BENGALARU – Prime Minister Narendra Modi Jan. 8 urged the Indian diaspora to first develop India by investing and contributing its expertise in the land of its origin.
“To me, FDI means First Develop India through Foreign Direct Investment, whose norms have been fully liberalized for Non-Resident Indians and Persons of Indian Origin and made on par with domestic firms for availing same benefits,” Modi told the 14th Pravasi Bharatiya Divas – Non-Resident Indian Day – here.
Held for the first time in Karnataka at the Bangalore International Exhibition Center on the city’s outskirts, the three-day event drew about 1,800 NRIs, including Indian Americans, from 72 countries to redefine their engagement with their motherland.
Minister of State for External Affairs M.J. Akbar, Union Human Resource Development Minister Prakash Javedkar, Union Minister for Chemicals and Fertilisers H.N. Ananth Kumar and Niti Ayog CEO Amitabh Kant were among those addressing the plenary sessions.
President Pranab Mukherjee conferred Pravasi Bharatiya Samman awards and delivered the valedictory address Jan. 9 (see separate stories). A youth Pravasi Bharatiya Divas was also held Jan. 7 (see separate story).
Inaugurating the three-day mega event, Modi exhorted the diaspora to participate in the government’s flagship programs like Digital India, Make In India, Start-up India, Swacch Bharat (Clean India) and Namami Gange (Clean Ganga) for the country’s all-around development.
“The diaspora can contribute to India by sparing their time and energy on implementing our flagship programs and staying connected,” said Modi during a 40-minute special address in Hindi and English.
Asserting that engaging with the overseas Indian community was a priority area for him, the prime minister said the government was trying to convert ‘brain drain’ into ‘brain gain’ by inviting the diaspora to contribute their mite in making India strong and self-reliant.
“Brain drain has been considered a loss for the country as Indians went abroad seeking jobs and better life. But for me and my government, such a movement is not a brain drain but brain gain as they can help us in the development,” noted Modi.
For young Indians seeking jobs abroad, Modi said his government would soon launch a skill development program, the Pravasi Kaushal Vikas Yojana, targeted at Indian youth seeking overseas employment.
The program will train the job-seekers with soft skills so that they do not feel strangers in the country they migrate to in terms of manners and culture.
Modi also appealed to all persons of Indian origin living the world over to convert their PIO cards into Overseas Citizen of India cards at the earliest.
“We are working on new procedures to ensure all descendants of Indians, especially their fourth and fifth generations living in Fiji, Suriname, Guyana and Caribbean states, to become eligible for OCI cards,” Modi said.
He urged PIOs to obtain Overseas Citizen of India cards by June 30. “We have extended the deadline to convert PIO cards into OCI cards to June 30 from Dec. 31, without penalty,” said Modi.
“We have also set up special immigration counters at New Delhi and Bengaluru airports since Jan. 1 for OCI card holders. Similar counters will be opened at more airports in the country,” he said.
Acknowledging the difficulties faced by PIOs in getting their OCI cards, the prime minister said his government was working on new procedures to facilitate the descendants of Girmitiyas in Mauritius to become eligible for OCI cards.
Girmityas are the fourth or fifth generation of descendants of indentured Indian laborers who during the 19th century went to Fiji, Mauritius, South Africa and the Caribbean islands to work on agricultural fields and settled down in these countries.
Clarifying that the government does not see the color of the passport but the blood ties, the prime minister said the PIO card superseded the individual’s passport as far as his or her ties to India were concerned.
When the PIO card is seen, “we don’t see the color of the passport but the blood ties,” Modi said to huge applause. The prime minister flashed a PIO card to emphasize that persons of Indian origin always will have ties to India, regardless of their country of citizenship.
Referring to Mahatma Gandhi’s return from South Africa, Modi said this day marked the return to India of one of the greatest Pravasis.
“NRIs and PIOs have made outstanding contributions. Among them are politicians of great stature, scientists of repute, outstanding doctors, brilliant educationists, economists, journalists, musicians, engineers, bankers and did I mention our well-known technology professionals,” added Modi.
“Overseas Indians have also made invaluable contribution to the Indian economy, including $69-billion-worth remittances in 2016. We are strengthening processes at our embassies and consulates to facilitate their easier travel to India,” said Modi, adding: “Efforts are also being made to provide maximum facilitation and ensure least inconvenience to even Indian citizens seeking economic opportunities abroad.”