Diminishing Returns from the Pravasi Bhartiya Divas?

Going by press reports, Pravasi Bhartiya Divas (PBD) 2011, the annual 3 day jamboree hosted by the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs seems to have been no different from that of previous years…there was the grand inauguration by the Prime Minister, the usual high-powered seminars on the same topics (investment opportunities in health, education, strengthening bonds between the Diaspora and the mother country, etc), the usual cultural programs and opportunities for networking.  At the end of the three day event, the program was pronounced a grand success, mainly based on the fact that attendance this year was at its highest ever, with over 2000 delegates making the pilgrimage to New Delhi.

Though the event has become well-established on the annual calendar, it still continues to draw as much criticism as it does accolades.  Participation in the PBD is drawn from a hotch-potch of individuals and representatives from Diaspora organizations from around the world. As far as individuals are concerned, the well-heeled have an advantage given the cost associated with attendance. The Diaspora is also not a monolithic group, the two basic groupings of the Non-resident Indians (NRIs) and the Persons of Indian Origin (PIOs) have very different priorities and issues vying for attention from the powers that be. This inadequate and distorted representation of the 25 million strong diaspora by a handful at the PBD leads to misplaced priorities and initiatives on the part of the government.

There was the curious spectacle of Montek Singh Ahluwalia explaining the government’s rationale for holding the PBD as less to do with enticing the Diaspora to put their money to work in India, and more to do with strengthening their social and cultural bonds with the mother country. The focus this year was on the North Eastern states of India, with the most visible manifestation of this being the many pretty women from the North East performing ushering duties during the event. The other focus was on the youth of the Diaspora, who were largely missing, or invisible.


The event, as usual, culminated with the presentation of the Pravasi Bhartiya Samman awards by the President of India. The geographic spread of the awardees has evened out, after the initial emphasis on the North Americas and then West Asia.  Surprisingly, this year marked the first time the award was handed out to a member of the Diaspora in the sub-continental neighborhood, to Mano Selvatharan of Sri Lanka.

At the end of the day, the question arises as to whether this is one of those exercises that results in increasingly diminishing returns. Granted, the PBD provides an useful fora for a whole lot of activities and interfacing to take place but redressing grievances and acting on ideas, just two of the many outcomes of the PBD, requires more durable mechanisms to be put in place. Next year, the PBD makes its merry way to Jaipur while this year’s regional PBD is scheduled to be held in Toronto in June.

Endnote: While on the subject of the Diaspora, maybe the time has come for a census along the lines of the National Jewish Population Survey (NJPC) to be conducted for the Indian-American community by the Indian-American community. While any census is a potential hot potato, with even the NJPC being discontinued after the last survey in 2000 because of controversies over its findings and methodologies, at least such a survey could put an end to all the nonsensical figures floating around the Internet about the percentage of Indian doctors and scientists in the U.S!

(image credit: wikipedia.org)

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