Bombay, Jan 07, 2004

The Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh,inaugurated the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas in Mumbai today.

The following is the text of the Prime Minister’s speech on the occasion:

“It is for me a matter of great pleasure and privilege to be here today in Mumbai to welcome the delegates to the 3rd Pravasi Bharatiya Divas. A hearty welcome to you all in this city of ours. The last two conferences met in New Delhi. However, in coming here to Mumbai this year this conference of overseas Indians has returned to the shore on which that “Great Pravasi” Mahatma Gandhi had arrived this week 90 years ago whose memory we honour and celebrate through this historic gathering. I am referring to Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, who with his wife Kasturba, walked down the ramp of a ship at Apollo Bunder in Mumbai on the 9th of January 1915, returning to a home where he would for all time be remembered, revered and loved as Bapu. It is in celebration of Gandhiji’s arrival in Mumbai that we meet at this time of the year for the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas.

I recall that speaking to a reporter of the Bombay Chronicle on his arrival here in 1915 Mahatma Gandhiji had said, ‘Both my wife and I are exceedingly glad to see again the dear old Motherland, and the kind and hearty reception which the public gave us, has added to the joy, and overwhelmed us. I can only hope that by our future conduct we shall have deserved this welcome.’ Gandhiji could not have realized at the time how true these first words of his would prove to be. History has recorded in golden letters the glory of his ‘future conduct’ which has altered all our futures. Perhaps there will never be a greater Pravasi than the Mahatma, but our ancient and gracious motherland welcomes each one of you with the same affection and kindness with which it welcomed Mahatma Gandhiji. In return, it expects nothing but your unquestioned love. I am confident that through your ‘future conduct’ each one of you will also do our Nation proud as did Bapu and Kasturba.

It used to be said of the British Empire, from whose yoke Gandhiji freed us, that the sun would never set on it. If there is an Empire today on which the sun truly cannot set, it is the empire of our minds, that of the children of Mother India, who live today in Asia, Africa, Australia, Europe, the Americas and, indeed, on the icy reaches of Antarctica. Our honoured Chief Guest today, His Excellency Jules Rattankoemar Ajodhia is the Vice President of distant Surinam, that lies half the globe away!

The idea of ‘Pravasi Bharatiya’ has been in the making throughout the 19th and 20th Century. Today, at the dawn of the 21st century it is an idea whose time has truly come. We speak different languages, we practice different religions, our cuisine is varied and so is our costume. We are over a billion Indians and over 25 million overseas Indians, living in 110 different countries. Yet, there is a unifying idea that binds us all together, which is the idea of “Indian-ness”.

At home, ours is a unique experiment in social, economic and political transformation. Never in human history have a billion people, mostly poor, sought, secured and succeeded in building a democratic Republic that has doubled per capita income within one generation. We have done that. We have a long distance to travel in regaining the full glory of our ancient civilization, but the journey so far has been forward, though with its ups and downs, and it is a journey in which the Pravasi Bharatiya now proudly joins us as a partner and a friend. Globally, you have all done us proud despite the trying history of your migration and the hardships of your progress.

People of Indian Origin worldwide represent four waves of migration in the past. The first, and probably the longest wave, was of Indians going forth in search of knowledge and opportunity as travellers, as teachers and as traders. The second wave was one of enforced migration of indentured labour, a legacy of colonialism. The third wave was a product of partition. The fourth and the most recent wave has been that of skilled Indians seeking opportunity and challenge, knowledge and adventure and the excitement of discovering a whole new world. There are among those of you gathered here today representatives of each of these four waves of migration. What is common to all of us is our innate Indian-ness. It is a complex mix of values and beliefs bound together by deeply emotional roots. It is a unique phenomenon in world history, but it is there for the world to see and, as I stand here, it is so much visible in your eyes !

