സമ്മേളനം ഞായറാഴ്ച ഔദ്യോഗികമായിയി പ്രധാനമന്ത്രി നരേന്ദ്ര മോഡി ഉദ്ഘാടനം ചെയ്യും. ഞായര്-തിങ്കള് ദിനങ്ങളില് വിവിധ വിഷയങ്ങളെപ്പറ്റി നടക്കുന്ന സെമിനാറുകള്ക്ക് സമാപനം കുറിച്ച് തിങ്കളാഴ്ച വൈകിട്ട് രാഹ്ട്രപതി പ്രണബ് മുക്കര്ജി സമാപന പ്രസംഗം നടത്തുകയും പ്രവാസി സമ്മാന് അവാര്ഡുകള് വിതരണം ചെയ്യുകയും ചെയ്യും. പോര്ട്ട്ഗീസ് പ്രധാനമന്ത്രിഅന്റോണിയൊ കോസ്റ്റോ ആണു മുഖ്യാതിഥി.
യുവജന ദിവസില് സുരിനാം വൈസ് പ്രസിഡന്റ് 36 വയസുകാരനായ മൈക്കല് അഷ്വിന് സത്യേന്ദ്ര അധിന് ആയിരുന്നു മുഖ്യാതിഥി.
സെമിനാറുകളില് വിദേശ ഇന്ത്യാക്കരുടെ പ്രശ്നങ്ങള്, കോണ്സുലര് സര്വീസ് മെച്ചപ്പെടുത്തുന്നത്, ഇന്ത്യയുമായുള്ള വ്യവസായ വാണിജ്യ ബന്ധം വിപുലീകരിക്കുന്നത്, ഹെല്ത്ത് കെയര് രംഗത്തെ സഹകരണം തുടങ്ങി ഒട്ടേറേ വിഷയങ്ങള് ചര്ച്ച ചെയ്യും.
വിവിധ രാജ്യങ്ങളില് നിന്നായി രണ്ടായിരത്തില്പരം പ്രതിനിധികള് പങ്കെടുക്കുന്നു. വയലാര് രവി മന്ത്രിയായിരുന്ന പ്രവാസി വകുപ്പ് പിരിച്ചു വിട്ടതിനാല് വിദേശകാര്യ വകുപ്പാണു സമ്മേളനം സംഘടിപ്പിക്കുന്നത്. ന്യു യോര്ക്ക് കോണ്സല് ജനറല് ആയിരുന്ന ഞ്ജാനേശ്വര് മുലായ് ആണു ഈ വിഭാഗത്തിന്റെ കേന്ദ്ര സെക്രട്ടറി.
യുവജന സമ്മേളനത്തില് കേന്ദ്ര വിദേശകാര്യ സഹമന്ത്രി (ജനറല്) വി.കെ. സിംഗ്, കേന്ദ്ര യുവജന-സ്പോര്ട്ട്സ് മന്തി വി.കെ. ഗോയല്, കര്ണാടക മന്ത്രിമാര് തുടങ്ങിയവര് പ്രസംഗിച്ചു.
മഹാത്മാ ഗാന്ധി 1915 ജനുവരി 9-നു ഇന്ത്യയില് മടങ്ങി എത്തിയതിന്റെ ഓര്മ്മക്കായാണ് ജനുവരി ഒന്പതിനു പ്രവാസി ദിനം ആഘോഷിക്കുന്നത്.
ആഘോഷം പതിന്നാലാം വര്ഷത്തിലേക്കു കടന്നപ്പോള് ഈ മാമാങ്കത്തിന്റെ ആവശ്യകത പലരും ചോദ്യം ചെയ്യുന്നു. എന്നാല് ഇത് വിദേശങ്ങളിലൂള്ളവര്ക്ക് ഇന്ത്യയില് വരാനും ബന്ധങ്ങല് പുതുക്കാനും അവസരം നല്കുന്നുവെന്നു മറ്റൊരു വിഭാഗം പറയുന്നു. (ചിത്രങ്ങള്: ആനി ലിബു)
Prof P Somasundaran, professor of Columbia University had attended the third PBD in 2005 in Mumabi. He has no plans to attend this time.
He spoke then at a session on Propelling India to the Forefront of Science and Technology.
“That meeting was very useful to know what the India government and state governments were planning and where NRIs could help to make India great again on the international stage.
“If nothing else, it was inspiring to listen to President Abdul Kalam who gave a unique futuristic talk. This was one place where one could feel how beautiful India is, as a rainbow model for unity in diversity. Chief ministers made us feel like we were wanted. Food and other items made us feel like we have not left home.
“President Kalam's Tea outside with us was marred by many business folks crashing and crushing the gates which caused the security people to shorten it and take him inside. It was charming to see how Kalam was nevertheless smiling and shaking hands all the way through.
Indeed there are no more Kalams, who did make India great and strong in the global arena with efficient and inexpensive satellites and missiles, Somasundaran noted.
Ambassador TP Sreenivasan, who served in the Indian Embassy and United Nations Permanent Mission for several years before moving to Vienna as Ambassador and Governor of International Atomic Energy Agency noted that the novelty of the event is lost.
“I have attended several PBDs and mini PBDs as a speaker, entrusted with coordinating the work of one or the other of the sessions, basically because Vayalarji (former minister Vayalar Ravi) was aware of my professional profile, as someone who dealt with the diaspora in Burma, Fiji, Kenya, the United States and Austria.
