January 9 is celebrated as Pravasi Bhartiya Divas (Non-resident Indians' day). The date has been chosen to commemorate Mahatma Gandhi's return from South Africa in 1915. Last week, the 12th Pravasi Bhartiya Divas was organised.
This gala event, to which the Indian diaspora is invited,
is usually presided over by the Prime Minister, while chief ministers of various states also grace the occasion. Thereafter, many states follow suit to invite NRIs.
Over the years, the Pravasi Bhartiya Divas has become a good pedestal for solving problems of NRIs, a window to showcase India to the world at large and to motivate NRIs and foreigners to invest in India. The million-dollar question is: Has it served its purpose as far as foreign investment is concerned?
The NRIs who went abroad due to economic considerations and toiled hard in their early days to earn their livelihood have not only excelled economically but also made their mark socially and politically.
Many NRIs have become member of Parliaments, premiers and even heads of states, making India proud.
The reason why NRIs have excelled in the economic field is that the Indian economic psyche is based on saving, whereas that of the West is based on spending. An Indian not only saves for himself, his family or clan but also for the next 'janam' (birth).
The other Indian trait which has worked wonders is that even an illiterate NRI ensures education for his progeny. Now, the second/third generation of NRIs has progressed to the middle and upper-economic brackets of their respective states, being good businessman, doctors, engineers and technocrats.
Thus, the Pravasi Bhartiya Divas provides a good opportunity to people of Indian origin to remain attached to their roots.
The first generation of NRIs did invest in purchasing agricultural land and building palatial houses in their native villages, but there is little interest of the second/third generation in doing so.
Rather, the second/third generation has started taking back wealth to their migrated country by selling property in India.
The same economic principle which goads NRIs to go abroad also lures them to invest in their parent country. The flight of human resources is always from a weak economy to a healthy one.
When the concept of Pravasi Bhartiya Divas was introduced by the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government in 2003, India's economy was in the pink of health there was low inflation rate, surplus cash for short-term expenses, low external debt and no dearth of foreign exchange. Infrastructure was adopted as the engine of growth.
Roads, power, railways, telecommunications and other sectors were given a boost to enable a good platform for the economy to take off.
The GDP (gross domestic product) of India soared to 8.3% in 2003 from 4.2% in 1997-98. The Vajpayee government took bold foreign policy initiatives, went ahead with the nuclear plan and mended post-sanctions relations with US and other super powers but not at the cost of national respect. Thus, the country sailed through the sanctions and the world had to acknowledge India.
The National Democratic Alliance (NDA), under Vajpayee's stewardship, was successful in generating more wealth and creating a stronger rupee in the international market, which culminated in making India an investment destination, also recognised by international rating agencies such as Standard & Poor's.
Thus, the economic atmosphere during the Vajpayee government was very conducive to initiate Pravasi Bhartiya Divas to encourage not only NRIs but also foreigners and multi-national companies to invest in India. That was the period when India was emerging as an economic power, when many technocrat NRIs decided to come back permanently.
With the change of guard at the national level in 2004, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) headed by an economist, Manmohan Singh, came to power. It was expected from Manmohan Singh that India would touch new economic heights.
People of India gave sufficient time to an economist Prime Minister by re-electing the UPA in 2009, but their hopes were belied. The economic reforms started by Manmohan Singh as the union finance minister in 1991 and accelerated during the Vajpayee government were almost stalled by Manmohan Singh as PM. The GDP came down to 4.7% in 2013.
The alarming slow growth rate, worst since the drought in 2002-03, implies that India will no longer remain the world's fastest-growing major economy after China.
The weakening of the PM's authority during the UPA rule tells the story of union ministers having a field day for incohesive policies as per their whims and fancies. The economy of surpluses during Vajpayee's rule turned again into the economy of shortages.
The UPA regime resulted in lower wealth creation due to high inflation, more borrowings for short-term expenses and high external debt and a weak rupee.
Standard & Poor's has warned that India's credit rating could slip to the junk grade if the government again falters on growth, thereby resulting in the flight of capital from India. In the backdrop of the economic scenario, the 12th Pravasi Bhartiya Divas became only a ritual.
The relevance of this event is directly proportional to the status of the economy. The same dictum applies also to the states across India. When Pravasi Bhartiya Divas will become relevant depends on the outcome of the 2014 general elections. India needs a strong leader to strengthen the economy and make the NRI festival more relevant.
The writer is a member of the BJP national executive and an MLA from Jalandhar.
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