The NR Eye: Will PBD reflect aspirations of young Gulf Indians too?

January 06, 2014 - 12:00:00 am

by Moiz Mannan

Extending its role as the unofficial overseas marketing department of the Indian government, the Ministry of Overseas Indians Affairs has now shifted focus on engaging young diaspora that is creating waves across the globe.

The 12th edition of the annual diaspora conclave, the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas is set to open in New Delhi on Wednesday with the theme “Engaging Diaspora: Connecting Across Generations”. But before that, all of Tuesday is devoted to a ‘Youth Pravasi Bharatiya Divas’ for young Indians living and working abroad. A session on issues of Gulf Indians was included in a willy-nilly manner on the last day’s agenda of the main event.

MOIA Minister Vayalar Ravi has made public his concern that instead of strengthening their ties, overseas Indian youth are losing their connection to the land of their ancestors. “I don’t want to lose them,” said the minister at a recent interaction with overseas Indians in the US. The events planned include panels entitled, Sharing a Common Heritage: The Emotional Connect, Young Achievers, Emerging India in a Dynamically Changing World, Aspirations of Diaspora Youth, and Building the Global Youth Diaspora Network.

Not surprisingly, the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports will be the partner ministry for the upcoming event to organised by the Ministry for Overseas Indian Affairs. One can say that the process started several years back with the introduction of the Know India Programme of MOIA which brings in batches of young overseas Indians to the country each year to orient and thus involve them in matters here.

KIP is a three-week orientation programme for diaspora youth conducted with a view to promote awareness on different facets of life in India and the progress made. Four to five such programmes are conducted every year in partnership with one or two state governments.

About 35 Indian diaspora youth in the age group of 18-26 years, are selected for each programme. They are provided with full hospitality in India for the duration of the programme and even air fare. The programme includes presentations on the country, political process, developments in various sectors; interaction with faculty and students at prestigious educational institutions, visits to industries, rural areas, heritage sites and monuments, and interactions with high level dignitaries which may include the President of India.

So far more than 25 such programmes have been organised by the ministry in which close to 800 young overseas Indians have taken part. Interestingly Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) are not eligible to apply for this programme. It is meant only for PIOs (people of Indian origin), i.e. Indians with foreign citizenship.

Over a period, the precedence given by the ministry to the wealth rather than the problems of overseas Indians has become clear. Regardless of the rhetoric of ministers and prime ministers about the PBD as a forum to address grievances, it has been made into an event to lure investments.

Only those NRIs and PIOs with a lot of wealth that may be diverted to India are welcome. Union ministries and state governments jostle for the diaspora’s attention, showcasing their potential as investment destinations. Nothing is wrong with that, except the double standards. Seeking investment must not be the sole definition of the word “engagement.” What about the poor NRIs? The blue collar workers in the Gulf who have been affected by a host of problems ranging from illegal migration to nationalisation drives? Should not the PBD also be a forum for the country to roll out its migrant labour protection policies. If youth is the theme of this one, what about the real issues of NRI youths such as getting admission to higher and professional education institutions in India? What about the much-hyped ‘NRI University’ that was proffered as a solution to this problem? From the topics of the convention, it is clear that the attention is on young professionals who have something to give and not youths in general who seek something. Earlier editions of PBDs have carried a session on Gulf Indians without anything substantial coming out of them. Probably that was why the agenda of this edition had altogether skipped this session.

It was only when some Gulf NRI organisations such as the Riyadh-based Tanzeem Hum Hindustani and Federation of Kerala Associations in Saudi Arabia protested the exclusion that the session was reinstated.

MOIA Minister acknowledged in the Rajya Sabha that the Gulf session was included upon the request of expat organizations. Referring to the PBD, Ravi told the parliament “These Conventions assist the Government of India to better understand the expectations of the Overseas Indians from the land of their ancestors and to acknowledge their role in India’s all round development and its efforts to acquire its rightful place in the comity of nations.”

Gulf NRIs, particularly those in Saudi Arabia, expect the PBD’s Gulf session to devise strategies to rehabilitate returnees. But again, just look at the topics of the sessions with which the Gulf session is juxtaposed: “Making India the Hub of Media & Entertainment”, “Industry Innovation and Technology”, “Healthcare opportunities in India,” and “Issues of NRIs in the Gulf.” One hopes that if not the Gulf returnees, the PBD addresses at least the issues of the youth on whom the event is supposed to be focused.The Peninsula