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Kul Bhushan

The former editor of a newspaper says the influence of NRIs and POIs has been felt in India ? not only by their remittances but also by their involvement in many social welfare causes.

india Updated: Jan 05, 2006 22:13 IST

"Bahut acchha!" said the Chinesewoman in impeccable Hindi. My friend and I were incredulous as she sat silently at our table through lunch in the UN cafeteria in Vienna, listening to our conversation about India and its problems.

"I am also an Indian," she said. Unbelievable. Then she explained that she belonged to the Chinese community in Kolkata, was born and grew up there and now worked for a UN agency.

An Indian can belong to any country round the globe. Far too many people of Indian origins work in international organisations like the World Bank or the UN, but it gradually dawns that they are not necessarily from India.

They come from the US or Canada, the Caribbean, Britain, Africa, the Far East, Australia or New Zealand. Such has been the global spread of the Indian migration over centuries.

With their roots in India, these 25 million Indians - known as non-resident Indians (NRIs) or persons of Indian origin (PIOs) - have an economic output estimated at a staggering $400 billion, or equal to four-fifths of the country's economy.

No wonder their influence has been felt in India - not only by their remittances but also by their involvement in many social welfare causes.

To interact with overseas Indians, a ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs has been established and an annual get-together called Pravasi Bharatiya Divas is held on January 9.

On this historic date in 1915, Mahatma Gandhi had returned to India after living in South Africa for almost two decades to launch his freedom struggle.

Every year, the three-day Divas attracts over 1,000 NRIs from across the globe with another 1,000-odd participants from India.

Jointly organised by the Overseas Indian Affairs Ministry and the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), the Divas has become the forum for NRIs in India.

Ten to 12 overseas Indians who have distinguished themselves with their work or achievements are bestowed with Bharatiya Samman Awards. India's president confers the honours while the prime minister makes a keynote speech.

Important ministers and captains of business and industry address other sessions. The evening sessions provide top-notch entertainment of classical and folk music and dance.

The first two annual meets held in New Delhi had a carnival atmosphere with an overdose of Indian culture and cuisine topped by long speeches by leaders of the government.

Many NRIs complained they did not get enough time and opportunity to express themselves and present their concerns and problems.

Last year, the Divas moved to Mumbai with a more serious flavour. The matter of dual citizenship became important, investments and joint ventures were given more prominence, and social welfare activities took a front seat following the release of the Bollywood film "Swades".

This year, the meet will be held Jan 7-9 in Hyderabad - the happening city for IT, films, business and tourism.

There is also the famous Hyderabadi cuisine besides pearls and jewellery. So the visiting NRIs should have a super time.

What's new for the 2006 gathering? The involvement of young NRIs, for a start. Ageing NRIs who migrated abroad in the 1950s and 1960s with a yearning for their motherland attended the earlier meets. Now the organisers have realised young NRIs need to be involved for its long-term success.

So the Overseas Indian Affairs Ministry organised an internship programme for diaspora youths aged between 18 and 25 to "Discover India" in August-September 2005.

At Hyderabad, an entertainment programme for diaspora youth will hail their contribution to global culture in hip-hop and bhangra.

Over 1,200 delegates from abroad and 800 from India are expected to attend the convention. The delay in introducing the processing of dual citizenship will be among the major topics while the Overseas Indian Affairs Ministry plans to launch a universal integrated electronic remittance gateway for PIOs.

An overseas Indian knowledge network and information and communications technology platforms will be discussed.

For NRIs, the Divas is 'Back to Bharat'.

(Previously a newspaper editor, Kul Bhushan has worked abroad and travelled to over 55 countries.)

First Published: Jan 05, 2006 19:27 IST