pravasi Bharatiya Divas by Shri Yogi Adityanath, Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh and Smt.Sushma Swaraj, Minister for External Affairs among other dignitaries.
GOPIO Malaysia was represented by our Youth members Ms.Bhavani and Mr.Abishek who were the two youths selected to attend the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas fully sponsored by GOPIO Malaysia.. The 2 lucky youths were selected from the group of youths who participated in the GOPIO Malaysia Youth Conference 2018 held in Port Dickson. They were selected from an essay competition where the youths were required to submit an essay on why they deserve to be attending the PBD in India and how they can benefit out of it. Bhavani and Absihek’s essay were selected out of 50 other submissions.
The Youth PBD Conference was the perfect precursor to the PBD Conference as it focused on the engagement with the youth diaspora with India. The Hon. External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj along with UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath, MoS Sports and Youth affairs, Colonel Rajyawardhan Singh Rathore shared the dais with Member of Parliament from New Zealand Kanwal Jeet Singh Bakshi and MP from Norway Himanshu Gulati among others.
The youths attended the Inauguration ceremony of the Youth PBD followed by the first Plenary Session titled Engagement with younger members of the Indian Diaspora. The aim of the session was to not only explore ways to engage the younger members of the diaspora but also to create an emotional and historical connect among the youths with India.
The session was very dynamic with the very able panelists who shared their thoughts and recommendations on various issues concerning the engagement of India with the Indian youth diaspora. Particularly, various methods of reaching out to the younger audience was explored. These new approaches are markedly different compared to how their parents and grandparents were engaged. The panel also intended to explore on the necessity of making changes and adjustments to suit the taste and interest of the younger audience to the way how India’s culture and heritage is communicated to the youth Diaspora. This is very critical in today’s day and age where technology and digital disruptions are a way of life for the youths.
Other interesting ideas that were on the itenerary include invitation for ideas and presentations for the development of nation-specific content to address specific countries and the diaspora requirements in these countries. The panel also touched on whether the present method of Government or Embassy driven approach is sufficient, or if it requires a diaspora-led approach to better attract younger audience.
Based on the objectives given, the panelists made a total of 11 recommendations as following: –
LANGUAGE AND CULTURE
1. Introduce short term courses and online resources on Indian languages
To have multiple institutions offering courses on Indian languages. Although these initiatives are not new and there are many institutions already offering language programs, the panel recommends the government and the relevant ministries provide better support to any institution towards this.
Some of the existing programs are such as:
2. Introduce Cultural Visa for Young Indian Diaspora
The OCI card offers Visa free privileges for students. Additionally, the Know India Programme (KIP) which is a flagship initiative for diaspora engagement which familiarizes Indian-origin youths (18-30 years) with their Indian roots and contemporary India though a three-week orientation programme organized by the Ministry of External Affairs. An online portal has been launched and through this programme full hospitality in India is provided and 90% cost of the International airfare is also paid by the host.
3. Offer courses on Indian Languages, Music, History and Culture
The Indian Council of Cultural Relations (ICCR) which is the nodal organization for promoting Indian culture and heritage abroad has a list of 53 recognised institutions in their website for the related programmes. (http://www.iccr.gov.in/content/dancemusic-institutions)
ICCR also runs 37 culture centres abroad which imparts training in different disciplines of Indian culture where anyone can participate depending on their areas of interests.
Apart from that, there are also several Institutes for Cultural Studies in India which is open to the Indian diaspora such as the Indira Gandhi Raastriya Manav Sangrahalaya, Central Institute of Himalayan Cultural Studies and Maulana Abul Kalam Azad Institute of Asian Studies among others.
4. Providing information on education opportunities in India
Although there are many resources available online and offline by which the information on education opportunities in India can be obtained, there was special mention on a very specific programme by the Ministry of Human Resource Development which is the Study in India programme.
Apart from that, Educational Consultants India Limited (EdCIL) also organizes educational fairs and seminars in select countries in addition to participating in education fairs organized in those countries where they bring along institutions from India.
