Speech by Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh at Pravasi Bharatiya Diwas 2006, Hyderabad
January 7, 2006
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am truly delighted to be here to inaugurate the 4th Pravasi Bharatiya Diwas. This day last year we met in Mumbai. We met in the port city at which the “Great Pravasi”, Mahatma Gandhi, arrived 91 years ago, returning to his Motherland from South Africa. He returned to liberate our country from the colonial yoke. He returned to inspire us, to guide us, to forge a new unity in our ancient land.
I am, therefore, particularly delighted that we have with us today a great son of South Africa. I welcome the Honourable, Mr Ahmed Kathrada, leader of the South African people. Mr Kathrada fought, as Gandhiji did, to free his people and to lead them into a brave new world of freedom, dignity and self-respect. The people of Indian origin have come to symbolize the world over the spirit of a free people. Of a people who have the courage to stand on their own two feet. A people who have time and again demonstrated the power of unity amidst diversity. Of knowledge and compassion over force and authority. Our civilization is based on the idea of plurality, diversity, tolerance, and on the possibility of the co-existence of multiple identities, which in a sense, is what this gathering epitomizes.
I am also delighted that this year, we meet in Hyderabad. This city symbolizes the idea of India, the idea of being Indian. Hyderabad’s composite culture, its cosmopolitanism and its modernism have always been admired. What is often not recognized is the global outlook of the Hyderabadi person and the Andhra people. Long before we had Non-resident Indians and People of Indian Origin, this land was home to teachers and traders who went to distant lands as ambassadors of a great civilization. Centuries later, when the Charminar was built, one of the four roads leading away from it went straight to the port of Machilipatnam from where pearls from East Asia came to Hyderabad. [I am sure delegates to this Conference have set time aside to buy Hyderabad's legendry pearls.] They remain the symbols of this city’s past globalisation.
Today, Hyderabad has new symbols of globalisation such as Cyberabad, the pharma and bio-tech industries and the many sports facilities. This magnificent new Convention Centre, is yet another symbol. I am happy to learn that the new International airport project is on track. It will help improve the world's connectivity with Hyderabad.
All these symbols of global connectivity and globalised activity capture the face of a new India. To my mind, the most important aspect of re-connecting with the world is for us to reach out to People of Indian Origin. The NRIs and the PIOs are the most important elements of our globalisation. There is a fundamental difference between the globalisation of India and many other developing countries. For us, globalisation is a natural means of linking up with the international community of Indians. As I said last year, if there is one phenomenon in the world over which the sun truly never sets, it is the phenomenon of the global community of people of Indian origin.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
As I look around me today, realize just how unique this gathering is. It is both a conference and a carnival, a business meet and a cultural festival. It is characterised by serious discussion and palpable emotion. It has also given us the opportunity to pursue major initiatives with respect to overseas Indians.
Last year at Mumbai I had declared our Government’s intention to make sure that one day every person of Indian origin living anywhere in the world can aspire to become a citizen of our sacred Motherland. As an important first step we have delivered on our promise to grant the status of Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) to eligible applicants. The Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs will soon complete the process of rationalization of categories and ensure convergence of benefits.
Of the three categories, overseas Indians in the Gulf are unique. They are NRIs who will never become naturalized citizens of those countries. Most of them have immediate families back in India and have thus a vital stake in local governance, including the issue of who would represent them in the State Assembly or the National Parliament. Their demand seeking “voting rights” at home has, therefore, a convincing political basis. This proposal is at an advanced stage of consideration by our Government. We hope to take appropriate measures in this regard soon.
There are an estimated four to five million overseas Indian workers all over the world. Every fifth member of the diaspora is thus a worker. They have contributed a great deal to the economic and social empowerment of their families back home, to the development of their communities and to the economic enrichment of our country. Their hard work helps build the host countries while their remittances sustain their families and the local economy back in India.
In recent years, remittance inflows have increased impressively, rising from US$13 billion in 2001 to over US$ 20 billion in 2005. I salute the overseas Indian, the workers and professionals, who are contributing with their skills and sweat to the economic development of our Motherland.
Apart from granting them voting rights, I assure overseas Indian workers and professionals that we will address some of their urgent concerns. Improving the efficiency of financial and consular services is one such concern. I propose the following ‘on-site’ welfare measures for their benefit:
. An easy-to-use remittance facility that is affordable and efficient. The Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs has partnered with UTI Bank to develop an electronic, integrated remittance gateway. My colleague, Shri Chidambaram will launch it this evening.
• We will launch a more liberal Pravasi Bharatiya Bima Yojana, with effect from 1st February 2006, to provide enhanced benefits to workers. Competition from a number of insurance providers will ensure that the premiums remain affordable.
