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India Encourages Closer Links for Global Diaspora - 2003-01-09

Nearly 1,500 Indians living overseas have gathered in New Delhi for a government organized conference to encourage them to forge closer links with India. The government has announced that it will grant dual nationality to some people of Indian origin.

It was billed as "overseas Indian Day" - a day to honor and celebrate the achievements of about 20 million people of Indian origin scattered all over the world.

At the start of the three-day conference, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee said some overseas Indians would be granted dual citizenship. He said it would apply only to certain countries, but did not identify them.

Dual citizenship has been a long-standing demand of many Indians living abroad, who want it either for reasons of personal identity or because it would ease travel and investment in their parent country.

Mr. Vajpayee called the conference a homecoming, and said Indians share a common identity wherever they live. He asked overseas Indians to forge closer links with the country of their origin. "Many of you, or your forefathers, left India in search of fortune or a better livelihood," he said. "Today India has itself become a land of opportunity. We want to share with our extended family our achievements, hopes, concerns, aspirations, and goals."

Overseas Indians are a powerful and successful group in several countries. They include Nobel laureates, businessmen, and even prime ministers. Many of their families left several generations ago to work in far-flung colonies of the former British Empire. Many have left more recently, fueled by a better desire for jobs and business opportunities.

Their annual income is estimated at $160 billion about one third of India's gross domestic product.

They are now looked upon as a resource that could be tapped to assist India's development, or act as a lobby group for the country overseas.

Many of the delegates at the conference said they wanted to explore what India had to offer. Others wanted to see what they could do for India.

Among them was Sam Pitroda, an Indian who left to work in the United States four decades ago. He was among the first high-profile Indians living overseas who came back for several years to assist in the country's technology development. "This conference is all about bringing non-resident Indians back home with some emotional commitment, investment, development, social work, and connect them to their roots,' he said. "I think some of us who had an opportunity to do reasonably well by going abroad, maybe we feel guilty about people we are leaving behind. At the end of the day, my friends, my cousins, my relatives are not as well-off as we are. So you really want to pay your dues."

Many others, whose forefathers left several generations ago, came to establish new links with India. Ghulam Hussain Akharwaray, Minister of Economic Affairs in Northern Cape province in South Africa, says he came out of curiosity. "Indians living all over the world, we obviously have an emotional link with the country as well," he said. "Obviously being spread all over the world, one would like to come here and meet people. That would be the primary objective. People, whether it is in business, or politics, or whatever, to forge relationships."

Indians at the conference have come from virtually all corners of the globe, stretching from the tiny South Pacific island of Fiji, to East Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Europe, and the United States. They include several high-profile names such as Nobel laureates Amartya Sen and V.S. Naipaul, and Mauritian Prime Minister Anerood Jugnauth.