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PBD 2017: Bombastic Platitudes!

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a group photograph at the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas (PBD-2017) Exhibition Center, in Bengaluru, Karnataka

How far can the high-octane decibels be translated into the welfare of the diaspora, that too the blue-collared, exploited millions toiling in the Gulf countries? The lion’s share of the $69 billion that India received in remittance in 2015 was from the Gulf countries, and of this, majority was from the ordinary workers—not businesspeople. What does the PBD offer them? Who and how are their legal wrangles and issues of cheating be resolved? What can be done to get rid of the greedy middlemen? ….A special review of PBD by Sabin Iqbal, Associate Editor, Asian Lite Arabia

 Prime Minister  Narendra Modi in a group photograph at the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas (PBD-2017) Exhibition Center, in Bengaluru, Karnataka
Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a group photograph at the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas (PBD-2017) Exhibition Center, in Bengaluru, Karnataka

Jingoistic chest-thumping and cultural and political browbeating have become an integral part of the zeitgeist of the time. Be it election campaigns or political rallies or singing the virtues of demonetisation on national radio, the vein of bombastic oratory cannot be missed. The Pravasi Bharatiya Divas (PBD) was no different.

The just-concluded 14th edition of the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas in Bengaluru, which saw the largest participation since its inception in 2003, too sounded good to the millions of Indians living across the world.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a past-master in whipping up frenzy, didn’t let the opportunity go as he seized the day to drum up support for demonetisation and his government’s fight against corruption against black money. He has also slipped in sentences which had a theatrical ring to them. “We don’t see the colour of the passports, but the relations written in blood,” he said during his speech.

Bengaluru: President Pranab Mukherjee with Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa and Vice President of Suriname Michael Ashwin Satyandre Adhin at Pravasi Bharatiya Samman ceremony in Bengaluru, on Jan 9, 2017. Also seen Karnataka Governor Vajubhai Rudabhai Vala and Chief Minister Siddaramaiah along with other dignitaries.(Photo: IANS)
President Pranab Mukherjee with Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa and Vice President of Suriname Michael Ashwin Satyandre Adhin at Pravasi Bharatiya Samman ceremony in Bengaluru

“When people spoke of brain drain, it was believed that the brighter people went abroad seeking employment opportunities… but we are converting that brain-drain to brain-gain.” The prime minister knew exactly how to tap into the diaspora’s emotional as well as intellectual soft spot. But the question is, how far can the high-octane decibels be translated into the welfare of the diaspora, that too the blue-collared, exploited millions toiling in the Gulf countries? The lion’s share of the $69 billion that India received in remittance in 2015 was from the Gulf countries, and of this, majority was from the ordinary workers—not businesspeople. What does the PBD offer them? Who and how are their legal wrangles and issues of cheating be resolved? What can be done to get rid of the greedy middlemen?

Not that none of these was raised in the Bengaluru event but one needs to see more, whole-hearted efforts to acknowledge and honour the millions of Indian expatriates in the countries where they are treated as second-class citizens. The PM’s exhortation to push Overseas Indian Citizens card is a nonstarter in the countries where the Indians worker still don’t have the luxury of keeping their own passports with them.

No matter how passionately the PM sold the idea of India becoming ‘Vishwa Guru’, the subtle yet strong presence of Sangh Parivar at PBD was evident. Media has reported that nearly 30 of 110 speakers at nine plenary sessions were from organisations with links to Sangh Parivar. It cannot be a coincidence that two organisers of Modi’s Maddison Square event—Dr Bharat Barai and Dr Mahesh Mehta—are among the winners of this year’s Pravasa Bharatiya Samman. The Sangh presence from speakers to award-winners tells us that there is more to the PBD agenda than it meets the eye.

The silver lining is the External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj’s ‘twitter diplomacy’. She has been doing a wonderful job by making herself accessible to every Indian, in the country and abroad. For years, the government’s response to the many issues of Indian expatriates in foreign countries has been nothing shy of cold apathy. Swaraj has reassured the millions of Indians abroad that she can be reached through a tweet, and that too round the clock.

The proposals to create systems to bypass the middlemen and to set up skill-training facilities for potential jobseekers are also positive but the government should not forget that it is not the big-ticket businessmen who keep the remittance economy alive but the millions of blue-collar and the Middle Class workers in the Gulf who live a life of unprecedented sacrifice for decades to make sure that hearth keeps burning back home. When the prime minister urges the young pravasis to stay connected to their roots and invite the billionaires to ‘First Develop India’, the sweat and groan of the millions of construction labourers and housemaid should not go unheard.

 

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