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Coming home for the Pravasi Bharatiya

The first Pravasi Bharatiya Divas, from January 9 to 11, saw close to 2,000 Persons of Indian Origin and Non-Resident Indians descend on Delhi. It was the largest-ever gathering of Indian expatriates and the Diaspora.

The event was the result of a two-year study of the Indian Diaspora by a committee headed by L M Singhvi, former high commissioner to the United Kingdom. The report said there is a 20 million-strong Indian Diaspora spread out in 110 countries, including people of Indian descendants of farm labourers taken from India by the British in the 18th and 19th centuries.

January 9 was selected as the date because it was on this day in 1915 that Mahatma Gandhi returned to India from South Africa.

The first Pravasi Bharatiya Divas saw the Vajpayee government granting dual citizenship to Indians in the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, Finland, Ireland, the Netherlands and Italy.

New Delhi has since offered dual citizenship to Indians in eight more nations. Expatriates in Israel, Greece, Switzerland, Cyprus, France, Sweden, Portugal and New Zealand have been included in the list. This is likely to be ratified during the second Pravasi Bharatiya Divas, from January 9 to 11, 2004.

The first Pravasi Bharatiya Divas saw India wooing NRIs for investment in the industrial, financial and cultural sectors. But expatriate Indians will not have voting rights and cannot hold constitutional offices or jobs in the defence services.

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Deputy Prime Minister L K Advani with the 10 winners of the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman, the highest civilian award for the Indian Diaspora, in New Delhi on January 9.

Text: Shishir Bhate

Complete coverage: Bharatiya Pravasi Divas

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