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PM assures voting rights, social security for NRIs

delhi Updated: Jan 08, 2010 23:21 IST

Voting rights by next general elections and social security to tide over economic distress were the highlights of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's assurances to non-resident Indians on Friday as he asked the vast diaspora to tap the opportunities their country of origin now offers.

"I recognise the legitimate desire of Indians living abroad to exercise their franchise and to have a say in who governs India," the prime minister told the annual conclave for the Indian diaspora.

"We are working on this issue and I sincerely hope that they will get a chance to vote by the time of the next regular general elections," he said at the eighth edition of Pravasi Bharatiya Divas.

"In fact, I would go a step further and ask why more overseas Indians should not return home to join politics and public life as they are increasingly doing in business and academia."

India's principal opposition, the Bharatiya Janata Party, said it would welcome voting rights for non-resident Indians, adding this was first mooted when it headed the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government under Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

"It is a good idea," said party spokesperson Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi. "But this will require a lot of homework and constitutional amendment. We also have to address the issue of dual citizenship," Naqvi told IANS.

The prime minister said security of Indians abroad remained high on his government's agenda. He promised a fund to help Indians returning to their country after facing financial distress caused by the global slowdown.

"Security of our overseas workers and students is top priority," he said. "We are conscious of the need to structure an appropriate return and resettlement fund. We are working on a project to provide a social security net for the returning workers."

This apart, Indian Community Welfare Funds have been established in 18 countries to provide food, shelter, repatriation assistance and emergency relief to overseas Indians in distress, he said.

Some 1,500 delegates from 50-plus countries are attending the conclave that the country hosts annually to connect with its 25 million diaspora in 130 countries.

The prime minister said while people all over were legitimately proud of India's vibrant democracy, the government had not been able to deliver in full measure on the enormous promise and potential of the country.

"I recognise the frustration well wishers feel when they lament why things don't work faster or why well formulated plans and policies don't get implemented as well as they should be."

He said there was a price India was paying to carry all sections of its people along in national development, but that was a price worth paying.

"It is probably true we are a slow moving elephant but it is equally true that with each step forward we leave behind a deep imprint."

Referring to the giant strides being made by India, the prime minister said the country's economy will not only register one of the fastest expansions in the world this fiscal but soon return and sustain a high growth path of 9 percent.

"During the year gone by, the world faced unprecedented economic and financial crisis. But the Indian economy weathered this crisis quite well," he said.

"We hope to achieve this year a growth rate of around 7 percent, which is one of the fastest in the world. We are equally optimistic we can return to and sustain an annual growth rate of 9-10 percent in a couple of years."