Following is the text of the Inaugural speech by External Affairs Minister and Overseas Indian Affairs Minister Smt. Sushma Swaraj at the Regional Pravasi Bharatiya Diwas in London on October 17, 2014:
Honourable Foreign Secretary, Mr. Philip Hammond, Indian High Commissioner to the UK, Mr. Ranjan Mathai, Secretary, Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs, Mr. Prem Narain, Distinguished delegates at this inaugural session of the Regional Pravasi Bharatiya Diwas, My friends from the Indian Diaspora,
It has been a matter of great pleasure for me to come to London and inaugurate the Eighth Regional Pravasi Bharatiya Diwas in the warm presence of members of the Indian Diaspora and the distinguished Foreign Secretary of the British Government and officials from the British and Indian side. I attach great importance to this event as this is the first large-scale engagement of the new Government in India with the highly successful and vibrant Indian origin community of the United Kingdom and other European countries.
We are pleased that the people and Government of the United Kingdom have shown tremendous goodwill towards India since the new Government took over following the historic parliamentary elections in our country earlier this year. I deeply appreciate the presence of Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond and thank him for making time to grace this important event. I also thank other senior Government dignitaries, Parliamentarians, community leaders, participants from the UK and other European countries and all friends of India for being with us today.
India and the United Kingdom have enjoyed decades of partnership as two vibrant, pluralistic and multicultural democracies. The shared values of the rule of law, basic freedoms, mutual respect, peaceful coexistence of diverse communities and emphasis on inclusiveness have enabled our two countries to build enduring bonds of friendship and cooperation. We regard relations with the United Kingdom as a priority in India’s external engagement and seek to raise this multifaceted partnership to greater heights. The role and contribution of the large Indian Diaspora is an important input in this endeavour.
We deeply value the role and contribution of the Indian communities abroad - in building bridges of friendship and goodwill between India and their adopted countries. The Indian Diaspora truly represents the unity of India with all its diversity, and promotes understanding of Indian values and culture. .We are proud of the great accomplishments of the Indian community in the UK and other European countries in all areas of human endeavour and the great reputation they have earned as industrious, law abiding and peace loving citizens, while retaining their Indian roots.
The Indian Diaspora in the UK is a special one. It has been formed over the years, over several decades due to various historical factors. The UK was always a destination for Indian students. Several legendary leaders including Mahatma Gandhi, and Sardar Vallabhai Patel came here to study law. Several groups of people including those from Punjab and Gujarati expatriates have chosen to make UK their home.
The Diaspora now has generations born in Britain but still keeping their roots in the rich Indian cultural heritage. The second and third generation British Indians have clearly made an impression in British life. They have made a mark in almost every profession from business, finance, politics and medicine to sports and life sciences. I understand that there are 8 Members of Parliament and 23 Peers of Indian origin in this country. Indian Business Houses have done tremendously well in UK.
Today the Indian Diaspora in UK is one of the largest ethnic minority communities in the country, with approximately 1.5 million people of Indian origin in the UK, equating to approximately 1.8 percent of the population. Yet another symbol of the growing strength and visibility of the community is the impact of Indian culture in this country. I am told that curry has overtaken fish and chips as the most popular food. Most major Indian festivals are encouraged and celebrated by the British Government. It is not uncommon to hear Bollywood music and Bhangra beats even at public places.
As we rejoice in the success of the Indian Diaspora, we also invite you to actively participate in India’s growth story. Our Government is fully committed to good governance, clear policies, efficiency, accountability, speedy decision making, transparency and favourable business environment. There are tremendous opportunities today for you to join us, especially in the fields of manufacturing, infrastructure development, education, health, skills development, science and technology, research and innovation, knowledge economy and youth development as part of our effort to realise India’s full potential.
Several exciting projects such as the Clean Ganga Project, Metro Rail Project, and Smart Cities Project etc. are on the anvil, where you can contribute meaningfully.
Our Government is committed to engaging with the Diaspora to leverage each other’s strengths to mutual benefit. We are also mindful of certain concerns in the community and their desire for greater ease for sustaining links with India. As you are aware, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, during his recent visit to the United States, publicly announced a series of steps on consular and visa issues affecting overseas Indians.
All PIO cards are now valid for the lifetime of the cardholder, instead of 15 years. PIO cardholders would also now not be required to report to a police station even if their visit to India exceeds 180 days. The Government is working on a new scheme that will merge the PIO and OCI schemes. The doors of my Ministry are open to you. We would welcome your new ideas and suggestions on how we can work closely together.
I would also like to take this opportunity to personally invite you to the main Pravasi Bharatiya Diwas (PBD) Convention to be held in India from the 7th to 9th January 2015 at Gandhinagar Gujarat. This PBD is a very special one as it is being held on the occasion of the hundredth anniversary of the return of Mahatma Gandhi to India from South Africa. It will be an important occasion for overseas Indians to interact among themselves and with different agencies of Government of India and with the various State Governments of India that are present here.
Before I conclude, I would like to express my Government`s appreciation and gratitude to the Government of the United Kingdom for all their support in helping us host this event in London. We also recognise the decision made by the British Government to install a statue of Mahatma Gandhi at Parliament Square next year. It will be a symbol of the strong mutual goodwill between our two countries.
I would also like to place on record that the event today would not have been possible without the generous contribution and participation of the Indian community. The Regional Pravasi Bharatiya Diwas will cover discussions on a gamut of important subjects ranging from the contribution of the Diaspora to the British and European economies to Indian UK collaboration in trade and investment and issues of concern to the Indian Diaspora, besides cultural performances. I am confident that rich and meaningful deliberations will take place during these two days of Regional Pravasi Bharatiya Diwas and I wish a grand success of this Convention.
I wish I had stayed on for all the deliberations of the conference but I am not able to do so because the visit is rather short. However, be assured that I will get detailed briefings from the High Commission on all your discussions and all your concerns will be addressed.