New Delhi: Thousands of non-resident Indians (NRIs) are expected to gather in Uttar Pradesh state for the massive biennial Pravasi Bharatiya Divas (PBD) celebration, amid a campaign to garner votes by the ruling National Democratic Front (NDF).

General elections are due to be held in India between April and May 2019 to constitute the 17th Lok Sabha — as the country’s parliament is known.

In a bid to woo the NRI vote, the NDF, led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), is going all out to make this year’s edition of the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas, to be held in Varanasi from January 21 to 23, a memorable one.

Being termed as a ‘diplomatic exercise’, at least 7,000 people are expected to participate in the event.

Historically held on January 9 — the day Mahatma Gandhi left South Africa and returned to India to lead India’s independence struggle, in 1915, the date for this year’s event was altered to enable participants to first take part in the Hindu Kumbh Mela festival in Prayagraj (earlier called Allahabad), also in Uttar Pradesh.

According to external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj, “We shifted the date of the event on the request of the NRIs, as they wanted to attend the Kumbh and Republic Day parade in New Delhi.”

“The three-day event will kick off with a special day, the Youth Pravasi Bharatiya Divas programme, giving a glimpse of our rich heritage to the younger generation settled abroad,” she added.

“The event will open new prospects for the young diaspora in addition to providing them opportunity to reconnect with their roots,” an official of NRI department in Uttar Pradesh, informed.

On the first day of the event, along with Swaraj and chief minister of Uttar Pradesh Yogi Adityanath, Norwegian Member of Parliament Himanshu Gulati and New Zealand MP Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi will address the audience.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi will formally inaugurate the PBD on the second day.

The chief guest will be Mauritius Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth, who has Indian roots in Varanasi state.

It is the first time that a person has been accorded this honour. He will travel to his ancestral village Rasra in Balia district of Uttar Pradesh.

“The participating overseas Indians will be engaged to invest in special projects. The sessions are named: developing cyber capacity, capacity building for artificial intelligence, affordable waste management, solar power and community groups working for Indian nationals in distress. These conferences will provide opportunities and challenges for NRIs to give back to India and make a difference to society at large,” the official said.

PBD is held to strengthen the bond of the overseas Indian community with the Government of India and during the convention, selected Indians are honoured with the PBD Samman Award (PBSA) to recognise their contributions to various fields both in India and abroad. PBSA is the highest honour conferred on overseas Indians.

About the PBD

•The first PBD event was held in 2003 in New Delhi. Until 2015, it was held every year. Thereafter, it has become biennial.

•A tent city, comprising Swiss cottages has been set up for NRIs stay at Kumbh Mela premises.

•A cultural village has been developed in Prayagraj to showcase India’s heritage starting from the Indus Valley Civilisation.

Highlights of this year’s event

•Pravasi Bharatiya Divas 2019 — January 21-23

•Visitors expected — 7,000

•Youth Pravasi Bharatiya Divas — January 21

•Inauguration by Prime Minister Narendra Modi — January 22

•Pravasi Bharatiya Samman Award by President Ram Nath Kovind — January 23

•Visit to Prayagraj for Kumbh Snan — January 24

•Arrival at New Delhi by special trains — January 25

•Participation at the Republic Day celebrations — January 26