Prime Minister's address at the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas
January 7, 2007
“I should begin by wishing you all a very happy new year! I am delighted to welcome delegates from different lands to this blessed land of their ancestors. We feel truly proud that in this hall we find today the entire world represented. This gathering, ladies and gentlemen, truly symbolizes the ancient Indian yearning for “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” – the whole world is one family.
We are one family. The whole world is our home. That is why I have often said that while the sun has set on many great empires of the world in the past, the sun will never set on the world of the Indian diaspora! From Fiji in the East, to Los Angeles in the West, from Cape Town in the South to Toronto in the North, the people of Indian origin are the world’s most globalised community.
Each time we have met we have had the honour and privilege of hosting as our Chief Guest an eminent Pravasi. This year I am delighted to welcome amidst us Professor S. Jayakumar, the Honourable Deputy Prime Minister of Singapore. Singapore is a special friend of India. Our engagement with the countries of South East Asia holds a great deal to the support we have consistently received from the Government and People of the friendly country of Singapore. We are all greatly pleased, therefore, to have Professor Jayakumar in our midst. His life and his work are a role model for younger generations.
We are truly committed to work with Singapore and other like-minded countries to strengthen our links with South East Asia and East Asia. Our destinies are truly inter-linked. We are committed therefore to explore all options to foster closer, multi-faceted links with South East Asia and East Asia to usher in a new arch of prosperity in this extended region and extended neighbourhood of India.
The Pravasi Bharatiya Diwas is a celebration of the global Indian. It is also a celebration of the home-coming of the global Indian. That is why we meet here in India in January. It is on the 9th of January nearly hundred years ago that the "Greatest Pravasi" Mahatma Gandhi returned home from South Africa and inspired us to wage a non-violent peaceful struggle for freedom from foreign rule.
Our freedom struggle and the process of our nation building after independence have been one of the great adventures of humankind cutting across race, language, religion and ethnic identities. India’s civilisational pluralism has made it possible for us to reach out to the world and seek its support in our struggle for freedom and for Independence.
When I went to South Africa last year I was deeply moved by the deep bond that unites the peoples of India and Africa. In the past, this was the bond of our shared struggle against colonialism and against apartheid. Today, it is the bond of our combined effort to regain our due place in the comity of nations.
When I meet Heads of State and Government and business leaders in distant lands they tell me very proudly that the Indian community in their countries, is a great asset, that people of Indian origin are highly creative, productive, enterprising, peace-loving and devoted to their families, their communities and their neighbourhoods.
I would like to take this opportunity today to express a special word of thanks to the Indian American community. We are happy that the United States has adopted a legislation that will enable the US to engage in cooperation with India in the field of Civil Nuclear Energy. This is an important step forward not just in India-US bilateral relations and also as an essential first step that will enable India to engage in cooperation in the Civil Nuclear field with other countries that are members of the Nuclear Suppliers Group. This process will increase the range of options available to secure our country’s growing current and future energy needs. This initiative is therefore a vital input to the critical process of enlarging our developmental options. And I thank the Americans of Indian origin for the stellar role that they played in ensuring that this legislation was passed through the US Congress.
I thank the overseas Indian community and its leaders who played a very significant role in highlighting the importance of this important initiative in the US and elsewhere.
I take this opportunity to thank the non?resident Indian communities in West Asia and other parts of the world for the handsome contribution their remittances make to the strengthening of our economy.
This year the theme of the Pravasi Bharatiya Diwas is “Rooting for the Roots”. Let me, however, suggest that your being here is not just about “roots”. It is also about “branches”. Even as you discover and nurture your ancient ‘roots’, I urge you to extend your ‘branches’.