There is, of course, something more tangible than emotion that brings us closer today. This is the opportunity we are creating at home for overseas Indians to once again relate in a meaningful way to their ancient motherland. The process began with the measures we took in 1991 to liberalise and modernize the Indian economy. The many subsequent steps taken by successive Governments have enabled Indians abroad to invest at home and to travel freely to and from India. More recently it has also become possible for many to simultaneously pursue professional careers and businesses both in their host country and in their home country. The number of Indians with two homes is increasing. Some pursue parallel careers, others just visit us for a holiday. Either way, our airports are getting increasingly clogged with traffic. That is why our Government has unveiled a new civil aviation policy to meet the requirements of modern times. We have already opened up our skies in the peak season. We have allowed Indian private airlines to fly abroad. We are building new international airports in major metros, and will soon modernise 30 other airports across the country.

Our Government has also decided to give substance to a longstanding demand of overseas Indians, namely, the granting of dual citizenship. I am aware that this was promised in the previous two editions of this event and I regret that little has happened to implement this declaration of intent. The Government has received several representations against the original approach of notifying some selected countries for this facility. I am happy to announce that we have decided to extend the facility of dual citizenship to all overseas Indians who migrated from India after 26th January 1950, as long as their home countries allow dual citizenship under their local laws. I do hope that a day will come when every single overseas Indian who wishes to secure Indian citizenship will actually be able to do so. I pledge to you that I will work in that direction.

Our Government will also simplify the application forms for citizenship for overseas Indians. A new user-friendly form combining the three forms prescribed earlier has also been evolved and will be notified soon. Finally, we will simplify the format of the certificate of registration of overseas citizens of India. Various options, including the possibility of smart cards, are being considered. I hope the security, operational and other aspects of issuing this document will be completed soon without any further loss of time.

I have asked the concerned ministries to spell out the benefits of registering overseas citizens so that there is clarity on our policy. I am aware that the Government has taken far too much time in moving forward on this and we will soon be able to complete the relevant procedures without any further loss of time.

Indian immigrants have gone to many countries to seek a livelihood in distant lands, or in search of knowledge, skills, training and professional opportunities. The psyche of the migrant is a complex one. I understand and appreciate this, having myself migrated from my place of birth under difficult circumstances and in times of crisis. As migrants in search of a home and a living, my family and many other families like mine had to work harder. We had to have hope to transform, to translate our living present to a productive future. This was true of many migrant communities the world over. However, you, ladies and gentlemen, overseas Indians have succeeded, thanks to the foundation in education and skills your home country gave you, and due to the opportunities that your host country has given you. It is for this reason that I have always been impressed by the optimism that characterises the overseas Indian. It is also for this reason that you continue to look back at India with love, affection and longing, though with an understandable degree of impatience with our many bureaucratic procedures.

I feel particularly happy that the economic policies we initiated at home in the past decade have enabled us to connect with you more vigorously and to engage you in meaningful ways in the reconstruction of our motherland. These policies have significantly contributed to the emergence of India as a major global player in the economic world. Together with the tremendous strides our country has been making in the knowledge based sector, there is no doubt that the 21st century is going to be an Indian century.

I assure you that the reform process which we started may be carried forward in the economic field and may be extended to administration and the polity so that India’s vast latent potential is unchained. There is much that you can contribute, both through the inspiration of your example and through investment in our future. Investment, as Lord Keynes once said, is an act of faith. I invite you to have faith in India. We are going to take the future ahead. Our Government is committed to renew the people’s faith in good governance and in a socially just and equitable process of development. We are committed to strengthening the sinews of our plural, multi-cultural, multi-religious and multi-ethnic democracy. We are committed to building an open society and an open economy, based on just and equitable foundations.

I am personally committed to a closer and wide-ranging interaction between India and overseas Indians. That is why our Government created a new and separate Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs. This is a nodal ministry that will function as a ‘one-stop-shop’ on all matters pertaining to overseas and non-resident Indians. This is still a new Ministry and we will welcome suggestions on its mandate and priorities. It is my intention to make this Ministry a friendly and helping one in all matters relating to overseas Indians.

