The Indian Diaspora is so numerous and distinguished that to have been invited as your principal guest on this significant occasion is a great personal honour. I would therefore wish to thank you most warmly for this distinction and I accept the award (Pravasi Bharatiya Samman Award) accorded to me on behalf of the thousands who have left India and have this great country in their hearts.
Mr. Prime Minister, I first came to India in 1993 when as Finance Minister I accompanied the late President Cheddi Jagan on his State visit to your country. My second visit was last year a decade later. I recall how impressed I was by the tremendous progress which India had made during the intervening period. I am sure that many others of the Diaspora are similarly impressed. Today India is recognized as a major global power and is a leading nation in knowledge-related services.
My last visit was also memorable because it afforded me the opportunity of discovering my ancestral roots in a village in Uttar Pradesh. It was an emotional event for me, conjuring up as it did visions of how my forebears might have lived and of their historic journey to Guyana to eke out a new existence. No doubt, many of the Diaspora here today may have been stirred by similar emotions on the basis of their own, and their foreparents’ experiences.
Among us here today, are many illustrious persons who have risen to prestigious positions throughout the world. Your achievements are a tribute, not only to your own endeavours, but also to the land of our forebears. This land has nourished our lives and indeed humanity as a whole, with its rich culture and civilization. It is a matter of history that this culture and civilisation flourished as long ago as 3000 BC and has deepened and widened throughout the centuries, bequeathing to India a most impressive legacy.
The Indian Diaspora may be traced to the dark days of colonial occupation. It is a familiar story of people uprooted from their homeland and taken to far-away places. The historical experience was as varied as the destinations. There are, however, many common threads: Certainly for the men and women who left India to work as labourers under indentureship, on the sugar plantations of Guyana and other British possessions, it is a story of great human suffering. Yet, it is a story of triumph and resilience. It tells of their perseverance, adaptability and resistance of enormous pressures to induce them to abandon their culture. However, they did not yield to such pressures preferring to endure discrimination. Their valiant efforts have led to the preservation of their culture. Today, my country is richer because of this contribution. Many of the festivals that originated in India are celebrated as national holidays. Further, Indian cuisine, music and dance are an essential part of our national cultural environment.
Since this initial immigration, there have been other waves that have taken Indians to many lands. Unlike their predecessors, the new migrants have left on their own volition in search of greater economic opportunities. They include doctors, businessmen, scholars, scientists and other leading professionals. In many parts of the world, they form significant constituencies and wield tremendous political and economic influence in their communities.
The Government of India and the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry are to be warmly congratulated for their initiative to develop closer links with the Indian Diaspora. I wish to commend you Prime Minister, for the special interest which you have demonstrated in ensuring the continuity of this effort. The decision by the Government of India to establish special governmental and diplomatic offices has led to increased contact and communication with overseas Indians. This outreach is welcome since no matter how far those in the Diaspora may have travelled, India is always present in their hearts.
Love of one’s country of origin is natural. Pride in one’s ancestry is wholesome and essential. There ought not to be, therefore, a conflict between national identity and ancestral pride. However, one must always be careful to distinguish between ancestral pride and national loyalties. As President of Guyana, a land of six races, I represent all of the people and I am duty bound to govern in their interests. At the same time, I am very proud of my Indian ancestry and I experience no conflict in my determination to work towards forging greater national cohesion. In my country each ethnic group is encouraged to preserve and express its heritage within the national context, and we are determined to live and work together as a single united Guyanese nation.
Indian civilization and culture have promoted the ideals of devotion to religion and family life, diligence and sacrifice in the interest of posterity and tolerance. Doubtlessly, these cultural traits have contributed immensely to the success of Indians in the Diaspora. Yet, the Indian civilization and culture is larger than these traits themselves, and like other civilizations, the Indian civilization has much to offer to the world as a whole.
Our several national experiences confirm that in unity there can also be rich and interesting diversity. Undoubtedly, the world’s culture will be richer if its diversity is preserved. When members of the Indian Diaspora express and share their cultural traditions in the communities in which they live, they are not only preserving and universalizing these traditions but also preserving and promoting diversity in a world that badly needs it given the leveling influence of globalisation.
We all have a duty to ensure that our children are imbued with the virtues and values that have made us what we are, without becoming parochial. In many parts of the world, children of Diasporas are subjected to various pressures to abandon their culture and forsake their heritage and indeed are even made to feel that both are inferior. We must find creative ways of developing in them a sense of pride in their cultural legacy without affecting their ability to assimilate and develop loyalties to the countries in which they live.
Ours is also the challenge to construct and enlarge the natural networks of relationships within the Diaspora. These relationships can strengthen our cultural linkages and build greater understanding among us. It is evident that there is an abundance of expertise within the Diaspora and this may be utilized to advance the welfare, not only of Indians, but of all the peoples of the world. Additionally, there are numerous opportunities for investment and these once understood could be pursued in mutually beneficial ways.
People of Diasporas must utilize their rich heritage to contribute to human civilization. They can be a voice for reason; they may be engaged in working to create greater understanding; building bridges of friendship; and dismantling the bulwarks of prejudice. In contributing to the creation of a better world in which the interests of all are considered, they would be playing a part in building a safer world.
The Diaspora bears the imprint of India. The world, fairly or unfairly, sees India through them before it is informed of their several nationalities. Consequently, they can be goodwill ambassadors of this great country. When through dint of hard work and sacrifice Indians in the Diaspora reach the pinnacle of their professions and distinguish themselves, they bear testimony to this land.
Today the world is confronted with many challenges. The increasing sophistication of various forms of terrorist activities, the rise in crime and violence, the HIV/AIDS pandemic and the high levels of poverty must be tackled as we seek to provide a better quality of life for our peoples.
India is both prominent and respected in international affairs and under your leadership Mr. Prime Minister, is playing an important role in creating a better and more just world. One example of this is the stand taken by India at the recent Ministerial Meeting of the World Trade Organisation held in Cancun, Mexico. At that forum India employed its formidable strengths in leading the developing world in the fight for a fair world trading system. At the United Nations India is an active champion of peace and development. It is for these reasons and the fact that India is an untiring advocate of the philosophy of non-violence, tolerance and respect for all peoples, that my country unreservedly supports India’s candidature for a permanent seat on the Security Council of the United Nations.
Mr. Prime Minister, distinguished guests, in the global quest for peace, security and development, the Diaspora must be an important ally. With such support, we will be better able to reach our goals. Let this dialogue which has begun, continue to flourish to strengthen our alliance in the interest of our countries and peoples and of the world as a whole.

I thank you.

(Courtesy )