External Affairs Ministers Sushma Swaraj—flanked by her ministers of state M J Akbar and General (Retired) V K Singh— on Saturday inaugurated the portal for the Know India Progamme, or Bharat Ko Jano. Described as a “flagship initiative” of her ministry, the portal streamlines the process of bringing young people (between 18 to 30) of Indian origin to the land of their ancestors to help them explore and understand their
Indian roots, with preference given to those from Girmitiya countries (Mauritius, Fiji, Suriname, Guyana, Trinidad & Tobago). Launched in 2004, the programme itself is not new. But in a typical example of good intentions not backed up by due diligence and process, there were no fixed guidelines or a standard operating procedure in place, making it tedious and erratic.
Those wanting to avail this programme had to apply to the nearest Indian mission, which would then vet the applications before forwarding them to Delhi, which in turn would vet them again before finalising a list. People who had never been to India before would be given preference.
Those selected would be brought to India in groups of 10 to 40 at a time, and they would be given an orientation course in New Delhi before being taken to various important places and meet people across India including ministers. The duration too varied from as little as two days to three weeks. Since 2004, 40 groups, involving 1,293 people have visited India under this programme.
This new portal not only allows people to directly apply for it, but also lays down clear guidelines. There will be seven such programmes each year, with about 2,060 participants. The duration has been extended and fixed at 25 days, during which the participants are given a taste and tour of two states apart from Delhi, to explore their culture and cuisine, economy and social life, and meet people including the chief ministers. This is a laudable attempt, and the ministry’s new initiative to streamline the process deserves to be applauded. As they say, better late than never.