NEW DELHI–Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj on Saturday said India’s ties with its diaspora have deepened greatly ever since the NDA government came to power at the centre 19 months ago.
“Since our government came to office, contacts with you have become very deep and very close,” Sushma Swaraj said in her keynote speech at the 14th Pravasi Bharatiya Divas (PBD), the annual conclave of the Indian diaspora.
“It is our effort now to reach out to the maximum number of the diaspora,” she said.
She said Prime Minister Narendra Modi has taken engagements with the diaspora to a new level.
Starting with the Madison Square Garden event in 2014 where Modi addressed a huge gathering of the Indian diaspora after much scepticism, Sushma Swaraj said the prime minister has made a number of addresses in public gatherings of the Indian diaspora across various parts of the world.
“Recently, as you all know, when the prime minister went to the United Kingdom, the Madison Square Garden’s record was broken and the number of people who were present at the diaspora event (in Wembley Stadium) was three times that number,” she said.
She said that earlier when Indian prime ministers went to other countries, the diaspora there would get to read about it in newspapers but now, they get to know even a month in advance that the prime minister would be visiting their country.
“The prime minister speaks to them. He goes prepared knowing their problems, he listens to them, he listens to their pain and once he returns to India, he resorts to solve these problems and and this is the way in fact contact with the Indian community has increased by leaps and bounds after this government came to office,” Sushma Swaraj said.
Stating that overseas Indians now knew that there was someone back home to help when they get into trouble, she said in its short tenure of 19 months, the government faced four major problems.
“It was on May 28, 2014, that we took our oath of office and on June 3, the crisis erupted in Ukraine where 1,000 Indian students had to be evacuated,” she said.
“Five days later, on June 8, the problem in Iraq erupted when 7,500 Indians had to be evacuated.”
Even as the problems in Iraq persisted, the crisis in Libya took a turn for the worse and 3,500 Indians had to be evacuated, the minister said.
From Yemen, apart from 4,500 Indians, India evacuated 2,500 foreign nationals from 38 countries.
Stating that the government issued advisories for Indians when there is any problem in one part of the world or the other, she said unfortunately little heed was paid to such advisories.
She urged all Indians living in countries where trouble starts to follow these advisories.
In this age of social media, Sushma Swaraj said that whenever Indians abroad find themselves in trouble they can always tweet her and she would immediately respond and ensure that the Indian mission in the country concerned came to the person’s help.
She also said all Indian missions have been colour-coded and if a large number of complaints piled up in a particular mission, that mission’s colour would turn red.
Coming to overseas Indians’ contributions to India’s development story, she said the government has launched three flagship programmes — Make in India, Skill India and Digital India — and three programmes that were in the mission mode — clean schools, clean India and the Namami Ganga project.
“There was a time when opportunities in India did not exist to have a good income and people went abroad seeking greener pastures and there was a lot of brain drain,” she said.
“But today, India has changed and there are all kinds of opportunities to earn and make a very good living and the time has come for you to rethink about coming back to India,” the minister said, adding that people can also keep one foot in India and one foot in their country of adoption.
Stating that the time has come for overseas Indians to repay their debt to their motherland, she urged them on the occasion of the PBD to pledge to contribute to the success of all developmental programmes of the country.
Coming to the change in the format of the PBD, she said that earlier the event was an annual three-day “mela” that ended without any concrete results.
“But now we have decided that we will hold this ‘mela’ every two years and in the intervening years, there will be a lot of thinking and a lot of thought process that would go into it.
“People would study the various issues and come up with various recommendations so that the problems of the diaspora could be solved,” Sushma Swaraj said.
Saturday’s event was webcast live in London, Dubai, Port Louis, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur.
Sushma Swaraj held question and answer sessions with diaspora members present in those places and discussed their problems and issues.