I have an opportunity (and honour as well!) to attend PBD 2013 at Cochin, Kerala. I am deeply indebted to Knowledge Exchange Networks (KEN) for sponsoring me as a representative of global manipuri. KEN is a global forum of Manipuri that was formed with a goal for uniting Manipuris around the globe and leveraging Manipur’s stride towards progress.
What is PBD?
Pravasi Bharatya Divas , PBD in short, is a flagship program of Ministry of Indian Overseas Affairs. PBD 2013 at Cochin is the 11th edition and hosted by Government of Kerala. Hosting PBD is itself not only very prestigious but competitive too. As I learnt from Modi’s video conference and Vayalar Ravi’s speech, Gujarat has even applied for PBD 2015. Then, why PBD is so important? As evident from many data, invest from NRIs and/ or remittance play(s) a very significant role in the economy of a state. For example, one third of GDP of Kerala is contributed by remittance from non resident Keralites. Every state seeks an opportunity to advance and PBD is a perfect launchpad !
Like there are opportunities, there are also lot of dissatisfaction and repentance in the way NRIs complaints are being handled. Minster of OIA himself carefully listened and responded to most queries. That’s the beauty of PBD.
PBD 2013: Personal experience
Every PBD must have its own value and relevance. Due to the grace of KEN (Knowledge Exchange Network), I got the opportunity to attend 11th PBD held at Cochin, Kerala. After going through a lonely journey of three days, I finally reached Cochin on 6th Jan, 2012. That was perhaps the longest ever journey in my life. Though it was a solitary journey, I had a high hope that it would meet my expectation. Entering Kerela in train and also being a first time was all new and fresh, with coconut trees and most distinctly, houses interspersed in the jungle of ‘typical’ Kerala greens. Arriving Ennakalum/ Cochin exuded a taste of modern city though strong Kerala flavour still retained; be it coconut, banana chips or spicy food. Tired with three nights of sleepless journey, I slept to rejuvenate myself as soon as I got room and bed !
Warmth and natural beauty of Kerala gave me back the energy I had lost over the long journey. All the programmes were organised at Le Meridien Hotel except one programme hosted by Mr. Oomen Chandy, Kerala CM at Balgoty Palace, about 20 km from Le meridien. The importance and significance of PBD were also evident from the presence of Ministers like Honourable Union Ministers Vayalar Ravi, Salman Khursid, Kerala CM and many top minsters and officials round the clock.
The place I stayed and PBD took place i.e. Le Meridien was just 6 km. On the first day, I got my conference kits and hovering around all the beautiful stalls exhibited at the makeshift camp at the hotel campus. Two types of stalls were mostly prominent i.e. state stalls that was meant to attract NRI investors and banks to attract NRI to open account / deposit money. Bank believes that NRI are very rich (and rightly so!). It was a sigh of satisfaction that few progressive states took keen interest in showcasing their friendliness to investors. However, on the other side, I was bit disheartened when I could not find a single state from North East. To me, it is not only a matter of preparedness but also our inability to sync with the world. Or rater poignantly, “Do we really want to develop?”. States which can communicate with the world are less likely to be developed.
After gazing through stalls, I went to Oman hall, the epicenter of PBD 2013. The session was entirely dedicated to NRK at Gulf countries and quite evidently, their problems. The session was too dominated by Keralites and Malayali language that there were even complaints by non-Keralites to communicate with English to make it real PBD!
On the first day afternoon, I attended a seminar on ‘Skill Development’ organised in one of the halls at Le Meridien. Mrutyanjay Sarangi, Secretary, Ministry of labour and Employment, Government of India, in his address said government is targeting to train 250 million persons during the 12th plan. He calls for NRIs to tap the opportunity and play an active role. Shibu Baby John, Kerala’s Labour Minister, talked of a very important issue i.e. employability. In this line, Kerala govt is going to assess the employability and give training accordingly.
PBD was formally inaugurated was by Honourable Prime Minister of India Manmohan Singh on the 2nd day. Hall was already already packed and not allowed to enter. I had to content with the live telecast shown in the adjacent hall!
Second day afternoon session was on “Innovation and Technology”. Sam Pitroda, in his keynote address highlights some of the initiatives taken by UPA government. Formation of innovations clusters, high speed internet connectivity and knowledge sharing through National Knowledge Network (NKN), e-governance, National Innovation Search Examination (similar to NTSE) are being taken up, according to Sam Pitroda. Like other session, NRIs involvement and contribution were being sought.
Morning session on 3rd and last day of PBD was dedicated to all the states to attract NRI investors. I attended Gujarat session since I was keen to know Gujarat progress. After deliberation by principal secretary and showcasing Gujarat developments, Modi comes live via video! He gave a short speech followed by question- answers session. One thing I always admired about Gujarat was agricultural growth which is 10% as against national 5% average. PBD concluded with President valedictory speech. He also emphasised the importance of NRIs contribution in national economy.
Each day ended with mesmerising cultural performance followed by dinner. Quite happy to see Manipuri Ras Leela in a cultural show hosted by Kerala CM. Though we had no much impact on the national scene, our Ras Leela breaks it !
How PBD is linked to Manipur’s progress?
The first thing that came to our mind wrt to PBD is “What can we give back to society as diasporas?”. PBD is exactly a platform to execute that is churning in your mind. As we knew from Kerala economic status, diaspora cant be neglected. Facts speak : 1/3rd of kerala economy contributed NRKs (Non Resident Keralites) and 1/4th of bank accounts in Kerala are of NRKs. Above this a general fact is: Remittance from NRIs exceeds to that of FDI. It all signifies that diaspora can play a significant role in boosting economy and developing their homeland. Now we need look at our own context. We are compelled to ask, “Do we really create an environment where global Manipuri/ diasporas can contribute to state?”. It would be wrong to say step wasn’t started but at a rather slow process. Kudos must go to KEN for initiating dialogue and taking positive steps in uniting global Manipuris for a meaningful contribution to Manipur. State authority has its knowledge to this development. However, concrete steps are to be taken. If our state authority really wants to make use of global Manipuris talents scattering across the globe, best time is ‘now’ to start with.
Gujarat has its “Vibrant Gujarat”. Orissa, Rajasthan and other states have similar version. Should not we replicate similar model? Once the engagement process starts, ball will roll. Government should show some visible actions rather than shielding inside the glass ceiling.
I am grateful to KEN for endorsing me as representative and also for financial support.