Dnyaneshwar M Mulay, Secretary (CPV & OIA), Ministry of External Affairs
Redefining engagement with the Indian Diaspora
India is ready to host the 14th Pravasi Bhartiya Divas (PBD) in Bengaluru, Karnataka. In a conversation with Dnyaneshwar M Mulay, Secretary (CPV & OIA), Ministry of External Affairs, we find out what is on the agenda and what major announcements have been planned for this event.
Why did you choose Bengaluru as the destination for PBD 2017?
Karnataka expressed the strongest interest. The chief minister and minister of industries made a number of appeals. Bengaluru is a place which is known as a tech capital of India and also has a wonderful weather. The state government was keen on partnering, so it emerged as a natural choice. In South, many other cities have already been explored in the past and have also hosted the event. It is coming to Bengaluru for the first time. Since the state government has, in our assessment, the capacity to make it really big, we didn’t have to struggle to reach a unanimous decision of granting Bengaluru the hosting rights.
How will it be different from other PBDs as it is happening, for the first time, as per the schedule of once in two years?
One logistical advantage with Bengaluru is that the entire event will happen in one complex. The registration, the sessions, the cultural program, the food pavilion, Chief Minister’s lounges will all be under one roof. There is of course a slight disadvantage because the venue is away from the city. But, once you enter the venue, it is a huge, state-of-art facility and I am certain that this arrangement will bring greater ease of organising an event of such magnitude.
Last year PBD was held in Gujarat and it coincided with the Vibrant Gujarat summit. Given that this time it is being hosted in Bengaluru, what is the expected footfall?
We are expecting around 3,000 overseas participants and maybe about 2,000 domestic participants. While the numbers are important I would say that the quality of discussions should be more important than the participant numbers. We have lined up a programme that people will find attractive enough to come up in good numbers. We are not very concerned about the number per se.
How is the state participation in terms of inviting NRIs?
It has been excellent so far. Two positives have come off this. Eight chief ministers have already confirmed their participations. As the government of India is engaging the diaspora, the aim is to garner more investments, providing a platform for emotional connection, and for catalysing tourism. The state governments are now more active than before. Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Gujarat, Odisha and Telangana are having their own events. It signifies the growing awareness among the state machinery, finally realising that the diaspora is an important component of our foreign policy and therefore, engaging with creative and fresh ideas is the call of the hour.
Have you planned any new scheme for the welfare of the Indian diaspora?
As you know, we decided last year that we will have the main PBD in the traditional convention format once in two years. What it means is that the PBD will be a continuous process. In 2016, the minister of external affairs held a video conference with five embassies and consulates over the world, and all our consulates, embassies and high commission offices celebrated the PBD in their respective countries. Secondly, we decided we will have monthly PBD panel discussions and since February 2016 till November 2016, we have had ten different PBD panel discussions. For these, we have invited many experts from overseas countries as well as from India. We will all be connecting these sessions with what will be happening in Bengaluru. Action taken reports and recommendations that we have made in these panel discussions will be presented in the plenary sessions in Bengaluru, where people will be able to participate and give their suggestions directly. So, this is a new way and whatever will be the final outcome of these discussions, will form a part of government’s policy. As you can envisage, there is a common thread in this – greater participation in policy formulation on medium and long term basis.
How has your engagement been with the francophone diaspora?
I would like to say that we need to now address the several segments we havewithin the diaspora. It is the best way to create greater engagement. So far, we have broad categories like Girmitya countries, the OCI (Overseas Citizen of India) category, the people who migrated after India became a republic, and those who are floating, like NRIs, students and tourists. We intend to do more for the francophone diaspora as well as other diasporas that are either regionally based or based in a particular linguistic groupings. In between 2017 and 2019 editions of PBD, we will have a number of engagements in India and abroad where we will cover different diasporas. And, the idea behind having the Portugal Prime Minister for PBD 2017 is to strengthen our ties with nations where we have big diasporas. Wherever we have diasporas, we should tap, enable them to feel connected.
With MOI collaborating with MEA for PBD 2017, what are the plans of strengthening ties with the other nations and what other Indian foreign policies have been planned?
