Pravasi Bharatiya Divas (PBD) 2011: a Non-Resident Overseas Manipuri (NROM)'s experience

Shanjoy Mairembam *

Pravasi Bharatiya Divas (PBD) 2011, conducted at Vigyan Bhawan, Delhi on 7-9 Jan, has indeed became a national event of global importance with an astonishing participation from 2000+ delegates of Non-Resident Indians (NRI) and People of Indian Origin (PIO) across the globe. This year's event was organised by Development of North East Regions(DoNER) and Confederation of Indian industries (CII) with a focus on socio-economic development of North-East Indian states (via involvement of NRIs/PIOs from these regions in policy making and service delivery of the local governments).

As soon as the invitation to attend the PBD 2011 from the Manipur State Government was received by European Manipuri Association (EMA) and North American Manipuri Association (NAMA), Manipuris in Europe and USA saw the golden opportunity to interact with distinguished NRIs/PIOs from other Indian states to build partnerships for business relationships and social responsible projects in North East India. In fact, it was also the right moment to convince central govt ministers/officials, Manipur State Govt and DoNER ministry that 'Engaging Non-Resident Overseas Manipuris (NROM), right now, can hasten the socio-economic-political development of Manipur exponentially and also reduce the number of complex problems faced within Manipur currently (including insurgency, unemployment, myopic closed-thinking, etc).'

On Day-1, seminars on Education and Healthcare were conducted with huge participation by NRI/PIO experts (e.g. companies, universities, academicians, govt planners, students, ministers, etc) from across the globe. These seminars are eye-openers to everyone for possible investment and involvement with projects impacting the entire country (rural and urban) e.g. what new business model is needed for meeting the demand for education (at university as well as school levels), Public Private Partnership (PPP) models for establishing universities and student studies/career support firms, how cost effective healthcare services can be delivered to rural patients, how govt can provide support to firms opening up new hospitals/clinics/medical colleges in North-East Indian states, etc.

In addition, a seminar on 'Learning experiences from few successful NRIs/PIOs from North-East India' was conducted wherein students and people of North-East Indian states got the opportunity to engage directly with one another (via question and answers sessions). NROMs strongly believe that such activities would surely help in building confidence on youths and people of North-East Indians to aim big dreams and achieve big realities.

In the evening (after official sessions were over), Lakshmikanta Laikangbam (IT professional from Boston, USA), Bishwajeet Okram (Financial Controller from Ireland) and Myself (Business Consultant from London, UK) had the opportunity to interact with two honourable ministers of Manipur Govt at the Manipur Bhawan , namely L. Jaiyantakumar Singh (Education Minister) and Bijoy Koijam (Deputy Chairman, State Planning Board). We shared our thoughts for socio-economic development of Manipur and discussed the benefits of engaging with NROMs proactively for the improvement of public service delivery.

On Day-2, NRIs/PIOs (for the first time on a global platform) were able to engage directly with the Chief Ministers (CMs) of North-East Indian states on investment opportunities and involving in delivery of public sector services. NROMs saw the genuine effort from CMs / Deputy CMs of some North-East States (i.e. Assam, Meghalaya, Nagaland and Tripura) engaging with the global audience to attract investments and get involvement from NRIs/PIOs in various business and social development areas in their home states.

Also, these CMs / Deputy CMs tried confidently to ward off stereotyping of their respective states by media as insurgency affected regions which were not supportive to investment activities. But, there was none to represent Manipur as 'a vibrant and investment friendly state' during that session. So, NROMs were very disappointed at the fact that honourable Chief Minister of Manipur could not attend the PBD 2011.

In another session, NROMs were able to ask queries to the Cabinet Ministers of Indian Govt (especially to Kamal Nath, Minister of Transport & Highways, wherein the entire global media and audience were present) (1) how serious is Central govt to develop National Highway 53, since National Highway 39 is continuously subjected to illegal blockades affecting entire population of Manipur frequently? (2) How is Indian govt planning genuinely to develop roads and state highways in Manipur (and North East Indian states) to connect India to the South-East Asian countries under the 'Look East Policy of India'?

