The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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NRIs touch base, PIOs missing

Mumbai, Jan. 8: Hum apke hain kaun' But then there is always Amitabh Bachchan.

Yesterday, the Prime Minister said all who left India after January 26, 1950, are eligible for dual citizenship. There are about 25 million such people living in 110 countries.

But where are they' At the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas being held in Mumbai this year, at the inauguration of which the grand announcement was made, only 2,500 people have registered, out of which 1,000 are resident Indians. Of the remaining 1,500, how many are really PIOs'

For though the Pravasi Bharatiya secretariat does not really recognise the difference between the PIO (person of Indian origin) and his counterpart, the NRI (non-resident Indian) ' saying it does not define the NRI ' it is quite clear that the migratory birds who have come to the huge jamboree are mostly NRIs, and not PIOs.

For, a great distinction exists. The people about whom Yash Chopra and Karan Johar make their films, the Punjabi folk living in the UK or the US for two generations who have the dollars and the pounds, have become identified as NRIs while those whose ancestors left for Trinidad and Tobago and Surinam and Fiji as indentured labourers much earlier, as PIOs.

At the Divas, while the NRIs from the UK and the US lounged and sipped coffee and tried to fix marriages for their progeny, the PIO, from a Carribean island, went missing.

At lunch over cuisines from different parts of India at the sprawling grounds of the NCPA overlooking the Arabian Sea, spotting a PIO becomes a difficult game. For there are people from the US, from Canada, from the UK, some from Germany, a few from Malaysia.

The biggest contingent, in fact, is from the US, and the next biggest, of Indians, living in India. For every two US NRIs, there is one RI from India, enjoying dal makhani with equal relish.

But though the PIOs living in the 'developing' countries make up 80 per cent of the diaspora, where is the Mauritius contingent' From Surinam' They have probably gone sight-seeing, it is informed. To the Gateway of India, or Colaba Causeway, or shopping. Where are the workers from the Gulf, who make up such a chunk of our NRIs' But they were not expected, of course.

It is because India connects much more with the NRIs than with the PIOs, some fume. Says diaspora expert M.K. Gautam, who teaches at the University of Lieden, Holland: 'The Divas is a ploy to catch the dollar. The government is looking out for people who can invest money, the rich Indians.' His friend from Holland, who wants to start a radio service for Indians and has been trying for a licence for long, agrees. But he is hopeful that it will finally come through.

Another person from the UAE feels the same way. He says he could come, but one of his relatives could not, because of the expense.

But then there was Bachchan. Even though most auditoriums went empty, the session on investment opportunities in Uttar Pradesh was claustrophobic because everyone present seemed to be trying to squeeze through the doors to get a glimpse of Bachchan, the brand ambassador of the state.

There, the PIOs and the NRIs were on an equal footing.

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