In his first direct address to the Indian Diaspora, Prime Minister Narendra Modi opened the doors of India for their active inter-action. After outlining the challenges and opportunities in India, he ended his landmark address in New York’s Madison Square Garden with some long awaited goodies for them:
• Holders of PIO (person of Indian Origin) Cards would get lifelong visas instead of a 15-years’ visa.
• People staying in India for a long period would not have to report to their local police stations.
• PIOs with Non-Indian spouses will not face problems.
• PIO and OIC (Overseas Indian Citizen) cards will be merged with a modified new system. The OIC card allows a lifelong visa for PIOs.
• US tourists will be given visa on arrival in a few months. This was announced in the budget.
• Visa delays will be reduced by expanding their outsourcing services. This is to redress a long standing complaint of PIOs.
After announcing these measures, he asked, “Happy?”
While most of these measures were loudly cheered, especially the lifelong visa for PIO cardholders, no visits to police stations and reducing visa delays, the merger of PIO and IC cards is not widely welcomed as per recent media reports. The merger of two cards will create great confusion and the rationale of creating a new card is not widely understood, claims a spokesman for Global Organisation of People of Indian Origin (GOPIO). The OIC card helps PIOs to connect emotionally with their land of origin. The Indian Constitution does not allow dual citizenship but OIC card is a unique step by the government and just another name for lifelong visa, claims GOPIO.
This process has already started with a new bill to replace these two cards with a new one. The bill has been passed by the upper house and will be debated in the lower house. So it remains to be seen what shape the new system acquires.
The other hot issue which the Prime Minister did not touch was the voting system for Indian citizens living abroad as they can now vote only if they come personally to their constituencies. In this age of electronic communications, and the fact that India is a super IT power, it should be quite simple to devise a method of electronic balloting at all Indian missions abroad.
Overall, the Diaspora had plenty to roar during Modi’s speech and by God, they did! Enthralled, a rapturous crowd shouting ‘Moo-dee’, ‘Moo-dee’ with ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’ at the end, Modi invited the Diaspora to keep one foot in India. He started off by thanking his supporters who had contributed and travelled to India to work during his campaign. He paid a glowing tribute to their hard work in USA which resulted in their success. Pointing out the future, he said, Mahatma Gandhi made the freedom struggle a mass movement. Let's make development a mass movement.
He invoked Gandhi a number of times in his 45-minute speech in involving each and every Indian in freedom fight by working hard and honestly at his job and keeping everything clean. Mahatma Gandhi never compromised on cleanliness. “He gave us freedom. We should pay tribute to him by delivering a Clean India,” said Modi.
He tugged their heartstrings when he said, “I have reached here by selling tea. I am a very small person… I am small and that is why I take interest in doing small work for small people. I am small that is why I have the intent to do big things for small people.” — his reply to people who ask him to talk of his “bada vision” (big vision).”
His refrain of India’s 3Ds – democracy, demography and demand – came over loud and clear to position India as the future of development. Ending on a high note, he declared, “There is no reason to be disappointed. India will progress very fast and the skills of our youth will take India ahead.”