January 9, 2004
New Delhi

PM's inaugural speech at 2nd Pravasi Bharatiya Divas conference

“I am delighted to be with all of you once again at this inaugural function of the 2nd Pravasi Bharatiya Divas. I still carry the memory and melody of that occasion, exactly a year ago, when we were left enchanted by the jugalbandi of Ustad Bismillah Khan’s shehnai and Pandit Ravi Shankar’s sitar. What they together created was both soul-stirring music and a pointed metaphor and we felt the same way today as we heard another enchanted Jugalbandi by L. Subramaniam and Sultan Khan. It reminded us that Pravasi Bharatiya Divas itself is a celebration of the jugalbandi between the 22-million strong Indian Diaspora and your motherland, between the Bharatvasis and the Bharatvanshis.

Together we constitute the Global Indian Family. Together, we are announcing the arrival on the world stage of a Shining India, an India that has resolved to regain her past glory and indeed surpass it, an India that will both be an economic powerhouse and a major contributor to humanity’s all-sided evolution to a higher level. I extend a warm welcome to President Bharat Jagdeo of Guyana. He is an outstanding example of the new generation of Bharatvanshis. I thank him for having so readily agreed to be the Chief Guest at this Second Pravasi Bharatiya Divas.

I heartily congratulate all those who have been honoured with this year’s Pravasi Bharatiya Samman Award. This year we have conferred the Award, posthumously, on Kalpana Chawla. She epitomized the values that are so laudable in overseas Indians. A daughter of India, she became an exemplary citizen of the US and went on to become a Citizen of the Universe. Her journey from Karnal to the Cosmos will continue to inspire young Indians – indeed, young people all over the world. I am especially happy that her husband is amongst us to receive the Award.

In honouring the 12 individuals with the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas Samman, we do honour the entire Indian Diaspora. Your varied successes and accomplishments fill every Indian with joy and pride.

For example, who would have thought that the average income of an Indian American would be 50 per cent higher than the national average in USA, especially since most of the Indian immigrants who went there in the ‘60s and the ‘70s had less than 10 dollars in their pocket? Also, who would have thought that nearly half of the Rs. 55,000 crore remittances from NRIs so far would come from our nearly 25 lakh emigrant brothers and sisters from one single Indian State, Kerala? Today almost the entire services sector in the Gulf, which is one of the world’s richest regions, is handled by Indian technicians, nurses, teachers and scores of other professionals.

India’s achievements in information technology have attracted the attention of the entire world. And these include the achievements of both Indians in India and Indians overseas. Not a week passes without some news item or some comment in western countries about India having emerged as the preferred place for IT-enabled services. Sometimes this is also projected as a loss of jobs to India. However, these fears are misplaced. In today’s highly competitive global markets, it is natural for companies and organizations to use technology and internationally available human resources in ways that enhance their efficiency. What India’s trained manpower is offering through IT-enabled services is a win-win situation for both India and the sourcing countries.

All these achievements have been possible because of the hard work, competence, integrity, and unwavering loyalty to your host country that are the common attributes of the Indian Diaspora in all parts of the world. These attributes, and the successes that they have bred, have no doubt raised the stature of the Indian community in your respective countries. But, collectively, they have also brightened India’s image in the world.

Friends, as we take delight in the growing successes of the Indian Diaspora, it is instructive not to forget the pain and sufferings that early Pravasi Bharatiyas had to go through. In many countries, such as Mauritius, South Africa, Caribbean Islands and Fiji, our forefathers were taken as indentured labourers. The injustice meted out to them remains a dark chapter in India’s history. At the same time, their determined struggle against adversity is a source of inspiration for all of us. If our forefathers were the victims of want and exploitation, our children and grandchildren will be the trailblazers of prosperity and a new era in human development marked by justice and universal brotherhood.

Friends, we have assembled here after the passage of one year. During this period, India’s development has gained further momentum. In 2003, we were already one of the fastest growing economies in the world. In 2004, we have got closer to our target of 8 per cent GDP growth rate. Last month, our forex reserves crossed $ 100 billion. We are prepaying our external loans. From an aid-seeking country, India is now emerging as an aid-giving country.

There was a time, not long ago, when many people in India bemoaned the phenomenon of “Brain Drain”. Today a large number of highly qualified and successful Indian professionals are returning to India because they see that India itself has now become a land of opportunity and achievement. Foreign companies and businesses now look at India as an important emerging market and are keen to invest here. At the same time, there has also been a reverse phenomenon. The year 2003 has seen many Indian corporates emerging as global players with impressive investments overseas and acquisitions of companies abroad.

