Pravasi Bharatiya Divas is an annual celebration to mark the contribution of overseas Indian community in the development of India and one that provides a platform to the overseas Indian community to engage with the government and Indian communities in India for mutually beneficial activities. This year’s PBD was held on 6th & 7thJanuary 2018 in the iconic Marina Bay Sands Convention Centre in Singapore. PBD returns to Singapore after a decade and it coincides with the 25 years of ASEAN-Indian partnership. It was apt that this year’s PBD celebrating this milestone was themed “Ancient Route, New Journey: Diaspora in the Dynamic ASEAN INDIA Partnership” based on centuries-old cultural, religious and human links, forged on an ancient route of commerce.
The celebration of the partnership of India with South East Asian Countries is yet another testimony to the importance that Indian diplomacy’s recent thrust & focus on the South-East Asia which is now a new soft battle ground between the two rising powers in Asia, India & China. This event also gains considerable significance to the 69th Republic Day Celebrations in India where for the first time all 10 heads of state of the ASEAN countries would be the Guest of Honor. If the ASEAN was taken a single entity, it would be the sixth largest economy in the world, behind the USA, China, Japan, France and Germany. New Delhi’s trade and investment ties are lower than potential, at a little more than $71 billion. The government hopes to improve it to $200 billion by 2022. Currently, imports from the bloc exceed exports by $ 9.56 billion.
The PBD Celebrations were spread over 2 days, 16+ Sessions, 80+ Speakers, 40+ Indian Biz Leaders, 3000+ Delegates is the biggest ever India ASEAN Conventions. The Guest of Honor of first day of the ASEAN India PBD 2018 was Shri Nitin Gadkari, Minister of Road Transport and Highways, Shipping and Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation, India and he was welcomed into the venue with mesmerizing sounds of Maharashtrian dhol tasha. The day’s proceedings started off with an elegant Cultural Performance by the dancers from Singapore Indian Fine Arts Society (SIFAS) Singapore. Mr. Jawed Ashraf, the High Commissioner of India to Singapore Welcomed the dignitaries, Captains of the Industry, delegates from the ASEAN countries & the Resident & Non-Resident Indians.
The Overarching theme for Day 1 was Trade & Economic cooperation & aptly the plenary session was a panel discussion titled “ASEAN India Economic Partnership” chaired by Mr. Gopinath Pillai, Ambassador-at-large& Chairman of Institute of South Asian Studies, Singapore and besides Shri Gadkari, the panel consisted of Mr.S. Iswaran, Minister for Trade and Industry (Industry), Singapore & Tun S Samy Vellu , Special Envoy to India and South Asia on Infrastructure at Prime Minister’s Office, Malaysia. Shri Gadkari & Shri Iswaran launched the India-Singapore/ASEAN Entrepreneurship Bridge at ASEAN India PBD 2018. The inaugural edition of the conclave is aimed to strengthen Singapore-India economic relations by fostering entrepreneurial engagement. The conclave is being organized by the High Commission of India in Singapore to promote India-Singapore collaboration, connecting entrepreneurs with investors, corporates and innovators.
This was followed by panel discussions on ASEAN India in the Digital world with a key note from Mr. Amitabh Kant, CEO, Niti Aayog & participants representing the Industry, Academia & Government of the ASEAN countries. The day was subsequently divided into multiple tracks on diverse topics to cater to a diverse audience discussing opportunities & Challenges in expanding partnerships in Infrastructure Development, Make in India, Education Science & Technology, Tourism, Connectivity, Trade & Services. While the GOI representatives talked eloquently about the vision & strategy of Prime Minister Shri Narenda Modi to make India as the preferred Investment destination & rolling out the red carpet to businesses in ASEAN countries to Make in India, the Industry Captains from FICCI, CII & Corporate India talked about the progress the change they have seen on the ground & their plans to expand their businesses into ASEAN countries.
A common thread across all the speeches made by delegates from the ASEAN country highlighted the strong historical connections that their country had with India and the huge untapped potential to leverage these connections & opportunities to accelerate economic growth & development for mutual benefit. There was also a special Road Show titled “Advantage Assam” hosted by the Assam Chief Minister Shri Sarbananda Sonowol wherein he & the additional Chief Secretary of Assam, Mr. Ravi Capoor made a presentation on the potential ASSAM offers for investment & how they can be the Gateway to ASEAN countries into North East & India.
The focus for Day 2 of the ASEAN India PBD was the Cultural & softer aspects of the relationships between India & the ASEAN countries. Opening address was delivered by Smt. Sushma Swaraj, Minister of External Affairs, India who spoke in English but only after promising an address in Hindi later in the day during Gala Dinner. The EAM was at her eloquent best talking about the initiatives that her ministry & the GOI have taken to ensure that every Indian on the planet irrespective of whether he is Resident, Non-Resident or OCI, is reached out to & stays connected to India. This was followed by an address by Dr. Vivian Balakrishnan, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Singapore who recounted the contribution of Indian community to building a modern Singapore & was greeted to a thunderous applause by the audience when he complemented the Minister for having earned the title of “Peoples Minister” by effectively leveraging Social Media to solve people’s problems.
No Celebrations of India & Indians will be complete without sessions on the soft power of India & accordingly parallel events were held in the topics of Ayurveda, Yoga, Cinema, Literature, Arts and Culture in which eminent personalities, performers, journalists & intellectuals from all the member countries. Youth competitions were held on sidelines in the areas of poetry, arts, music etc. the winners & participants were felicitated by the Ministers. Smt. Sushma Swaraj & Teo Chee Hean Deputy Prime Minister of Singapore hosted a Gala dinner for all the delegates & dignitaries wherein they were treated to great food & live performances by Raghu Dixit, Sonam Kalra, Singapore Indian Fine Arts Society, Kala Tanvi & Chugge Khan & Rajasthan Josh. The best part of these evenings was that that there was Zero Bollywood/Kollywood and each of the performance highlighted the rich cultural & folk heritage of India. These relatively unknown performers earned many new fans including your truly.
Needless to mention, ASEAN India PBD2018 was a stupendous success and showcased India in all its glory. Hats off to Mr. Jawed Ashraf & his team from High Commission for pulling off an event of this magnitude at such a grand scale. A special note of thanks is also due to the sponsors & volunteers who came from all walks of life especially the staff & students from the Global Indian International School who worked tirelessly to make the event a memorable one. No wonder that the local Media in Singapore lapped it up & covered both the day’s events extensively in their front pages.
To me personally this was the first PBD I participated in and not only did I enjoy participating in it but it also gave me an opportunity to first time touch & feel the Narendra Modi led NDA government from a potential Investor point of view (Yes, they treated me like one). Every single government official I heard sounded like PM Modi, reiterating their commitment to economic growth with a motto of Sab Ka Saath Sab ka Vikas. These government officials were the exact opposite of the stereotypically indifferent & laid back Babus. They came across like a hungry & dynamic CEO of a Startup Company focused on selling India & its potential to their prospects. My heart swelled with pride when I heard my fellow Singaporeans speak highly of the glorious heritage of India and acknowledged that under leadership of PM Modi, it will not be long before India reclaim its lost civilizational glory.
Picture Courtesy: https://twitter.com/IndiainSingapor/with_replies