Indian Diaspora & Pravasi Bhartiya Divas


Pravasi Bharatiya Divas (PBD) is celebrated on 9 January every year to mark the contribution of Overseas Indian community in the development of India. PBD conventions are being held every year since 2003.

January 9 was chosen as the day to celebrate this occasion since it was on this day in 1915 that Mahatma Gandhi, the greatest Pravasi, returned to India from South Africa.

In 2002, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee decided to celebrate it annually by holding events including bestowing awards on prominent members of the Indian diaspora.

During the event, individuals of exceptional merit are honoured with the prestigious Pravasi Bharatiya Samman Award to appreciate their role in India’s growth.

These conventions provide a platform to the overseas Indian community to engage with the government and people of the land of their ancestors for mutually beneficial activities. These conventions are also very useful in networking among the overseas Indian community residing in various parts of the world.

PBD 2017

The 14th edition of Pravasi Bharatiya Divas, billed as the largest convergence of Indian diaspora, was held in Bengaluru.

The ‘Youth Pravasi Bharatiya Divas‘ was also inaugurated as part of the PBD 2017 with an aim to connect with the youth, the new generation of Pravasis growing up all over the world.

The theme for 2017 — “Refined Engagement with Indian Diaspora” 

Indian Diaspora – History, Spread & Policy Evolution

“Diaspora” is a phrase which brackets people of Indian origin who have emigrated since the 19th century to all corners of the world.

What is the estimate of Indian diaspora living abroad?

  • The Wall Street Journal estimates that there are 6 million persons born in India living abroad.This number has grown by 17.2 per cent since 2010.


How can the diaspora be categorised?

  • It falls into two categories: pre- and post-Independence.
  • In post independence diaspora group can be further subdivided into migration to the West, including Australia and New Zealand, and workers in the West Asian countries who began flocking there following oil cartelisation by the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries after the Arab-Israel war of 1973 and the steep rise in oil prices


What was the role of Indian diaspora in the past?

  • India  diaspora that left India as indentured labour in the 19th century — in the period from 1833 to 1917 — particularly for the Caribbean where labour shortages ensued following the abolition of slavery.
  • Mauritius, with Indians constituting the largest group and 48.5 per cent of the population being Hindus, has seen the community consolidate political power, with strategic support from Indian governments.
  • Persons of Indian origin have headed governments in some Caribbean countries such as Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago, the two nations with huge Indo-Caribbean populations.
  • Indian policy in the past has been to not be seen as meddling in their internal affairs sensing that it may be counterproductive.
  • The Indian diaspora’s remittances in the past have been of vital assistance to Indian foreign exchange reserves.
  • The diaspora in the U.S., the United Kingdom and Canada, with rising numbers and greater earnings, is becoming more proactive to rally in support of Indian interests. Their lobbying in the U.S. with politicians worked famously to swing the Congressional vote for the S.-Indian nuclear deal in 2006.


What are the challenges the Indian diaspora in West Asia face?

They face two new challenges:

  1. the shale oil revolution in the United States combined with slower global growth and environmental concerns may have already pushed the world into a post-OPEC phase and perennial low oil prices.
  2. the entire region to the west of India up to the Mediterranean is now swept by Shia-Sunni competition and the challenge posed by radical Islam. Thus instability may persist for decades.
  • The Indians in GCC countries, ranging from skilled and unskilled workers to those holding executive jobs or running businesses, may have to face more challenging circumstances of economic slowdown, “Arabisation” or more jobs to locals,and threats from terror-related events.
  • Indian workers, particularly the vast majority from Kerala, are still the favoured ones of the locals but are under pressure from more skilled workers from countries such as the Philippines or cheaper labour from Nepal, etc.
  • As a rising power, India’s prestige suffers when its citizens are seen doing menial jobs.
  • For decades India has let its citizens be subjected to local labour rules that are medieval and regressive, such as employer seizing the travel documents of the worker on arrival.


Evolution of Our Diaspora Policy:

The Nehruvian model of engagement with the Indian diaspora involved having them eschew (avoid) any strong bond with India and to completely merge with local culture.

The implication of Nehru’s views was that

  • the diaspora could not expect India to fight for their rights
  • India’s foreign policy was accordingly structured as a model of non-interference whenever the emigrant Indians got into trouble in Sri Lanka, Myanmar, etc.
  • This naturally reflected the ethos of post-colonial independent India that was trying to make its presence felt in the international politics of Cold War era.


The present Indian government, judging by its actions, is in direct contrast with this line of thought.

With India’s rising economic power and military might, things have changed drastically.

Under the Modi government, proactive outreach towards the diaspora has reached heights not seen before. From Madison Square to Sydney, Suva to Dubai, his words have echoed a singular sentiment.


Present Policy – Indian Diaspora a double edged sword

A politically charged policy has huge implications on domestic as well as foreign policy.

The extremely strong outreach by the government and the shrill nationalistic rhetoric has resulted in very high expectations of the Indian diaspora from the government of the day — whether the BJP or some other administration.

The present capacity is extremely inadequate if India were to attempt a mass evacuation due to the conflict situation from say Saudi Arabia where about 3 million Indians work. A crisis in Saudi Arabia in July 2016 saw Indian workers directly reaching out to External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj for help.

Because assuring the Indian diaspora of help in all circumstances could become a double-edged sword. In the U.S., which is known as the land of immigrants, Indians have acquired a sizeable financial and political clout. Even amid rising nationalist fervour demonstrated by Trump’s elections, India can take it easy as long as the going is good. What if the U.S. hits another recession that leads to large-scale loss of jobs? Will the Indian government stand by its word and make provisions for them in their home country? Won’t it have severe implications on the existing capacity that is already under strain?

Also, there is a need for a strategic diaspora evacuation policy from conflict zones in a world where crises materialise without warnings and give very little reaction time for governments.

Thus, there is an urgent need for a coherent government policy on the diaspora with a special emphasis on capacity development along with a doctrine for evacuation operations.

Compiled by –

Commerce for IAS


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