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PBD: PM invites NRIs to join Clean Ganga campaign

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Gandhinagar (Jan. 08, 2015): Virtually ‘relaunching’ the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas (PBD) on a high-profile platform to reconnect with overseas Indians, Prime Minister Modi on Thursday exhorted them and their descendents to contribute to the Namami Gange Fund and clean up the mighty river to rededicate themselves to the country of their origins.

The Ganga Cleanliness Campaign is an opportunity for overseas Indians to contribute to their country and reconnect with their heritage, he said, recalling how Indian settlers in Mauritius have named a reservoir there as ‘Ganga Sagar’ where they pour water brought from the great river as a means to keep them connected. Mauritius also has a Gandhi Hall and celebrates October 2, while Guyana’s celebrations for the festivals of Holi and Diwali are as glittering as in India, he said.

Formally inaugurating the 13th PBD, the khadi-clad PM pointed out that 40 per cent of India’s population resides in 6,000 villages and 120 towns and cities along the Ganges and its cleanliness could be a project of great heritage value. Overseas Indians would feel as proud of this achievement as they felt with the launch of Mangalyaan.

The annual PBD, that began in 2003 under the Atal Behari Vajpayee-led NDA Government, had lost some of its sheen over the years, a fact Modi underlined when he said the event had “weakened” and the number of participants had dwindled over the years. “Now, a Pravasi Gujarati welcomes the Pravasi Bharatiya people” he said, indicating how he had ‘politically migrated’ from Gujarat to Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh.

About 4,000 members of the Indian Diaspora from 60 countries, participating in the three-day event that began on Wednesday, are either non-resident Indians (NRIs) or people of Indian origin (PIOs). NRIs and PIOs, numbering 25 million and 7 million, respectively, spread over some 200 countries, have made India a global nation.

He said the day was significant as the African National Congress (ANC) was formed on January 8, 1912, and Mahatma Gandhi returned from South Africa to India exactly a century ago, on January 9, 1915. Gandhiji’s statues now adorn about 80 countries. “I also unveiled one in Australia recently.”

Modi recalled the steps his Government took recently to sort out problems faced by overseas Indians. PIO card holders will now get visa-for-life and they would no longer need to report to the local police regularly during their stay in India Besides, the PIO-OCI (Overseas Citizenship of India) cards have now been merged into one, giving the same facilities to all in these categories.

Indirectly hinting at his own visa woes as Chief Minister of Gujarat, the PM said overseas Indians from more than 43 countries will now get visa-on-arrival. “I know the problems in seeking visa,” he said, apparently recalling how he was denied a visa by the US from 2005 until he became the PM in May 2014.

Besides, he said, overseas Indians could benefit from electronic travel authorisation through online correspondence. PBD Bhavan in New Delhi is set to be operational very soon, he added.

Guyana President Donald Ramotar, who was the Chief Guest, praised Modi for “transforming” Gujarat as its Chief Minister, something the PM is now “replicating” across India, he said. The Guest of Honour, Maite Emily Nkona-Mashabane, South African Minister for International Relations and Cooperation, also a former High Commissioner to India, recalled that Gandhiji was a national hero in her country.

Earlier, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said Mauritius celebrates March 12 each year as Mahatma Gandhi visited that country this day in 1901. Gujarat Chief Minister Anandiben Patel said the “pride” of overseas Indians had increased manifold during the last six months. Modi, she said, was trying to realise the dreams of the Father of the Nation through campaigns such as cleanliness, digital India and the Jan Dhan Yojana.

Apart from Gujarat Governor O P Kohli, the PM’s ministerial colleagues General V K Singh, Rajiv Pratap Rudi, Jayant Sinha, and Ravi Shankar Prasad were among those present.