This gave me an idea of the motivations of the people who came to these jamborees. Essentially, these are people, who occupy various positions of responsibility in organizations of overseas Indians. They have the urge to be heard by the officials of the Government of India as any recognition at these meetings will advance their prospects back in the community. Some of them may also seek commercial benefits by meeting others.
Networking, therefore, is the primary purpose of the participants. Over the years, the overseas Indians have learnt to turn their business trips into PBD trips, as the weather in India is very good in January, while there are freezing temperatures in the west. Most of them do not seek anything from the Government and they are grateful for the opportunity of the PBD. The biggest attraction was photo opportunities these PBDs offered.
The community has benefited from PBDs as they gave them an opportunity to project their grievances, imaginary or real to the Indian authorities. Their persistent demands have led to PIO and OCI cards, though the dual citizenship they desired is still eluding them. As for the Gulf pravasis, many welfare measures have been put in place, their properties have been protected and there is greater recognition of their remittances.
The number of attendees has fallen over the years because the novelty has gone and the pattern of these events has remained unchanged. The Indians abroad have realized that a few representatives could do more than the huge crowds. Several new ideas were introduced, but largely it was one way communication from the Government to them.
The Gulf people do not think that they get much attention at PBDs. It is the delegates from the west who seem to make the greatest impact, even though they do not have any existential demands.
I had suggested some time ago that there should be a Youth PBD. I believe some emphasis is being given to youth issues. The PBD should be restructured to make them interactive, with fewer speeches and presentations by the Government.
Dr Narendra Kumar, past president of the American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin and also a winner of Pravasi Samman, said the PBD has lost its charm especially for participants from US since the NRI ministry has been dissolved. He is not going this time either.
He said AAPI has been actively involved with PBD for over a decade. “I am not sure how much AAPI has impacted in improving the health care quality and policies in India. PBD is certainly an explicit avenue for networking and in getting to know our counterparts and opinion leaders from other parts of the continents.
It is indeed a homecoming for our Indian diaspora under the auspices of Ministry of overseas Indians and now under External Affairs and a forum for recognition for NRI individuals for their outstanding achievement and service in their respective fields and thus bringing respect to mother India.”
He also noted that there were no direct benefits for AAPI from attending the event.
George Abraham, chairman of the Indian National Overseas Congress, is totally disappointed with the PBD.
PBD has been a huge disappointment to most of the NRIs especially for the ones from the United States and Europe. I have attended several PBDs and was a panelist in the PBD 2006 held in Hyderabad dealing with communal harmony. If the bureaucrats had their way, that session would not have been held, but for Mrs. Gandhi who seemed to have overruled them in that case. If my information is correct, that was the last session held on that subject. Some might ask why we need sessions like those in PBD? If you closely analyze, Indians abroad pretty much behave the same way socially as they do back at home with their fellow countrymen. It may be an uncomfortable truth to many of the leaders, but Indian Diaspora is as divided along the caste, religion, and regional lines and operates from own comfortable silos in their adopted lands. A greater unity in purpose will go a long way to enhance image and purpose.
The main problem with these conferences is that the Government of India and the attendees appear to have different objectives. The government is primarily looking for more investments and technology transfer whereas most NRIs would like to see many of their grievances addressed mainly dealing with the unresposive bureacracy and red tape. They are also concerned about hundreds of regulations emanating from the power corridors in New Delhi that have such negative consequences on their jobs, business plans or transportation of goods and services. What have I witnessed in many of those PBDs are the repeated efforts in futility on both of these fronts to provide concrete answers or find long standing solutions? Every time the PBD is convened, it is as if, the history is repeating itself! Many of us have requested setting up a high-level advisory body with a legal framework to address serious issues rather than coming every year to this gathering to regurgitate the same old lines, but to no avail.
I especially remember a session where NRIs from Malaysia voiced their frustrations as regards their treatment by the Malaysian Government, the Overseas Indian Affairs Minister in charge of the PBD at that time was harsh in his response. Since then, that usually large contingent from Malaysia, has started to thin down. The Gulf NRIs often go there with hundreds of complaints of their treatment at the hands of those Governments, often including one against Air India for their exploiting fares - Gulf to Kerala fares at times are equivalent to the NY- Kerala- however, the Government, couldn't even help them on that score.
The awarding of 'Pravasi Saman' has been a scandal. It is alleged that many deserving candidates were overlooked for those well connected. Although no one has openly challenged any of those awards, the rumor mill has it with stories and often innuendos how someone was able to attain it through the backdoor politics or using some other means.
As for the PIOs, many third and fourth generation Indians who live in Carribean or other countries for a century or so, it can be a time for exploring their roots and getting connected, and they might consider that to be a very rewarding experience. Apart from the comradery, you might develop with some of the regular attendees, the main attraction for many who are entrepreneurs is that they can connect with their peers from across the globe and could very well write off these expenses anyway for tax purposes. If you are shelling money out from your pocket, the high cost of registration, hotel, and transportation may not justify the return on your investment unless you have a particular role to play in the conference.
As far as the 2017 PBD in Bangalore is concerned, good luck to all those who may have to stand in those ATM lines or front of the banks as they may experience the daily struggle of the average Indian in the street in today's India.