Prof Veena Sahajwalla from Australia honoured with Pravasi Bharatiya Samman

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(l-r) Professor Les Field, UNSW Vice-Chancellor Fred Hilmer, Senator Kim Carr and Professor Veena Sahajwalla

India’s annual convention to connect with its 27-million strong diaspora in over 150 countries concluded on January 9, 011 with President Pratibha Patil honouring 14 individuals for their achievements and enhancing India’s image globally.

The awardees of Pravasi Bharatiya Samman included New Zealand Governor General Sir Anand Satyanand and the Indian Community Benevolent Forum in Qatar, who were formally honoured on the day India’s best-known global Indian, Mahatma Gandhi, returned to India in 1915.

“Overseas Indians are recognised globally as the ‘knowledge diaspora’. Your skills and expertise will be vital inputs for India’s progress and inclusive growth,” Patil told the 1,500 delegates from 51 countries who attended the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas in New Delhi.

“I hope we will see rapid increase in the number, size and scope of activities in India by our overseas Indians. I am sure we will also see these initiatives evolving into more comprehensive, long-term projects with significant impact on many lives,” she said.

“India would like to measure these projects not in terms of monetary contributions made by members of the diaspora but in terms of human lives touched and improved by them,” the president added.

She announced that the next mini-Pravasi Bharatiya Divas will be held in Toronto.

Minister for Overseas Indian Affairs Vayalar Ravi particularly welcomed professionals and entrepreneurs in virtually every field – from healthcare and education to research and commerce – to participate in and benefit from India’s progress.

“I urge all of you to participate and discover areas of common interest and engagement. I especially call on our young overseas Indians to participate with enthusiasm,” Ravi told the gathering at the Vigyan Bhavan convention centre in  New Delhi.

The focus of this year’s event was on the eight northeastern states – Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura and Sikkim. The speakers include several ministers and chief ministers. Sir Anand was the chief guest.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who had addressed the gathering on January 8 , had announced that India will merge the two visa facilitation cards issued to people of Indian origin and soon enrol non-resident Indians to help them exercise their franchise.

He also announced setting up of India cultural centres in five more countries to project the country’ soft power and provide a global footprint to its rich diversity which he said was “aking waves”around the world.

This apart, he also unveiled the foundation stone for the Pravasi Bharatiya Kendra here and hoped it will fulfil its envisaged role of becoming a focal point for engagement between India and its vast diaspora.

The key speakers at the event included Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda, Michigan Business School’s Gautam Ahuja and tech evangelist Sam Pitroda.

Sir Anand said people of Indian origin who migrated to distant lands thousands of miles away over the past few centuries have never forgotten their roots. “To this day, they remain proud of their Indian heritage.”

He said till 1976 the strength of the Indian diaspora in New Zealand numbered 6,300. But today, their numbers had swelled to over 100,000 people, to make them second largest Asian ethnic group in the South Pacific nation.

“he 27-million diaspora, the second largest expatriate community in the world, can give a powerful support to India in its ongoing path towards development. We should give our continued support to this diaspora,”said Sir Anand.

The others who received the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman, along with him, were:

-Prof. Veena Harbhagwan Sahajwalla (Australia)
-Lata Pada (Canada)
-Harindrapal Singh Banga (Hong Kong-China)
-Mohammad Munir Nazir Hassan Ansari (Israel)
-Upjit Singh Sachdeva (Liberia)
-Tan Sri Dato Ajit Singh (Malaysia)
-Saleh Wahid (Netherlands)
-Mohiaddin Syed Karimuddin (Saudi Arabia)
-Mano Selvanathan (Sri Lanka)
-Mohan Jashanmal (United Arab Emirates)
-Baroness Sandip Verma (Britain)
-Ashook Kumar Ramsaran and Rajiv Shah (United States)