PM’s address at Pravasi Bharatiya Diwas, 2014
I am delighted to extend to all of you a very warm welcome on the occasion of the annual Pravasi Bharatiya Diwas. I am glad that, once again, the New Year is beginning with a celebration of the emotional, spiritual, economic and family ties that bind the expatriate Indian community to the motherland. This year, we welcome particularly the younger generation among the expatriates. Their presence in our midst gives a special resonance to this year’s theme of connecting across generations.
Our chief guest this year is Datuk Seri G. Palanivel, Federal Minister for Natural Resources & Environment of the Republic of Malaysia and President of the Malaysian Indian Congress. He embodies the ideas that bring us together for Pravasiya Bharatiya Diwas. Not only does he have an outstanding record of public service and personal accomplishments, he also represents a vibrant Indian community, which has made an immense contribution to Malaysia’s progress and served as an effective bridge of understanding and friendship between India and Malaysia. Ours are two pluralist democracies that have many common interests in their shared neighbourhood and have built a strong partnership in the last decade. We are delighted, Datuk Seri Palanivel, to have you with us today.
It is not only the size of the Indian expatriate community as the world’s second largest, but also your achievements that give you a very significant global profile. The Indian community’s contribution to India has also been invaluable - from the workers who labour abroad to support their families and communities at home; the professionals who share the fruits of their skills for India’s development; the entrepreneurs who bring investments into and promote exports from India; and, the community leaders who interpret India for the world and advance its interests abroad.
We on our part will continue to support and assist you, and promote your links with India in every possible way. It was for this purpose that, when our Government came to power, we established the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs. We have also recently launched the Mahatma Gandhi Pravasi Suraksha Yojana to provide social security to Indian workers abroad. The Pravasi Bharatiya Kendra in Delhi will be completed this year. We also intend to start a scheme to assist state governments in establishing Pravasi Bharatiya Bhawans. I compliment the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs and my colleague Shri Vayalar Ravi for these initiatives.
On this occasion, I would also like to record my appreciation for the work of the Ministry of External Affairs and the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs, as also the Government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, for successfully addressing the challenges that more than a million Indian workers faced following changes in Saudi Arabia’s labour policies. As always, our objective is to support our emigrant communities and I hope this year’s Pravasi Bharatiya Diwas will again provide an opportunity to discuss how we can forge a more productive partnership.
I know that many of you have questions about the future of the Indian economy and concerns about social challenges, the shape of our polity and the issues of governance in our country. There is a perception in some quarters outside India that the country is losing its momentum of the past decade. This is also amplified by the political contestations here in India, which are inevitably louder in the election season that is now on the horizon. I wish to assure you that there is no reason to despair about our present or worry about our future. Indeed, as I have said earlier, we are heading into better times ahead and I would urge you to remain engaged in the future of this country with confidence and optimism.
Let me make five broad points to bolster this argument.
First, regardless of the outcome of the next elections, they will once again demonstrate to the world the strength of our democracy and our institutions, and the enduring nature of these ideals that constitute the bedrock for our nation’s progress and our quest for a life of opportunity, justice and equity for all citizens of our diverse country.
Recent developments point to the greater enrichment of our democracy, which is becoming more participative and interactive, with people using both traditional methods and new digital tools to mobilize and communicate. It is especially encouraging to see our youth from all walks of life not only articulate their expectations and aspirations, but take actively to politics to shape their future. This is only to be welcomed. It is only thus that the extraordinary transformation that is taking place in our country on multiple levels can be distilled constructively into our democratic process, which has the vitality and responsiveness to reflect the new and emerging concerns and hopes and aspirations of our people. I am confident and so should you be that the future of our country as a pluralistic democracy is safe and secure.
Second, our economy has done well over the past decade. In the nine years since 2004, we averaged a healthy growth rate of 7.9% per annum. There has been no doubt a slow down in the recent past, and we will probably end this year at the same level as last year with 5% growth. A number of international as well as domestic factors have contributed to this situation. Despite these challenges, our economic fundamentals remain strong. Our savings and investment rates are still over 30% of our GDP and the entrepreneurial spirit in India is very much alive and kicking.
In recent months, we have also taken a very wide range of decisions to accelerate the implementation of mega infrastructure projects, reform tax administration, improve fiscal management, liberalize foreign direct investments and rationalize the system for allocation and utilization of natural resources. With greater political support, we could have legislated deeper reform measures - for example, in the financial and insurance sector. However, our decisions are already beginning to make an impact and India is re-emerging as an attractive investment destination. I am confident you will see the evidence clearly in the next few months.
Third, India is changing in a way that is significant but not always evident to those who do not see the big picture. Over the past ten years, our communication networks have expanded exponentially and much of rural India will be connected by broadband in the very near future. About a thousand institutions of higher education are today part of the high speed National Knowledge Network. Telephony is now within the reach of everyone.
The education sector has been radically reformed with Central Universities having gone from 17 to 44 and the IITs and IIMs doubling in number. At the primary level, nearly every child in India is going to school today. The National Skills Development Authority is working with other stakeholders, including those from the private sector, to train 50 million people for the workforce during the next 5 years.
We have added over 17000 kilometers of highways and more than 200,000 kilometers of new roads in rural areas. Our power generation capacity is expanding rapidly, aided by initiatives in solar, wind and nuclear energy to give ourselves a more sustainable energy future.
Fourth, India’s economic growth has not only accelerated, it has also become socially more inclusive and regionally more balanced. Inclusive development has always been the guiding principle of our Government and we have pursued it with great vigour and purpose in recent years. Our poverty levels are declining at faster rates; economically weaker states are growing at faster rates; agriculture growth has accelerated; and real rural wages have increased three times since 2004.
This is the result of path-breaking legislation and schemes that have created unprecedented rights to work, food security and right to education. For our government, inclusive development is not merely a moral imperative or a political necessity, but an essential ingredient of sustainable long-term economic growth and social stability.
Finally, one of our key priorities has been to provide open, transparent, accountable and clean government. The Right to Information, the Lokpal legislation, the Government Procurement Bill, changes in the systems for the allocation of natural resources and empowering our law enforcement and audit agencies are some of the steps we have taken in that direction. The task is complicated because we have to overhaul entrenched practices and systems while respecting the federal nature of our polity. Strengthening governance is an ongoing process and we can never say that we have done enough, but I am confident that we are moving in the right direction.
India is changing rapidly from within at the same time as being called upon to adjust to a rapidly changing world. This is a formidable challenge for a country of our size and our diversity. But it is a challenge we are equal to. In particular, we draw strength from the energy and optimism of India’s youth; from the freedoms that empower our people; from the debate that enriches our thinking; from the sense of unity that only becomes deeper when tested the most; and from the political consensus that underpins our economic policy.
I have no doubt that we are prepared to assume the international role and responsibilities that the world at large expects from a rising India. I am also confident that the association between India and its over twenty-two million roving ambassadors in the expatriate Indian community will continue to deepen and prosper in the years that lie ahead.
With these words, let me conclude by wishing you and your families a very happy and successful 2014 and I thank you once again for joining us for the Pravasi Bharatiya Diwas. May your path be blessed."