We in India wish to see you engaged in India’s great adventure of building an India free from the fear of war, want and exploitation. India has now emerged as one of the fastest growing economies in the world. India’s growth process creates enormous opportunities for promoting cross border flows of trade, capital and technology. I would like overseas Indian communities to take full advantage of these exciting opportunities that are now on the horizon. I would like you to reach out and invest in a new India. Invest not just financially, but intellectually, socially, culturally and, above all, emotionally. Your roots are what bring you here. Your branches are what will keep you engaged year after year here in India’s great development saga. Come engage with the new India.
I am conscious of the great importance of enhancing educational opportunities for persons of Indian origin for study in our country. I want Indian universities to be more open to children of overseas Indians. India is the land of the ancient universities of Takshasila, Nagarjuna and Nalanda, to which students came from far off places. I am delighted that Singapore, along with China, Japan, South Korea and other countries in the region, is supporting us in the Nalanda Project to which Professor Jayakumar made such a handsome reference. I agree with the sentiments expressed recently by Hon’ble Mr. George Yeo, the Foreign Minister of Singapore, that the Nalanda Project should emerge as “an icon of Asian renaissance”, and “a centre of civilizational dialogue and inter-faith understanding”, as indeed it was in the ancient times.
In this gathering last year I had spoken of the proposal to establish a University for Persons of Indian Origin. This proposal has been under active consideration in the past year. We envisage the proposed University as oriented to meet the needs of the overseas Indian community in the most sought after disciplines such as Science, Engineering and Management. Our aspiration would be to impart quality education at par with the best Universities in the world. The challenge now is to create the requisite enabling framework that will adequately meet these aspirations. We hope to do this in the coming months.
A proposal to establish an Indian Overseas Facilitation Centre is presently being developed and examined. This is envisaged as a source of investment advisory services for overseas Indian investors. This proposal is being developed on the understanding that an Indian entity, independent of the Government, though supported by us, and set up in partnership with industry, could be an effective instrument to liaise with members of the Indian Diaspora on matters related to investment in our country.
To ensure that we reap India’s demographic dividend and benefit from the significant labour supply gaps emerging in countries with ageing populations, we must take a strategic medium to long-term view of overseas employment opportunities.
It is time for the overseas Indian worker to move up the wage chain and India to be perceived increasingly as a provider of skilled manpower in diverse fields. A suggestion has been made that a professional body should devise an appropriate strategy to give shape to this idea. Towards this end the constitution of a Central Council for the Promotion of Overseas Employment has been mooted. This proposal is also being examined by the government.
I wish this interaction between overseas Indians and the people of India to inspire Indians at home to take a broader view of the world. When I was in Mauritius I said to some of the Mauritian people whose ancestors hailed from Bihar that they should go to Bihar and inspire the people there to make a Mauritius out of Bihar. I could say the same thing about other parts of the country. When we Indian farmers creating agricultural wealth in California and in the trying climes of Canada, I wonder how much more our own farmers in India are capable of achieving.
I sincerely hope that we in India can work together to create an environment in which the best of every Indian can find his or her fullest expression. I want every Indian living and working in India, to aspire for the global recognition that a Zubin Mehta, a Lakshmi Mittal, an Indra Nooyi, an Amartya Sen and our chief guest Prof. Jayakumar or a Kalpana Chawla gets when they go overseas.
India is known for its pluralism, for its inclusiveness, for its willingness and ability to provide a home for all faiths. Every great religion of the world has found a home here and is practiced in peace here. This pluralism, this sense of “live and let live”, this mutual respect and celebration of diversity helps us to live in peace in distant lands and among different cultures. That is why I say that every person of Indian origin is an embodiment of the message, the idea of India.
India is an ancient civilization but we are a young nation. I believe India’s efforts for social and economic transformation in the framework of an open society and an open economy, committed to the rule of law committed to the respect for all fundamental human freedoms is of great historical significance. Our success will have a profound influence on the course of human civilization in the 21st century, when we see strife and tension building up everywhere. I invite you to be active participants in this great saga of adventure and enterprise of building a new India.
I once again wish you all a very happy, peaceful and prosperous new year.”