PM’s Address at the 11th Pravasi Bharatiya Divas

pravasi bharatiya divasFollowing is the text of the Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh’s address at the 11th Pravasi Bharatiya Divas in Kochi today:

“On the occasion of this year’s Pravasi Bharatiya Divas, it is my honour to welcome our Chief Guest, His Excellency Rajkeswur Purryag, President of the Republic of Mauritius.

President Purryag’s record of public service over four decades and his many achievements are a source of great pride for people of Indian origin across the world. Excellency, Your presence in Kerala today, reminds us of the deep civilizational, linguistic, cultural and religious ties between India and Mauritius. The shores of our two countries are washed by a common ocean and both our countries have a shared interest in peace and prosperity in the Indian Ocean Region. I am therefore, very thankful to you, Your Excellency, for accepting our invitation to be the Chief Guest at this year’s Pravasi Bharatiya Divas. We are also extremely grateful to the Government of Mauritius for its support to the Regional Pravasi Bharatiya Divas Convention held in Port Louis in October 2012.

There could not have been too many better alternatives to Kerala for hosting this year’s Pravasi Bharatiya Divas.

Kerala is blessed by the generosity of nature, the hospitality of its people and the richness of its culture. This gives it a well-deserved right to claim that Kerala is “God’s own country”. The shores of Kerala have been part of the global currents of commerce, culture and religion since ancient times. This state was one of the first to come into contact with Judaism, Christianity and Islam. It had a strong tradition of maritime trade, extending from the Gulf and Europe in the West to China in the East. Today, residents of this vibrant state of the Union, lead the country not only in terms of their global presence, but also in their achievements on various social indicators. I am therefore delighted that Kerala is hosting this year’s event. For this, I thank the Hon. Chief Minister of Kerala, my friend, Oomen Chandy.

Over the ages, the relationship between Pravasis and Bharat has taken many forms. One of its most glorious manifestations has been their contribution to India’s independence movement. Nearly a hundred years ago, almost to this day, Mahatma Gandhi returned to lead a nation’s march to freedom. This year, we are celebrating the centenary of the Gadar Movement, which was a luminous spark of support in distant California for the struggle for independence being waged at home in our country. Apart from commemorating it by the issue of a special postage stamp today, we will also upgrade the Gadar Memorial in San Francisco into a functional museum and library with a sculpture to honour the Gadar Babas, the heroes of this great national movement.

Post-independence, overseas Indians have served as a bridge of friendship and cooperation between India and their adopted homes abroad. Regardless of whether they are successful professionals, traders and entrepreneurs, or second generation Indians, comfortably reconciling their two identities, or workers toiling hard to build a future for their families, they are at all times a most effective window for the world to India’s heritage and its progress.

We in the Government will do all that is possible to deepen their connection with India and advance their interests. While honouring their achievements, we will also seek to facilitate their travel, business and education and make it easier for them to be a part of life in India, enjoy due rights and participate in India’s economic development.

As the Indian expatriate community develops a more global presence, they also become more vulnerable to economic crises, conflicts, civil unrest or just senseless hate crimes. At a time of turbulence in many parts of the world, the safety and security of overseas Indian communities are uppermost in our minds. We derive comfort from the assurances that we have received from governments in the countries of your residence that they will do everything for your safety and security. We recognize that the primary responsibility rests with the host countries, but when needed, as was the case last year in Libya, our government will provide prompt and necessary assistance.

Apart from physical safety, we are also concerned with the social and emotional well-being of our overseas brethren. We have therefore launched an insurance scheme for workers, established welfare funds in our embassies for distressed Indians, and created mechanisms to help vulnerable women abroad.

This protection and promotion of the rights and interests of Indian businesses, professionals and workers abroad is also a key task for our Missions in various countries. Our Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreements and Social Security Agreements with a number of countries play an important role in this regard.

The theme for this year’s Pravasi Bharatiya Divas is “Engaging Diaspora – the Indian Growth Story”. This is only appropriate since there have been concerns recently about the direction and content of India’s growth story and about larger social and governance issues.

It is important to bear in mind that in the last four years, the world economy has had to deal with two major financial crises, both emanating from the developed world. The Indian economy has not been immune to the consequences of these crises. From an impressive average annual GDP growth rate of over 8% between 2004 and 2010, our growth declined to 6.5% in 2011-2012 and may fall below 6% in the current year.

But, despite domestic constraints and challenges, we are confident that our strong economic fundamentals, backed by sound policies, will enable us to return to a higher growth path. This is an imperative for us because we need rapid growth and a healthy economy to meet the aspirations of an increasingly young India and make our economic development more inclusive and more sustainable. With this in view, we have recently taken a number of steps to boost domestic and foreign investment, accelerate project implementation and reform capital markets and the tax system.

Among the most positive stories out of India in recent years are the acceleration in the rate of poverty reduction, stronger growth in the poorest states and improved productivity and increased real wages in our agriculture sector. This is significant, given that 65% of our population still relies on agriculture.

On January 1 this year, we took a small first step to deliver benefits through direct transfer to beneficiaries, using the digital Aadhaar platform. This is an example of our efforts to make growth more inclusive and government programmes more efficient and less vulnerable to leakages of various sorts.

We have just embarked on our twelfth five year plan with the ambition to sustain an annual growth rate of 8 per cent. For this, we will require enormous resources, reforms in policies and institutions, new models of public private partnership and community participation and innovation-driven science and technology. Even as we continue our focus on rural areas, and we must continue to do so, we will need to pay greater attention to our expanding cities and towns. New approaches will be needed to address challenges in areas like infrastructure, education, energy, water and agriculture.

While India’s huge investible resources and large market give us confidence, strength and stability, we see international economic and technological partnerships as an integral part of our growth strategy. This is an important objective of our political and economic engagement in our region and across the world.

We are aware that despite impressive economic performance and change on an enormous scale in the past two decades, India faces persisting challenges of poverty, equity, sustainability and opportunity. Vulnerable sections of society, including our women, face enduring prejudices and continuing problems in a rapidly changing India.

However, across India, there are also countless inspirational stories of innovation, enterprise and leadership by citizens and communities that are transforming lives and generating hope for millions of our citizens. There is now a surge of expectation from an increasingly empowered and articulate public, for more responsive, transparent, participative, clean and efficient governance. Government also is determined to turn any setback into an opportunity to improve legal and regulatory frameworks. I have no doubt that the energy and the passions of our citizens, particularly our youth, will be a force of positive change in our country.

I also believe that the overseas Indian community should be a vital partner and participant in India’s social and economic development. Whether you wish to invest or share your knowledge, technology and skills, whether your enterprise takes you to the cities or your compassion brings you to a remote village, I assure you of our continuing effort to support your endeavours.

In conclusion, let me assure you that as India continues to grow, as our external engagement increases and as we assume higher international responsibilities, Pravasi Bharatiyas will continue to remain close to our hearts, as partners in our national efforts and as vital links to the outside world.

With these words, let me also take this occasion to wish all of you and your families a very happy and prosperous new year.”