Pravasi Divas should have substance

The annual Pravasi Bharatiya Divas has been more a glitzy get-together, with fanfare and high-profile participation, of Indians living abroad and persons of Indian origin than an occasion for useful and productive engagement between the diaspora and the parent country. This year’s event, which concluded in Bengaluru last week, was also not very different. The symbolism of such an event has some value, but the symbol should also have substance. The idea behind holding the Pravasi Divas has been to encourage the participation of Indians living abroad in the country’s development, recognise their excellence in various fields and address their problems at governmental and other levels. The Bengaluru event also had high-profile participation from the President and the prime minister both of whom highlighted different aspects of the Pravasi situation and the country’s need to relate to it positively. But at the end of the Divas, there was nothing much to show.

President Pranab Mukherjee pointed out the concerns and lack of job security of Indians working in Gulf countries and some other countries. Many of them, who enrich the national exchequer with remittances, find no support when they lose their jobs and come back. The government should more proactively engage with foreign governments to ensure that their employment policies do not hurt or discriminate against Indians. Prime Minter Narendra Modi made a welcome announcement that strict penal measures would be taken against recruitment agencies which cheat job aspirants. There are many who lose their money in their dealings with such agencies or are exploited by them or by foreign employers. The prime minister also announced a plan to impart skill training under the Pravasi Kaushal Vikas Yojna to those who wanted to go abroad for jobs. These intentions and promises will help only if there is action to support them. Past record in the matter is not very encouraging. 

Modi said that investments by Pravasi Indians would be considered as domestic investments. However, investments by NRIs or others will pick up only when there is greater ease of doing business in the country. Even without active investments, pravasis support the economy in a major way with their remittances. Many Indians hold high positions in their professions, do well in business and are generally well educated and wield influence in their adopted countries. They are also visible and numerous in many countries. Most of them have good will for the motherland. This resource has not been well utilised by the country. So the country’s engagement with its diaspora should go beyond three-day melas and address its genuine problems and make use of possibilities.

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