NRIs on electoral rolls soon, single card for diaspora: PM



NRIs on electoral rolls soon, single card for diaspora: PM New Delhi: India will merge the two visa facilitation cards that are issued to people of Indian origin and soon register non-resident Indians in the electoral rolls to help them exercise their franchise, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said Saturday.

He also announced setting up of India cultural centres in five more countries to project the country's softpower and provide a global footprint to its rich diversity which he said was "making waves" around the world.

"We recently reviewed the Overseas Citizenship of India Card and Person of Indian Origin Card. We have decided to merge them into one," the prime minister told the 9th edition of India's annual event to connect with its 25-million-strong diaspora in 130 nations.

Both these cards are issued to people who are of Indian origin but not its citizens. But for some subtle differences on matters such as fee and processing time, there are little differences between them. The diaspora, accordingly, wanted them to be merged.

The prime minister also said necessary amendments had been made to extend voting rights to non-residents to enable them exercise their franchise. "New legal provision will give them legitimate right to participate in Indian electoral process," he said.

"I am sure they will bring a breath of fresh air to Indian polity."

The prime minister was addressing what is formally called Pravasi Bharatiya Divas that was attended by some 1,500 delegates from 51 countries. New Zealand Governor-General Anand Satyanand was the chief guest.

Others who spoke at the inaugural event included Minister for Overseas Indian Affairs Vayalar Ravi, Minister for Development of North Eastern Region B.K. Handique and Overseas Indian Affairs Secretary A. Didar Singh.

The prime minister said the past year was a busy one for India, with leaders of all nations that are permanent members of the United Nations Security Council -- China, France, Russia, Britain and the US -- visiting New Delhi.

"India's rise as emerging nation is a positive indication for international relations," he said, adding: "Our unique experience of tackling development, challenges, building consensus among different sections has been remarkable. We will seek to promote what is good for India and good for the world."

The prime minister said during his visits to various countries in the past years, he was particularly pleased when its leaders lauded the role played by the Indian community in their land of domicile.

"The richness of India's classical tradition and contemporary Indian culture is making waves around the world," he said, while announcing India cultural centres in US, Canada, Saudi Arabia, France and Australia in addition to the 24 that function as of now.

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.

Earlier, Overseas Indian Affairs Minister Ravi told the delegates that India had already amended the Representation of People Act to address the long-standing demand of non-resident citizens to enable them to exercise their franchise.

"I am happy to say non-resident Indians will be able to enrol themselves for voting."

Sir Satyanand 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.

"The 25 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."

Satyanand also hoped that the free trade agreement being negotiated between the two countries will fructify soon, as it had the potential to enhance bilateral economic engagement to a new level.