In the next few months, ambassadors of India accredited to 193 countries will be on a hunt for two individuals in the countries of their posting—one individual will be a local artist while the other will be a prominent person of Indian origin (PIO). The external affairs ministry, under Sushma Swaraj, has been coming up with unique ideas to celebrate India and Indianness. The 193 PIOs will represent the globe at the Kumbh Mela in Allahabad (likely to be renamed Prayag before next February).
The Pravasi Bharatiya Divas, so far held from January 7 to 9 to coincide with the anniversary of the return of the greatest non-resident Indian, Mahatma Gandhi, has been rescheduled so that the delegates can delight in the special religious and nationalistic displays. The conclave will now be held from January 21 to 23 in the holy city of Varanasi, which is also the prime minister’s constituency.
The delegates will then travel to Allahabad during the Kumbh Mela season, which starts on Makar Sankranti (January 15) and ends on Mahashivratri (March 4). The last Kumbh Mela in Allahabad six years ago attracted around 12 crore devotees and tourists. Next, the diaspora representatives will travel to Delhi to witness the Republic Day parade—sort of a finale to Narendra Modi’s five-year term—where United States President Donald Trump has been invited to be the chief guest. Ambassadors and high commissioners accredited to small and remote countries in the Pacific, Africa and Latin America are looking for suitable representatives. The government is confident that there would be a representative from each member country of the United Nations.
In early July, Swaraj, who has infused new dynamism into overseas Indian affairs, told the conference of Indian heads of mission in New Delhi that the projection of India’s achievements in the past four years should be stepped up, and the diaspora has to be strongly involved. She had another identification task for the diplomatic heads. Since the Modi government plans to celebrate the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi in a very special way, the heads of mission were given a long checklist of events to organise from October 2018 onwards. One of them involves looking for the best artist from each country to paint a portrait of the father of the nation. These painters would be paid a good remuneration, and the collection of 193 paintings would be brought out as a coffee-table book.
The chanceries of India around the world have been supplied with a number of coffee-table books and CDs, highlighting the achievements of the Modi government and of the external affairs ministry. A few ambassadorial eyebrows went up as these activities come on top of other events like the International Yoga Day, which require immaculate planning, as every year a new setting has to be found in each country for the massive yoga display. Both Modi and Swaraj think it is global celebration time and the bigger the bash, the better, especially when elections are round the corner!