15th Edition of Pravasi Bharatiya Diwas concludes in Varanasi

The 15th edition of the Pravasi Bharatiya Diwas 2019, a gathering of expatriate Indians, came to a close here in the holy city of Varanasi with the call by Prime Minster Narendra Modi to join hands to build a new India. The theme for PBD 2019 was “Role of Indian Diaspora in building New India”

Noting that love for the soil has “pulled you all to PBD conclave”, Modi called upon “the ambassadors of India” living abroad to motivate at least five families around them to come to India. “Your efforts will play an important role in enhancing tourism in the country.”

More than 5,000 people from over 90 countries, including the United States, heard promises from Modi that are pleasing to their ears, including that the government was making efforts to ease the processes concerning their social security, passport, visa and PIO and OCI cards, and that the work is on to issue chip-based e-passports.

In addition to Modi, President of India Ram Nath Kovind, Mauritius Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth, the chief guest at the event, as well as External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, Minister of State for External Affairs V K Singh and Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath addressed the largest-ever diaspora gathering. Modi and his ministers urged them to participate in building a New India, especially in research and innovation.

Among those who attended the event from the U.S. included Global Organization of People of Indian Origin (GOPIO) Chairman Thomas Abraham and its president Sunny Kulathakal. GOPIO organized a convention in conjunction with the PBD in Varanasi. Among other U.S.-based NRIs attending the event were Subash Razdan, Chairman of Atlanta-based Gandhi Foundation of USA as well as Dr. Sampat Shivangi, Chairman, Mississippi State Board of Mental Health and president of Indian American Forum for Political Education.

A total of 30 people, including four from the U.S., were given the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman awards. The awardees included Florida cardiologist and philanthropist Dr. Kiran Patel (in medical science), Chandra Shekhar Mishra, a senior scientist at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab), USA (in science), IMF chief Gita Gopinath (in academics) and Gitesh Jayantilal Desai, president of SEWA International’s Houston, Texas chapter, (in structural engineering).

 “Today, India is in the position to lead the world in several subjects. International Solar Alliance (ISA) is one such platform. Through this medium, we want to take the world towards ‘One World, One Sun, One Grid’,” Modi said, inaugurating the PBD January 22.

“People used to say that India cannot change,” he said. “We have changed this thinking. We have made changes,” he said. Modi said, alluding to former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi’s comment that only 15 paise of Rs 1 that the central government sends from Delhi reaches the people, no attempt was made by the Congress party government to stop this loot. “The country’s middle class continued to pay taxes honestly, and 85 per cent of this loot continued,” Modi said in what sounded like a campaign speech.

Modi said that the changes that are coming in India are becoming new opportunities. “We have plugged the loopholes in the system with the help of technology. The loot of public money has been stopped and 85 percent of the lost money has been made available and transferred directly into the bank accounts of the beneficiaries. “Our government is moving towards ensuring that the aid given by government is directly transferred to beneficiary accounts through direct benefit schemes,” Modi said.

“In this changing India, you can play a big role in research and development and innovation. The government is also trying to bring Indian start-ups and NRI mentors together on one platform. Defense manufacturing can also be an important sector for you,” Modi said, describing NRIS as India’s brand ambassadors who were the symbols of the country’s capabilities. Modi called this year’s PBD the “most successful” event saying the people of Varanasi, which is his Lok Sabha constituency, have taken ownership of the three-day jamboree.

Mauritian Premier Jugnauth hailed Modi for India’s transformation through initiatives such as the Skill India and the Beti Bachao Beti Padhao schemes. Jugnauth announced that his country will hold a Bhagwad Gita Mahotsav next month and a Bhojpuri Festival next year.

The President of India Ram Nath Kovind, addressed the concluding gathering Jan. 23, stressing the important role Indians abroad played for India as one of the largest diasporas in the world. “India today is a land of a billion ideas. India today is a land of a billion opportunities,” Kovind said.

President Kovind noted the immense cultural wealth of the people who left the country. “In the past, our ancestors travelled to Southeast Asia as merchants and as monks. Much later, many lived and prospered as traders and entrepreneurs along the Silk Route. And more than a century ago, under the indenture system, we witnessed millions of our people crossing the seven seas,” Kovind is reported to have said, according to a press release from his office. “The world has moved a long way since for our diaspora. They are commanding global heights today, while embracing their cultural ethos and diversity. And while they do so, they must also preserve and strengthen their unity as a community.”

The President said the Indian diaspora’s success and hard work have set an example. They are the face of India and its identity abroad. We are proud of them and their achievements. But what really makes their contributions stand out are the values that they espouse and live for. These are values that intrinsically remain Indian.

The Youth PBD along with the Uttar Pradesh State PBD was held Jan. 21, jointly inaugurated by India’s Minsiter for External Affairs Sushma Swaraj, and Minister of State for Youth Affairs and Sports. At this event, India’s former Consul General in New York Dnyaneshwar Mulay, now secretary in the Ministry of External Affairs for Overseas Indian Affairs, gave the welcome remarks. A plenary session facilitated interaction with members of the diaspora. The gathering was also addressed by Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh Yogi Adityanath, who hosted a dinner the same night. Youth delegates at the convention visited Banaras Hindu University on the campus.

On the formal inauguration day, others who addressed the gathering apart from Modi, included Swaraj, Adityanath, Jugnauth, and Singh. A “Bharat Ko Janiya Quiz” Award ceremony was also held. The plenary sessions included, “Role of India Diaspora in Capacity Building for Affordable Solar Power,” and another on “Giving Back to India: Opportunities and Challenges.” Dinner was hosted by Minister Swaraj.

A unique feature of the conclave this year was that the delegates were taken to the Kumbh Mela in Allahabad and from there to Delhi to witness the Republic Day parade on January 26. The trips, officials said, were in deference to the wishes of the delegates. A series of plenary sessions were held during the last day: Indian Community Organizations Working for Indian Nationals in Distressed Situation; Role of Indian Diaspora in Capacity Building for Affordable Waste Management; Indian Diaspora’s Role in Capacity Building of Artificial Intelligence in India: and Developing Cyber Capacity of India.

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