The Diaspora and the PBD
January 9, 2004
TODAY, representatives and delegates of 'non-resident' Indians and communities in South Asia, Africa, the Middle East and the Gulf States, as well as North America, the United Kingdom and the Caribbean, whose foreparents were 'OIO' (of Indian Origin), will engage in three days of Pravasi Bhartiya Divas (PBD).
The event will be opened by India's Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajapee, in Delhi. And according to the chairman of the event's organizing committee, Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani will deliver an address on the theme "India and the Diaspora Vision."
President Bharrat Jagdeo is leading a delegation of Guyanese whose foreparents were born in India. The Guyanese President is expected to be one of the speakers.
Guyanese may well ask what gains can be realized through the PBD.
There are several areas that extend beyond the 'Diaspora' in the conventional sense and hinge more on a new concept of international relations.
Historically, issues such as human rights, representation of Indian non-governmental organizations in North America and the UK, and contract workers' rights for persons recruited in India to perform assignments in military 'cantonments' - where such requirements arise for peacekeeping and other non-civilian deployment - have become integrated to post Cold War 'disconnects' (Gujral I.K on the Post Cold War Era, 1996).
In fact and against the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States, Prime Minister Vajpayee in January of 2003 announced his government's intention to grant dual citizenship to members of the Diaspora from select countries.
At the onset, the PBD formula, or as it was then captioned, the Global Convention of People of Indian Origin (GOPIO), was inaugurated in New York in 1989. That event was attended by delegates from 32 countries, according to the New York based publicist Ramesh D. Kalicharran.
The second GOPIO was held in New Delhi from December 27-31, 1993, and attended by more than 1,000 delegates from 35 countries. The conference was opened by the first elected President of Guyana, Dr. Cheddi Jagan.
Among the historical gathering were prominent political and cultural personalities (from the Indian Diaspora), including then Opposition United National Congress Leader, Basdeo Panday of Trinidad and Tobago, Fiji's National Federation Party, Flower Faction Leader Alternate, Y.P Reddy, and Mr. Yesu Persaud of Guyana.
A constitution was adopted at this Convention.
Office-bearers comprising President, Executive Vice-President and Regional Vice-President were elected.
Pandits Indrani Rampersaud and Amrika Tiwary of Trinidad as well as the late Lakshmi Kalicharan of Guyana spoke on the role and status of women in the Caribbean.
In a message to the conference (then) President of India, Shankar Dayal Sharma, urged that efforts be made "to strengthen overseas Indian communities' role in India's development so as to further cooperation and goodwill..."
2003 marked the first conclave of the PBD. In a special report, Principal Correspondent of Business India, Shelly Vishwajeet, described the January 2003 PBD as an Old Boys' Reunion. "High on emotional content and political overtones, the first Pravasi Bharatiya Divas failed to be a serious interactive conclave," the Delhi writer noted. An official Press Trust of India release stated on December 27 that among the eminent persons who would be present in Delhi today, their own economist Lord Meghand Desai and Nobel Prize Laurete V.S. Naipaul, former Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Basdeo Panday and President Jagdeo were considered as VIPs.
This conclave has already been described as having a precedent where the alma mater sentiment left little time for interactivity. The criticism of this elite reaction widely attributed in the Western media as "an outburst from V.S. Naipaul against colonialist attitudes" was in fact much more diverse. Delegates from South Africa (ANC member Mewa Ramgobin and noted Biographer Fatima Meer) were even more caustic in their criticisms of the way the dominant political elite had attempted to sideline the radicals and militant NGO delegates.
It is hoped that the kind of balance achieved last year will be considerably improved upon and the tendencies prevalent among certain economists will be tempered in 2004 by a much more realistic view of the Diaspora.