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PBD: High on hype, low on enthusiasm

india Updated: Jan 10, 2008 01:12 IST
Srinand Jha
Srinand Jha
Hindustan Times
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Is the concept of a Pravasi Bharatiya Divas (PBD) heading anywhere? This has been the question that has foxed many.

A not so encouraging picture is reflected from the available statistics: The number of delegates at the PBDs has shown a declining trend, while investments from overseas Indians are dwindling. The combined wealth of 25 million overseas Indians has been roughly estimated at a whopping one trillion USD. But not even a small portion of this amount has been invested in India.

The figure of investments from overseas Indians last year is estimated at USD 50 billion where more than half the amount (USD 26 billion) was from the five million-strong overseas Indian workers working in the Gulf.

However, Minister of Overseas Indian Affairs Vayalar Ravi asserted that PBD's are not about NRI investments and said that there is a need to expand upon the concept by going beyond "the narrow confines of inward investment and business" - which has been attempted on this occasion.

The clout of the government has actually been put behind the efforts to engage the diaspora. The country's top leadership including the President, Prime Minister and Cabinet ministers, besides Chief Ministers of states, has attended each of the six PBDs. Grand concepts have been floated at all such conclaves but how much of it has translated into programs is what the pundits wonder. Listening to the assurances and pronouncements has often seemed like having pressed the rewind button.

The regionalisation of the Pravasi concept has taken shape over the last few years -states like Gujarat, Kerala and Bihar have started organising their own version of PBDs. A caste system also appears to have evolved among two categories of overseas Indians: The NRIs and the Persons of Indian Origin (PIOs).

Sarita Boodhoo of the Global Organization of Persons of Indian Origin (GOPIO) alleged, "The Indian government is more responsive towards the community of NRIs, which has more money and are rather negligent towards plantation workers like us."

The GOPIO itself has been split into two fractions - the American Indian community having emerged as the dominant group. " If nothing better, the PBD has emerged as a club and networking forum amongst overseas Indians. There is a certain kind of churning happening and this will eventually lead to some good," said Professor MJ Warsi of the Washington University in St Louis