| Vajpayee hands over Kalpana’s award to her husband on Friday. Picture by Rajesh Kumar
New Delhi, Jan. 9: Spring has already arrived for Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, basking in the warmth of his successful trip to Islamabad and the surging economy.
“You have come to Delhi when the winter has been particularly cold. But as far as India’s performance and prospects are concerned, you can see that it is springtime everywhere,” Vajpayee told about 1,000 non-resident Indians while inaugurating the second Pravasi Bharatiya Divas at the Indira Gandhi Indoor Stadium this morning.
Giving a boost to entrepreneurs wanting to set up business abroad, the Prime Minister said Indian companies would be allowed to invest up to 100 per cent of their net worth overseas, either through joint ventures or wholly owned subsidiaries. This also means that the current ceiling of $100 million for investment abroad is being lifted.
Flanked by deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani and foreign minister Yashwant Sinha, Vajpayee said: “The whole world is looking at India with admiration and hope — as the largest democracy rapidly achieving all-round development, as the cradle of civilisation becoming a laboratory of unity in diversity to a shrinking world.”
He reminded the gathering of India’s emergence as an economic power. “In 2003, we were already one of the fastest growing economies in the world. In 2004, we have got closer to our target of 8 per cent GDP growth rate. Last month, our forex reserves crossed $100 billion. We are repaying our external loans. From an aid-seeking country, India is emerging as an aid-giving country.”
Seeking help from the Indian diaspora across the world, the Prime Minister said: “Together we constitute the Global Indian Family. Together, we are announcing the arrival on the world stage of a shining India, an India that has resolved to regain her past glory and indeed surpass it, an India that will both be an economic powerhouse and a major contributor to humanity’s all-sided evolution to a higher level.”
Vajpayee also touched upon his recent visit to Islamabad that has raised hopes of permanent peace between India and Pakistan. However, he stuck to the context of Saarc. “As you are aware, positive winds are blowing in India’s external environment. I have just returned from a landmark summit meeting of Saarc countries in Islamabad,” he said.
“The conclusion of a South Asian Free Trade Agreement will herald a new era of trade and economic cooperation in the region.”
Sinha, who also addressed the gathering, was more explicit. “India-Pakistan relations show new signs of promise with a categoric assurance from Pakistan that it will not permit any territory under its control to be used by terrorists. We have also agreed to start the dialogue process.”
Vajpayee said a Pravasi Bharatiya Kendra would be set up soon for which the Centre would provide land and Rs 25 crore.
The centre will deal with the “multifarious” needs of the Indian diaspora, Vajpayee said, adding that the government will instal commemorative plaques at ports and places from where a large number of people left for foreign lands.
Education of children being a matter of “ great concern” for all Indian parents, Vajpayee said, Indian workers in the Gulf and South-East Asia would be given one-third reservation out of the 15 per cent supernumerary seats in educational institutions.
He also announced the waiver of NRI fees for Gulf residents whose children study in India.