The advantage is huge in terms of overseas affairs as a subject getting the support of the entire paraphernalia that we have in MEA (Ministry of External Affairs), the diplomatic support, the protocol support, the SOPs which are already there in MEA are available to us, the missions spread all over the world. There are no two lines of communication. Earlier, for a diaspora organisation to get anything done, it had to get to MOIA (Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs) and then come to MEA; so those two lines of communication are no longer required. Plus MEA’s support base, which is already there throughout the world, is available to overseas Indians. These are major changes that will strengthen our engagement with the diaspora. MEA also has huge intellectual resources and deep contacts with other countries. All this can now be synergized to make diaspora engagement an important part of our foreign policy itself. Diaspora engagement is no longer a peripheral, sideline topic. It is one of the main themes of our diplomacy. I think, it is a major paradigm shift in our approach. That is why this year’s PBD theme is ‘Redefining engagement with diaspora’. And, this way we are defining our engagement with the diaspora, because this is a symbiotic relationship which really means that diaspora needs to be empowered by India and vice versa.
Are these mergers revamping overseas affairs?
Not only the approach but the content has also been revamped. We have had a number of schemes. For example, there was no diaspora contact programme or scholarship programme. All these have been added to the existing list of offerings. Let’s take KIP (Know India Programme) programme. For KIP, we have increased the earlier age bracket from 18-26 to 18-30 in order to accommodate a larger number of people. We have also decided that four of the KIP groups will participate in the youth PBD so that their presence here can be used to make the PBD vivacious and vibrant.
In our scholarships schemes, we have now introduced reservation quota for the children of the working class in the Gulf. These are the new elements. We are also thinking of other things to do in other segments to increase our outreach.
The other issue that needs attention is the merger of PIO and OCI cards. How has the conversion rate been so far and how is it helping the India diaspora?
Conversion was done primarily to make a uniform scheme and eradicate confusion. There was a fair amount of confusion. Secondly, through conversion there were inherent accreditations of incentives made available to the PIO (Person of India Origin). PIOs were brought in part to OCIs, so all the facilities that were available to OCI’s are now available to PIOs as well. And, PIOs do not have to pay for conversions. Conversion is free. My advice through you to the PIOs is that they should get their cards converted as early as possible. It would be difficult for the government to continue with the process of conversion forever. We already have given a few extensions. In future, we may have to levy some fee for conversion. Because it is important we have a uniform scheme. Immigration points are aware as to what the card looks like. Only when we have a uniform card it will be possible for the immigrants to have a full proof. PIOs will then not have to register with the police. They can stay for unlimited time in India. They can take up employment. They can buy property. I think it is a very positive step that the government has taken.
What initiative has been taken for the women diaspora? What about the children who are born and brought up abroad, especially in the Gulf?
The aforementioned schemes are applicable to both men and women around the diaspora. Whether it is the KIP programme, scholarship programme or our panel discussion, I want to see greater representation from women within the diaspora. More and more voice is being given to women, and in addition, for distressed women, particular those who go as housemaids and nurses. We have taken certain steps for their welfare and security. We have made the embassies more proactive and have provided them certain facilities. Shelters have been created. They now have resource centres where they can seek guidance. New ones have been approved in places like Malaysia and UAE. And, we will be open to any new ideas that will come, so that we are able to give help to women, particularly, to needy and distressed women and those who go abroad for economic necessity. We are also getting the state government on board with us. Because it is often that the action lies at the state level. Before they go abroad, there has to be awareness campaigns. We have undertaken a media campaign through the state governments and through TV and other mediums, to tell people “surkashit jao aur prashikshit jao” (be aware and be trained before you go). The various precautions one needs to take are now being advertised all over the country through the Passport Seva Kendras. You will find huge signboards put up where people can see what precautions they need to take when they are undertaking a journey abroad, particularly for job purposes.
Since the first PBD, where the footfall was around 4,500, participation has reduced. What are the probable reasons and what are your future expectations?
We will have 4,500 people this year. We are quite hopeful and reasonably confident. We already crossed 2,600 in our registrations. I have no doubt that we will reach the desired numbers.
There will be lot of takeaways. We have a huge exhibition where people will be able to experience India’s flagship projects, what the state governments are doing, what we are doing to engage with the diaspora, how they can contribute to India’s development, contribute to philanthropy in India among others. They can also find out how they can participate better in government projects and schemes. The whole idea is to let the PBD become a creative place. Let new ideas flow. We don’t believe in one-way communication; we wish that the diaspora comes to us with fresh ideas and we will be very open to working with them. This is a partnership that has to be sustainable. Our Prime Minister and the MEA are tirelessly working on engaging with the diaspora, and they have mobilised the diaspora a lot already. Hence, we are having huge expectations from the diaspora and in return we are doing all we can for their upliftment and empowerment.