• We will work with international and other agencies to streamline and modernize the process of emigration and to create awareness among the workers about their rights and obligations.
• We will support initiatives to develop the skills of workers and set up credible mechanisms for certification of those skills so that over the years, we are able to re-position India as a source of skilled, rather than unskilled, labour.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is often said that the 21st Century will be the “knowledge century”. We in India are proud of our inheritance in this regard. Overseas Indians have played an extremely important role in global brand building in this respect. If India is today viewed as a “knowledge economy” it is because of the reputation that many of you have earned for our knowledge institutions by your creativity and diligence wherever you now work.
To enable improved connectivity between people of Indian origin worldwide, we intend to set up a Diaspora Knowledge Network to provide a dynamic framework within which the users and providers of knowledge can discover each other and work together. Knowledge itself needs to be widely defined to include operational and management expertise. I am happy that an exclusive session is addressing this matter in this conference. It is encouraging that apart from overseas Indians, UNESCO and the UN country team in India will also be participating in this session.
Apart from such a network, our ability to tap the expertise of overseas Indian professionals will depend on our ability to forge partnerships with them. We must launch pilot initiatives with clear goals that are consistent with national objectives. Lessons from such initiatives can then develop into successful sectoral programmes. I am happy that one such initiative is being launched at this conference with the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs and the American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin. I hope this initiative will begin with projects in basic healthcare.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I have often said that long before Indians crossed the seas as workers, they traveled the world as traders and teachers. Time was when the Indian gurukul system and our universities at Takshila, Nalanda and Nagarjuna, not far from here, were the envy of the world. Even after independence, Indian colleges and universities continued to attract students, particularly from countries like Malaysia and Mauritius. In the last twenty to thirty years, we have lost ground both because we failed to incentivise our institutions to become global players and because foreign universities became more aggressive in marketing. I am conscious of the fact that an important demand of the overseas Indian community is to secure access to educational opportunities in India.
I am happy that institutions like the Delhi Public School, Birla Institute of Technology and Science and Manipal Academy of Higher Education have already established a presence in a number of countries. I believe that this trend needs to become much wider and stronger. Education is a service and as in other service sectors, India has tremendous comparative advantage in providing and exporting education services. I believe that there is an unmet demand for higher education in a number of countries with a significant diaspora population that can provide one outlet for our talents here. In the process, we should be able to attract other overseas students as well. And as India becomes a stronger economic power, there will be a lot of interest in students all over the world to come and study in India for the sheer experience of being in the most happening society in the world.
Convinced, as I am that this is a tremendous opportunity area, I am aware that the regulatory and support systems need to be in place. We also need a policy framework to deal with proposals from abroad to partner educational institutions in India. I believe your conference will be discussing the idea of creating a University for People of Indian Origin. I look forward to your considered views in this regard.
We also need an institution that will play host to students coming to India from abroad. Our Government will create an institutional interface in this area. Here again, I seek your views on what we should be doing. Organisations like the British Council offer one model that can be discussed. I am happy that a session on educational opportunities is part of this conference where eminent educationists are coming together along with the delegates to suggest the way forward.
While a national policy framework is probably necessary in many of these areas, I would urge State Governments to take the initiative and devise their own strategies to tap into the developmental potential of overseas Indians. When I visited Mauritius last year I was truly impressed by the remarkable contribution of people of Indian origin to the modernization and transformation of Mauritius. From being a single crop agrarian economy, Mauritius is rapidly transforming into a knowledge-based services and tourism economy. Many enterprising citizens of Mauritius trace their ancestry to the Indian state of Bihar. I invited them to come and help transform Bihar.
I am sure every State Government can devise its own strategy to benefit from the creativity, the talent, the enterprise, the enthusiasm and commitment of people of Indian origin hailing from different parts of our vast sub-continental Nation. I am glad that an entire session is being devoted at this conference to a discussion with State Governments. I hope you will all get them to compete for your affection, your talent and your investment! Healthy competition between States can be helpful!
This is the time to think big and think boldly. This is the time to forget our differences and labels and celebrate our common Indian-ness. This is the time for all of us to become strategic partners in progress in a ‘one-for-all; all-for-one’ spirit. I do hope annual meets like this, while giving us a chance to review immediate plans and projects, also provide the stimulus to strategise and take this relationship to the next logical step.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
India is a land of opportunity that places premium on enterprise and creativity. Our Government is committed to create a hospitable climate for investment and enterprise. We will work hard to improve the quality of governance, at all levels, and remove barriers to growth and competition. I invite you to make use of the investment and business opportunities that India now offers. I invite you to be active partners of a new India and walk with us in finding new pathways of development and progress. I invite you to feel the love and affection of Mother India and feel the warmth of her embrace.