July 4 2014
ARGUABLY India’s best known political figure, Mahatma Gandhi, is to be the focus of activities for next year’s Pravasi Bharatiya Divas.
This annual celebration of – and – for overseas Indians will take place from January 7-9 next year at Mahatma Mandir in Gandhinagar in the state of Gujarat.
Both the location and the date have been chosen to mark the centenary of the return of India’s most revered ‘Pravasi’ himself, Mohandas K Gandhi.
It was in 1915 that the nascent leader of Indian independence returned to India from South Africa to take up the fight for the country’s liberation from its British rulers at the time.
As well as becoming the de facto leader of India after independence in 1947 (though he held no formal position), he was also the author of, “An autobiography:The Story of My Experiments in Truth“, first published in 1927 and detailing his life experiences in London, South Africa and return to India as a qualified British-trained lawyer.
“The Pravasi makes a note of the contribution of overseas Indians to India,” explained Ranjan Mathai, India’s high commissioner to the UK at a briefing on Monday (June 30).
“He (Gandhi) returned from South Africa to India in 1915 and changed all our lives forever after that,” he continued.
Mathai said that Indian prime minister Narendra Modi had taken special interest in the organisation of the forthcoming Pravasi.
It will be held in Gujarat, the state of which Modi was chief minister before becoming India’s prime minister following the BJP’s election victory in May 2014.
“In 2015, the Pravasi will be celebrated in a particularly grand way because it marks the 100th anniversary of return of Mahatma Gandhi,” added Mathai. “A detailed programme of events will be finalised (in due course).”
He said the high commission was keen to engage communities in the UK and suggested other Indian high commissions and embassies would also be communicating with their communities.
“We want the maximum participation of organisations and a systematic engagement,” said Mathai.
He said the commission welcomed nominations for a special award presented at the Pravasi.
Every year, prominent personalities, living outside India, but deemed to have brought particular honour and prestige to the country and of Indian origin, are presented with a ‘Samman’.
This year Britain’s justice minister Shailesh Vara was awarded the Samman. Other British winners include novelist Vikram Seth (2005), businessman Lord Karan Bilimoria (2008), politician Baroness Sandip Verma (2011) and musician Patricia Maria Rozario (2013).
Mathai also said the UK high commission was set to host its first regional ‘Pravasi’ in October.
About 700 people are expected to participate and there will be a range of speakers and discussions and participants are expected also to come from all over Europe.
There have been regional ‘Pravasis’ held in other countries before – in Mauritius and Toronto, Canada, with the last one held in Sydney.
In Britain, there will also be much on the business front, important in terms of fostering greater trade between the UK and India.
There would be more round table business talks and the confederation of Indian Industry (CII), a leading trade body would be heavily involved.
Mathai said the commission was also keen to encourage young people to participate in the regional Pravasi.
The Pravasi conventions began in 2003 under a Bharitiya Janata Party (BJP) government and provided a formal platform for the Indian government to recognise the achievement and contributions of communities of Indian origin outside India.
The Pravasis are organised through the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs in Delhi.
*Three British ministers will be travelling to India to meet with members of the Modi government next week, Eastern Eye reported (July 4). Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg, foreign secretary William Hague and chancellor George Obsorne are expected to be in India between July 7-9.
Main image: Ranjan Mathai, India high commissioner to the UK makes the announcements on the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas underneath a portrait of Mahatma Gandhi at India House in London