In another session with B.K. Handique, Minister of DoNER, Lakshmikanta Laikangbam (on behalf of NAMA) submitted a memorandum for socio-economic development of Manipur (especially the upgrading of National Highway 53 urgently) and Bishwajeet Okram (a member of EMA) submitted a proposal of interest in the wind-turbine power generation by engaging European companies in renewable sector.

At another evening session, NRIs/PIOs from North-East India had a conference with Sam Pitroda (Advisor to the Prime Minister on Public Information Infrastructure & Innovations); wherein NROMs learnt that Govt of India had declared 2010-2020 as the 'Decade of Innovation' and invested hugely (above 5000 crores) to enable India become a global superpower (socially, politically and economically) via IT infrastructure & innovation councils. Govt of India genuinely also urged NRIs/PIOs (from North-East Indian state) to exhort their influences to respective state governments to form State level Innovation Council via support/guidance from National Innovation Council and Sectoral Innovation Councils for spearheading innovative thinking and development activities.

On Day-3, NROMs were amazed at the excellent speeches of CMs from other Indian states such as Gujarat, Punjab, Rajasthan, Goa, Haryana and Bihar in a session of 'Inclusive Growth'. We realised a huge difference in attitude and confidence level (on political leadership for socio-economic development) between the CMs of North-East Indian states and those of developed Indian states. Each CM confidently showcased how they undertook various development projects and enacted new policies / programs for improvement of public service delivery in their respective states with supporting facts and figures.

In an evening interaction session, NROMs and NRIs from other North-East States were also able to engage one-to-one with officials of each state govt. I (an executive member of EMA) was able to hold one-to-one meeting with minister of DoNER to implement a business proposal on how to engage NROMs (i.e. high quality human resources residing in global locations) for transforming Manipur into a developed state in a few years (5-10 years) time frame from 2011 onwards.

Also, I recommended a 3-points suggestion to T.N. Haokip (Honourable Minister of PHE, IPR & Tourism of Manipur Govt) during one of the Interaction sessions
(1) To send a strong instruction from state govt to all overseas Indian Consulates not to discourage foreign tourists visiting Manipur by stereotyping Manipur as disturbed and unlawful area and instead should provide proactive support for their visit to Manipur,
(2) To develop a customer friendly and professionally designed website for the tourism department to provide easy-to-access tourist info (since tourists in other countries will often get to know about Manipur first via web only),
(3) To organise annual event for NROMs (similar to PBD in national level) to invite Manipuris residing at other countries proactively, which in turn will fuel the inflow of international friends and colleagues of NROMs (since it will be too much of an imagination to hope that foreign tourists will visit Manipur when NROMs are even not ready to visit Manipur currently).

Apart of engagement sessions and seminars on various topics, North East Indian states were able to show the culture, dance, foods, and hospitality of the North East Indian people through various programs throughout the 3-day event to the 2000+ strong global audience. Stalls are erected for sales of handicraft items of Manipur (and of other North-East Indian states) in selected exhibition centres within the venue. Interestingly, it may be the first time that 2000+ global delegates (who are free from messy Indian political mindset) are able to know that unexplored beauty of North-East Indian states do exist within India and, thus it may open up enormous possibilities of investment/friendship with people of North-East India.

In fact, India is changing in its approach toward national integration and development strategy. India has already been undergoing transformation at a faster rate towards a wonderland of opportunities. Because, youths of India at present know only about development and they care less about petty ethnicity issues. Interestingly, the current proportion of population under 25 years in India is 51% and the proportion under 35 is about 66%.

In the past decades, majority of elderly Indian/Manipuri/North-East Indian citizens rather had a misperception of 'what India was as a country' (or what Manipur was as a state, or what North-East India was as group of states inhabited by mongoloid looks) because of their closed mindset. Let's broaden our thinking mindset from the centuries old myopic protectionism towards a global outlook. Thus, it is the right time for youths and people of North-East Indian states to take the lead initiative of change in India by engaging with other Indians/non-Indians in a broad-minded attitude. North-East Indian states can indeed become the powerhouse of India in the coming decade just not only on cultural aspects but also on developmental leadership aspects.

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* Shanjoy Mairembam (based in London, UK) is a frequent contributor to . The writer can be contacted at shan_mairembam(at)yahoo(dot)co(dot)in
This article was webcasted on January 11, 2011.

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