Celebrating Indian diaspora, in London


london-indianIndia’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi won’t be present when the eighth Regional Pravasi Bharatiya Diwas (RPBD) convention kicks off in London, on October 17. But his shadow will certainly loom large in a gathering of hundreds of members of the Indian diaspora in the British capital.

For the curiosity and expectations the new prime minister has generated among members of the international community is shared by large sections of the Indian diaspora straddling the globe.

Indeed, the Home page of the website on the London convention carries huge photographs of Mr Modi, including the one where he’s delivering his Independence Day address from the ramparts of the Red Fort.

The Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre in London will play host to nearly 1,000 members of the Indian diaspora who are expected to participate in the two-day convention. Prominent members of the Indian community in Britain, including Lord Swaraj Paul, Lord Navnit Dholkia, Keith Vaz, MP and Lord Karan Billimoria will be among the participants.

The Indian ministry of overseas Indian affairs, which oversees matters relating to the diaspora, says RPBDs help connect India to its expatriates and help bring their knowledge, expertise and skills together.

While seven regional PBDs have been held so far, the big-ticket event in the Indian government’s diaspora calendar remains the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas (PBD) held in the country each year on January 9. The first such PBD was in 2003 when a BJP-led government headed by then Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee was in power.

The date January 9 was chosen as it marked the return of India’s most famous NRI, Mahatma Gandhi, from South Africa in 1915.

pravasi-londonForging a closer bond with the Indians diaspora isn’t the only objective behind holding RPBDs across the globe. The intent also is to strengthen bilateral ties with the country where a RPBD is held. Fittingly, the London convention will be jointly inaugurated by India’s Minister for External Affairs and Minister for Overseas Indian Affairs, Sushma Swaraj, and British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond.

In yet another measure of the importance the UK government is attaching to this event, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) will also be hosting a reception for the participants where British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg will be presenting the very first UK-India Dadabhai Naoroji Awards for 2014.

The topics chosen for the various sessions at the London convention seek to coalesce New Delhi’s objectives of outreach to the diaspora with closer diplomatic engagement with the UK government.

The UK itself is home to nearly 1.5 million members of the Indian diaspora. Indeed, the UK has had a long and complex relationship with the Indian diaspora beginning with the legacy of colonisation,

Globally, according to MOIA estimates, India has the second largest diaspora in the world, numbering around 25 million spread across continents.

The convention will brainstorm over a wide gamut of inter-related matters such as: Role and contribution of the Indian diaspora to British/European societies and economies; How the Indian government and the diaspora can leverage each other’s strengths for mutual benefit in the framework of the India-UK strategic partnership; investments in India: the way forward and scope and potential for the diaspora’s engagement in education, research and innovation in India.

In remarks made ahead of the commencement of the convention, British Prime Minister David Cameron’s UK Indian Diaspora Champion, Priti Patel, a member of parliament said: “I am immensely proud that the UK is home to such a talented and ambitious Indian diaspora.”

“Building ties between our two great nations–the UK and India–isn’t just an activity for governments. Every member of the UK Indian diaspora community plays a part,” she added.

Prime Minister Modi himself has made no secret of the importance he attaches to the Indian diaspora and his government’s desire that they play a significant role in India’s growth story.

Hoping to tap the huge potential of the Indian diaspora in the US and elsewhere, Mr Modi in his speech at New York’s Madison Square Garden in late September pitched for it to contribute to India’s development.

As an incentive to draw the diaspora help propel his growth agenda for India, he also announced a slew of measures to help make travel to India easier for them.

These included lifetime visas for those with Persons of Indian Origin (PIO) cards and doing away with the requirement for NRIs (Non Resident Indians) to report regularly at their local police station if they stay in India extended beyond six months.

Back in India, Mr Modi has continued with his outreach to the diaspora. In the citizen-centric government platform mygov.in, he has sought inputs from the Indian diaspora to help enhance its’ links with their motherland..

The Modi government has also sought suggestions from Indians living overseas to see how more investments can be attracted into India from NRIs and the world at large on the website.

Mr Modi’s keenness to engage with the diaspora was also evident when he, as the Gujarat chief minister, proposed that the 2015 Pravasi Bharatiya Divas be held in Gujarat to mark the 100th year of Mahatma Gandhi’s return from Africa. His dream became reality after he was sworn-in as PM. His state’s capital, Gandhinagar will host the event next January.

The Modi magic for now seems to be drawing the diaspora’s eyeballs. Whether it will translate into concrete and substantive outcomes, only time will tell.