5. Enhance Interaction with Indian Universities and the Diaspora
A visit to an Indian university was immediately included in the Know India Programme itinerary upon receiving this recommendation.
Apart from that, all the Indian Missions abroad has been sensitised to enhance communication in the education sector including tie-ups between Indian universities and foreign universities.
ECONOMY AND BUSINESS OPPORTUNITIES
6. Providing Information on Investment Opportunities in India
The Ministry of External Affairs and Indian Missions abroad has been providing extensive support in disseminating information on investment opportunities through roadshows, seminars, company visits, and facilitating interactions between the Indian Chambers of Commerce and local Chambers of Commerce.
The MEA works closely with Invest India and the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion to facilitate this recommendation.
7. Make Available Digital Business Directory of Indians Living Abroad
Indian Missions abroad maintain a directory of prominent Indians, including businessmen and Indian companies living in their jurisdiction. The list is also maintained by the Indian community organizations.
8. Developing India-Centric Products by using Business Plan Competitions, Hackathons
NITI Aayog and several other agencies, institutions, ministries have organised specific competitions to develop India specific solutions. These events have also been participated by the Diaspora abroad.
Efforts are also taken to ensure that when these competitions are advertised, it is made open to the members of the Indian Diaspora. Many such events are organized by the universities and education institutions.
9. Organise start-ups in countries with significant Indian diaspora
Startup India was launched by the Indian Government as a flagship initiative to build a strong ecosystem that is conducive for the growth of startup business. Several of the Missions have organised pitching sessions for Start Up companies abroad. Eg. Australia, Finland, Portugal, Indonesia, Gerrmany, Singapore, China, UAE, US and many other countries.
The Government of India is willing to pay for the facilitation and promotional role to promote startups by the Indian diaspora.
10. Formation of Dedicated India focused Think-tanks abroad
Although there are several organizations which are active in the realm of foreign policies such as ICWA and RIS who have expanded their network, this is one initiative which can be Diaspora led. An important point on this it that the Diaspora can come forward to set up think-tanks which focuses exclusively on India related matters or on the bilateral matters of the base countries with India with the support of Indian Missions abroad. The embassies are being sensitised on this effort.
Several think tanks along these lines already exists such as the Strategic Asia Indonesia which is a model that can be replicated by the Indian diaspora in other countries.
11. Involvement of the Indian Student Organizations abroad to act as a link with India and their home countries
The Indian Missions abroad is sensitised on this effort where open houses and welcome meets are being organised by many Missions for Indian students. Apart from that, Indian Missions and Posts have encouraged students to form bodies for a closer engagement between the student community and the Government.
Missions have formed specific bodies comprised of Indian officials and student community members to look after the issues of the Indian student community, including accommodation and jobs.
Indian Missions also actively participates at events organised by the Indian student community and also invite them to participate in Embassy events.
Overall, the session provided an opportunity for the Indian Government to request their Missions to reach out to the younger members of the Diaspora in a much better way. It is however, a 2-way process in which, apart from the Indian Government actively reaching out, the diaspora must take strong initiatives to reciprocate the engagement.
The Q&A session then commenced and proceeded very dynamically with many questions posed by the attendees. The panellists were quick to answer the questions and this proved to be a very engaging and vibrant session.
The session ended with the concluding remarks by the Hon. Minister of State in charge of Youth Affairs and Sports. He remarked that we need more connect between professionals and suggested that an application which acts like an aggregator between various groups can be developed. This app can be managed by groups which can be self-managed and if the groups are successful it can be included in the interactions with the Ministry for specific purposes. The Hon. Minister also responded to some of the questions with regards to skills training. He remarked that India is looking very seriously into skills development and the Government of India has been making huge investments into this area.
He ended his concluding speech by requesting the commitment of everyone to make India great and this is India’s time to shine in this world. The next century belongs to India and therefore it belong to the entire Diaspora.