To further reinforce this process, I am happy to announce that Indian corporates will hereafter be freely permitted to make overseas investments up to 100 per cent of their net worth, whether through an overseas joint venture or a wholly owned subsidiary. The current restrictions including a ceiling of US $ 100 million are hereby being lifted.

Similarly, we have decided to permit – indeed, encourage – Indian corporates to go global in the agriculture sector. Accordingly, the existing restrictions on Indian corporates to undertake agricultural activities abroad, whether directly or through an overseas branch, will be removed. This will enable Indian companies to take advantage of global opportunities and also to acquire technological and other skills for adoption in India.

Sisters and Brothers, as you are aware, positive winds are blowing in India’s external environment. I have just returned from a landmark summit meeting of SAARC countries in Islamabad. The conclusion of a South Asian Free Trade Agreement will herald a new era of trade and economic cooperation in this region.

These, coupled with our achievements in the economic field, have palpably elevated India’s standing in the world community. They have also opened up exciting new possibilities and opportunities – both for Bharatiyas and Pravasi Bharatiyas. I invite all of you to avail these rapidly expanding opportunities and possibilities.

I assure you that, in the years to come, India will surprise the world even more by taking longer and bolder strides ahead. Of course, we are well aware of the many daunting challenges that lie ahead of us. In particular, we want to eradicate poverty faster. We recognize it as our moral and Constitutional duty. At the same time, it is also a precondition to reaching our goal of making India an all-sidedly Developed Nation by 2020. In this endeavour, we seek your ideas, your suggestions and your participation. Above all, we seek your best wishes.

In the year that has passed by, my Government has worked with steadfast attention to implementing the promises made at the first Pravasi Bharatiya conference. We have recently enacted the Citizenship Amendment Bill, which provides overseas Indians in 16 countries the possibility of applying for dual citizenship. I would like to clarify that these 16 countries were chosen because their legal systems were compatible with the concept of dual citizenship and there is a strong representation of people of Indian origin in these nations.

We have always been concerned with the welfare of those Indian workers who travel to distant shores in search of higher remuneration. In fulfillment of the promise I made last year at this very forum, a compulsory insurance scheme, called the Pravasi Bharatiya Bima Yojana, for Indian workers migrating to the Gulf region and South East Asia has been introduced since 25th December 2003.

The education of our children is a matter of great concern to any Indian parent. I am happy to inform that Indian workers in the Gulf and South East Asia who have had to leave their children behind in India would now enjoy the facility of one-third reservation out of the 15% supernumerary seats across different disciplines in educational institutions. Further, children of NRIs in the Gulf would not be required to pay NRI fees. They would be treated at par with resident citizens.

Today I am pleased to make an announcement which addresses yet another important recommendation of the high-powered committee headed by Dr. L.M. Singhvi. I have heard many of you say that there should be a permanent centre to deal with the multifarious needs of the diasporic community. Accordingly, the Government has decided to set up a Pravasi Bharatiya Kendra in New Delhi, for which we will provide a suitable plot of land and a seed grant of Rs. 25 crore. The responsibility of running it will be entrusted to an autonomous body, which will also raise additional resources from members of the Diaspora.

The Government has also decided to install commemorative plaques at ports and places from where significant number of Indians left for foreign lands.

I am happy to note that youth is one of the main themes of the Pravasi Bharatiya conference this year. We have great faith in the abilities of young people of Indian origin all over the world. At the same time, we feel as strongly as all of you that it is essential that they be exposed to the land of their forefathers in order for them to see, understand and comprehend their Indianness. We have therefore decided that each year a group of 50 second or third generation Indian youth from different countries will be invited to visit India for 2 weeks. They would participate in the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas function and also visit 2-3 other States in India.

My dear friends, you have come to Delhi when the winter has been particularly cold. But as far as India’s performance and prospects are concerned, you can see that it is springtime everywhere. The whole world is looking at India with admiration and hope. As the largest democracy rapidly achieving all-round development. As the cradle of civilization becoming a laboratory of unity in diversity to a shrinking world. Whenever I have interacted with members of the Diaspora during my travels abroad, I have heard them say that there never was a better time to be an Indian and never a better time to be in India.

You are our ambassadors in the countries you have chosen to make home. Given your links with India and your stature in your home countries, you are in an unique position to explain what India is, and what India can be, to the audiences in your countries. I therefore urge each and every one of you to take on this role of an earnest ambassador.

With these words I open the 2nd Pravasi Bharatiya Divas conference and wish it every success.”