February 2014 \ News \ PBD 2014
Mother India is Now Miss India

By Kul Bhushan

 The 'sweeping' changes in Indian political arena after the Delhi state elections a few weeks ago became the backdrop of the 12th Pravasi Bharatiya Divas (PBD) conference in New Delhi. Whether it was the inaugural speech of Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, the keynote speeches by Indian cabinet ministers or the farewell address by President Mr Pranab Mukherjee, a common refrain of highlighting the government's achievements over the last decade, especially the last five years, was always present. Dr Manmohan Singh reassured NRIs by urging them not to despair about its future. To support his contention, he cited an annual economic growth rate of 7.9 per cent over the last nine years and predicted a five per cent growth for this year. He said that India was headed towards better times.

This big picture can be justified in all fairness as the government believes that its successes get swept under the carpet with sensational news about scams and corruption. However, with the coming elections and the acceleration of political temperature with fiery speeches by BJP prime ministerial candidate Mr Narendra Modi and the breath-taking sweep of Delhi state elections by newcomer Mr Arvind Kejriwal of AAP (Aam Admi Party), with his symbol of a broom, has clearly put the government on high alert for the NRI support, if not for its 11,000 votes. NRIs have been so impressed by AAP that they have contributed significantly in cash and as volunteers for its success.

Although BJP and AAP were not mentioned during any plenary sessions, the two parties were the major conversation topics between visiting delegates and Indians during the breaks. In the three-day conference, a couple of news items appeared in the Indian print media. On news clip was headlined: NRIs see Mahatma Gandhi's image in Mr Kejriwal. Another was headed: Everybody Praising AAP in Britain.

A media highlight was Mr Narendra Modi's well-attended speech when he mocked Dr Manmohan Singh. In sharp satire, Modi commented, "I agree with the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Good days are ahead for India. I don't want to say anything more…" Hinting at the coming general elections, he said "We should wait for four to six months." The jibe was all over the TV networks in no time and later in the print media.

The first day of the conclave was devoted to its major theme of connecting NRI youth to India. The Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs has been successfully running for some years a 'Know India Program' for youth to discover the land of their ancestors. Since India has largely a youthful population with over a quarter aged between 15 to 29 years, the NRI youth can easily connect with them based on common concerns and aspirations. This inter-action would result in greater understanding, cooperation, creating of wealth, livelihoods and prosperity, according to Mr. Vayalar Ravi, the Minister of Overseas Indian Affairs.

Many youth leaders, both NRIs and Indians, addressed and participated in the different sessions and the major outcome was to the increase the scope of "Know India Program' and make youth interaction a regular feature of all future PBD meetings. Basically, the aim is to introduce NRI youth to India and enable it to get involved in Indian development projects. The chief guest at the PBD was Datuk Seri G. Palanivel, Federal Minister in Malaysia for Natural Resources and Environment, and president of the Malaysian Indian Congress.

The final session during which the President confers the Pravasi awards is usually a routine affair when leading NRI community leaders, intellectuals and business leaders are honoured.

This year's ceremony was different for two awardees. A huge cheer went up when Ela Gandhi, the grand-daughter of Mahatma Gandhi, was announced. This peace activist was given the award for enhancing India's image in South Africa. A former member of parliament in South Africa from 1994 to 2004, she was earlier placed under house arrest for five years during the country's freedom struggle. The other outstanding awardee was Ramakrishna Mission in Fiji for community service since 1937 with an active role in education.

This PBD had a great deal of business interaction at the exhibition stalls, a great deal of cross border conversations during the breaks and a great deal Indian culture in the evenings. With the highest participation of 900 delegates after the initial 4,000 for the first such event, it all ended on a bright note. The basic message for NRIs from a young India is: No more Mother India, now she is Miss India.

—Kul Bhushan worked as a newspaper Editor in Nairobi for over three
decades and now lives in New Delhi atkb@kulbhushan.net

Tags: PBD

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