India owes a lot to the people of Indian origin in the Persian Gulf region whose regular financial remittances home have played an important role in building our foreign exchange reserves that now amount to over $130 billion. There are many issues of concern for these non-resident Indians, from the Gulf countries including issues pertaining to their work contracts and conditions. I promise our Government will work hard and these matters will engage the attention of the new Ministry on priority basis. The issue of protecting returns on the savings of NRIs is a legitimate concern that the Government will try and address to find appropriate solutions. Ideally we should try and wean away NRIs in the Gulf from bank deposits to investment, to debt or even equity-oriented savings. The Pravasi Bharatiya Bima Yojana introduced last year is an encouraging first step. Our insurance providers will be encouraged to come up with some more innovative policies to make them more attractive.

One of the defining characteristics of the overseas Indian is the high investments you have traditionally made in the education of your children. Interestingly, while many young Indians like to go abroad in search of higher education, many overseas Indians are coming here! This is quite natural. Young Indians, young people like to travel and live away from home as students. I have myself benefited from this experience and so have my daughters. I would like to encourage young overseas Indians to come and study in institutions in our own country. I know that in the past Governments here have not always delivered on promises in this area, but I hope the new Ministry will take special interest in encouraging Indian universities and institutions to implement existing commitments and increase support for overseas Indian students wanting to study in India.

Apart from higher education, NRIs can meaningfully participate in extending primary education to our vast population. The Programmes for Overseas Indians to Support Elementary Education in India, as outlined by the Ministry of HRD, will be discussed with you in these Sessions. Now that we have made the right to elementary education a fundamental right of every Indian child, we require resources and the necessary wherewithal to realise it in practice. Contributions need not go only to Government. There are many NGOs which are active in the social sectors, whom you could help. Many of them may be working in villages from where your forefathers first migrated. By helping them you would pay tribute to the sacred memories of our ancestors.

We need massive investments in infrastructure, both social and economic, rural and urban, to step up the rate of economic growth to 7 per cent – 8 per cent per annum, so that we can generate more employment and eradicate poverty in our life time. I believe the economy must absorb up to $150 billion of investment in infrastructure over the next decade for us to be able to increase our growth rate. Much of this must come in as foreign direct investment, and in substantial part, from overseas Indians. India needs your investment. We are committed to make India attractive enough for you to invest here. I commit our Government to work to creating an environment conducive to the growth of the spirit of adventure and enterprise.

Your meeting takes place against the backdrop of the Tsunami disaster of December 26, 2004. Thousands of families in India and our neighbourhood have been devastated by this calamity. I have travelled to many coastal villages, and will tomorrow be visiting the Andaman & Nicobar Islands. I am touched by the overwhelming generosity of people at home and abroad and the manner in which they are coming forward to help. While the initial rescue, relief and immediate rehabilitation work will perforce have to be performed by local authorities and our security forces, we will be happy to receive the support and assistance of all in the medium and long term rehabilitation of victims and reconstruction of the affected economies. Those of you who wish to help the relief work could contribute to the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund. I recall that when appealing for relief for victims of a natural disaster, Mahatma Gandhi once said ‘he gives twice who quickly gives’. I am sure you share that sense of urgency and will be generous with your support.

I know that it is in times of need that one’s friends come forward to lend their support. But I also know that our country is fortunate to have the affection of overseas Indians at all times. If today you are doing us proud by your achievements and by your attainments, I can assure you that tomorrow we will do you proud by the record of our performance in economic and social reconstruction of our country. I am convinced as I said a moment ago, that the 21st Century will be an Indian Century. The world will once again look at us with regard and respect, not just for the economic progress we make but for the democratic values we cherish and uphold and the principles of pluralism and inclusiveness we have come to represent which is India’s heritage.

The path free India chose for itself will be the one that the entire world will come to walk upon as societies realise that social harmony, peace, economic progress and prosperity are best defended by inclusive societies and open economies that is the message India has for the world.

I wish this meeting all success in its deliberations.