PBD 2009 : Looking Ahead

Well done, but…

For an event that is as high-profile as the PBD, the one in Chennai went off without any major glitches. The turnout was better than the years before, security apprehensions were well taken care of, and many of the best names in the Indian diaspora were present. Yet, for the future, there is scope to improve and build on the foundation laid by seven editions of this event

—Empire Bureau

The Pravasi Bharatiya Divas, India’s annual engagement with its diaspora, was orchestrated at the Chennai Trade Centre in January. Some said it was done in style, some saw it as old wine in a new bottle. But with the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs and its partner, the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), fairly experienced by now, the 7th edition of the PBD went by without any major hiccup. The line-up of speakers who came in was impressive indeed (see box), while the roll of honour (Samman awards) to recognize and felicitate overseas Indian contributions in lands far away was selected with finesse. The Prime Minister urged the diaspora, yet again, to engage with India meaningfully, and the organizers, both MOIA and the CII left very little to chance, and some of the planning and detailing of a number of parallel sessions was quite remarkable. Minister Vayalar Ravi who has been at the forefront of canvassing for participation at the PBD, traveling all over the globe, and admirably combining his work with his more onerous calls as Minister for Parliamentary Affairs, could rest happy that the attendance this year was higher than the past two. The Ministry’s secretary K Mohandas and his team of joint secretaries, including D N Srivastava and G Gurucharan tried their very best to ensure that there were no large glitches during the event. Mohandas is in a different league when compared to some of his predecessors, especially the immediate one, and is far more dynamic and result-oriented. It is perhaps fitting to mention that for a small ministry such as the MOIA, the huge task of dealing with a galaxy of globally known personalities, some of them nursing giant egos and unable to tolerate the slightest snags, was undertaken spiritedly, and mostly with a great deal of flair and tact.

IMPRESSIVE ROLL OF HONOUR: The Pravasi Bharatiya Samman awardees line up alongside President Pratibha Devisingh Patil for a photo opportunity at the Chennai Trade Centre, soon after Patil's valedictory address. Also seen are Minister Vayalar Ravi and TN Governor S.S. Barnala

Having said this, though, there are deeper issues and areas where the Ministry would do well to look into. It is about time, for instance, that the Ministry re-looks at the timing of the event itself. At least two distinguished participants Raj Loomba from U.K. and Ashook Ramsaran from the U.S.A. (see interview section) say that the best time to hold the event is in December, preferably during the month’s fourth week. A logical reason: the number of NRIs and PIOs traveling to India is highest in this month, and if people have to stay back for the PBD (January 7-9), then school and office schedules back in their adopted countries will be disrupted. This only reiterates the findings of an INDIA EMPIRE poll last year on the magazine’s website (www.indiaempire.com) where 79 per cent of the respondents felt the same way.

Numbers tell their own story. Often they become oxygen for the Media to create a set of sub-stories. The PBD needs to come up with a formula where numbers are touted in future events, it is by was of hardsell that the event needs to appeal to a larger audience than just the Indian diaspora. Numbers have provided the oxygen at the Vibrant Gujarat. The event’s colossal success was undoubtedly the high voltage publicity of the over 8,000 MoUs signed, amounting to (what most newspapers reported) a whopping USD 246 billion (Rs 12 lakh crore). The PBD needs to throw up similar figures. Then more people will take interest. Otherwise, there is every likelihood that the Vibrant Gujarat would become the premier diaspora event in years to come.

(FROM TOP) Minister Ravi and Secretary Mohandas of the MOIA address the Media, Minister M.S. Aiyar at a session on diaspora philanthropy and Minister Renuka Chaudhary at a session on interaction with diaspora womena

But to throw up such figures, a restructuring of the programmes is required. For several years now, the PIOs and NRIs (broadly the descendants of the older immigrants, and the newer immigrants) have been clubbed together in sessions that have now crossed their sell - by dates. It is clear that PIOs have vastly different concerns and expectations out of their engagement with India. For instance, a large contingent from the Tamil speaking diaspora in ReUnion Islands had raised issues related to cultural and literary linkages with India, using the help of the ICCR and like bodies. Many of them are keen to find their roots, as are many others from the countries dominated by the descendants of the older immigrants.

The newer immigrants on the other hand have familial ties with India intact, so the absence of firm roots is not one of their concerns. Coming straight to the point, they are the ones clearly looking for a different kind of engagement, an engagement of profit, and partnership. They are definitely looking to invest their wealth in India. Literature and roots does not draw them as much as the information on newer investment climate, banking and business opportunities, expanding knowledge networks, legal tangles (a prominent AAHOA member from the USA for example is very keen to get a clear picture from the Government on how legal tangles related to disputed land titles can be cleared expeditiously). The states session is entirely focused on investments and the PIOs from the old immigration countries do not show that much interest in these. Clearly there is a divide, and sessions need to be fine tuned. Areas like education, philanthropy, tourism, entertainment, and diaspora writing are of common interest to both groups, though. A way needs to be found to engage both set of participants in a manner that ensures that they return the next year for the event. As of now, the figure of those returning to the PBDs does not bring much cheer.

The regional sessions too need to be more focused, as each country has specific engagement patterns with India. For instance, the Indian diaspora’s concern in Nigeria is quite different from that in Mauritius, but for purposes of convenience everyone from Africa attends the Africa session. In fact, the regional sessions can make way for one of the more structured sessions indicated above.
Many more diaspora bodies and associations than at present need to be present, as they represent diverse cultural set ups, professional groups, and lobbying agencies. The GOPIO needs to come together as one unit, and the MOIA needs to bring them together for the sake of the diaspora. The PBD events of the future will be driven by the youth, and there needs to be a complete segment where the youth can participate. And may be one of the Samman awards can go to a globally recognizable diaspora youth. Sports and films are two areas which readily come to mind.

But one thing is clear, India’s annual engagement with the diaspora is here to stay. The challenge is to find ways to make it more relevant to the participants, and get more people to show up at the registration desks.

February 2009

click here to enlarge

 >> Cover Story
 >> From the Editor
 >> Tour and Travel
 >> NRI-PIO Section
 >> Mail From Reader
NRI Investments
 >> Education
 >> International Events
 >> NRI Hospitality