I am delighted to be with you this evening on this first high level visit to Sierra Leone.
India shares close, warm and friendly relations with all African countries which are cemented by robust development partnership and a large presence of the Indian Diaspora. The engagement has intensified and there have been over 32 outgoing visits to Africa at the level of President, Vice President and Prime Minister in the last five years. Africa has been accorded the top priority in India’s Foreign Policy. I recently visited Botswana, Zimbabwe and Malawi and my current visit to Comoros and Sierra Leone will further strengthen relations with these African countries.
In my visits abroad, I always, and as a matter of priority, meet with our community. And I must say, it is indeed a special and warm feeling to meet our people, our friends abroad, and to share with them my thoughts and greetings from India.
We have been celebrating the 150th birth anniversary of our father of Nation Mahatma Gandhi worldwide and I am happy to note that the Sierra Leone Postal Department have released commemorative stamps on Mahatma Gandhi to coincide with our celebrations. I am very happy to note that you have been celebrating the Yoga Day regularly here.
Sisters and brothers,
Indian community in Sierra Leone has a long history. The first batch of Indians came here over hundred years ago.
We had been part of the peace process during civil war in Sierra Leone. Four thousand Indian troops served in the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) from January 2000 to January 2001. The Indian contingent of UNAMSIL accounted for 25% of the total strength and were the best-equipped among contributing nations.
I am happy to note that the Indian community in Sierra Leone, though small in number, has been playing an important role in promoting bilateral ties and creating opportunities for the local economy and society. Most of the community is involved in trade and manufacturing and some of you are engaged in the mining and trading of gold and diamonds. I am also pleased to note the existence of the Indian Mercantile Association, being the sole Indian community association in the country. It is a matter of pride for us that the Indian business community in Sierra Leone is highly respected. Today, Indian skills and professionals are much sought after here and elsewhere in the world.
It is remarkable that all of you continue to nurture our culture and tradition. I am happy to learn that you celebrate Holi, Dushera, Diwali, Eid, Christmas and other festivals with much enthusiasm and pride. You would be celebrating Diwali in a fortnight from now followed by Eid and Guru Purab in November. I convey my greetings and good-wishes in advance for the forthcoming festivals to our Indian diaspora here.
For many of you, Sierra Leone is your new home, for still others it is your karma-bhoomi. I am happy that you have been welcomed with open arms in your adopted country and in your professional spaces. India and Sierra Leone are multi-cultural societies. This shared uniqueness about the two would have been comforting to you as you settled down here, making friends, families and associations. You have made significant contribution to the well-being of this country. As entrepreneurs, doctors, teachers, bankers and technology experts, you are adding immense value to the Sierra Leonean society and economy. We are, indeed, proud of your achievements and your success.
Sisters and brothers,
I know you keep yourself updated with developments in India. Many of you visit India regularly. But those who travel after a gap of a few years will find a new India, a new experience awaiting you! Our growth and development mirrors a new confidence in the country. India is one of the fastest growing major economies in the world. We are making steady progress towards becoming a USD 5 trillion economy and the 3rd largest consumer market in the world by 2025. Our work on building next - generation infrastructure including 100 Smart cities, 7 high speed train corridors, 10 green-field airports, country-wide digital connectivity and thousands of kilometres of express-ways continues apace.
India is on a transformative journey of high growth and socio-economic changes. The youth in the country are brimming with ideas and energy. Their enterprise and innovation has made India into the third largest Start-up ecosystem in the world. India today is full of opportunities for business, for social enterprises and for cultural connections. I invite each one of you to join us in our transformational journey. as knowledge partners and as investors.
Sisters and brothers
In the last few years, you would have seen a sea-change in the way our Government is engaging and reaching out to our Diaspora. In addition to democracy, demand and demography you the Indian Diaspora are one of the main drivers of India’s growth. There is today a stronger connect between India and the Indian community abroad. We have started schemes such as the "Know India Programme” to better connect with our people abroad. Our OCI scheme has been made flexible so that more and more people can benefit from it. We have mandated our Embassies to be available round the clock to our people in need. And we are extending humanitarian assistance as and where required. We have reached out to those in dire need, from Yemen to Venezuela, caught in violence, crisis or natural disasters. And not just to Indians alone, but to people of over 50 other countries.
I am pleased to announce that we shall be opening our High Commission in Freetown shortly which would further strengthen the existing bilateral relations between India and Sierra Leone besides taking care of the needs of the Indian Diaspora staying in Sierra Leone.
We count our Diaspora as an important partner in strengthening our international outreach. You have a role to play in spreading the message of India. In our quest for peace, prosperity and development, Indian citizens abroad and the overseas Indian community serve us as equal partners.
Sisters and Brothers,
The recent decision of the Government of India to reorganize Jammu & Kashmir was intended to extend all the laws and benefits of developmental programmes to this region and ensure inclusive all round development of this State. This decision was taken after the Parliament approved the move with an overwhelming majority in both Houses of the Parliament. Unfortunately, some sections of the media and vested interests have been grossly distorting the truth. Jammu and Kashmir has been, as you know, an integral part of India and has been electing its leaders in free and fair elections right from 1952. However, since many of the programmes were not reaching the citizens of this State because of the special provisions of Article 370, the Government has taken a bold decision by following the democratic process of obtaining parliamentary approval. In fact, this will be the foundation for an equitable, inclusive developmental process in the State and reducing the negative impact of cross-border terrorism in the area over the next few years to come. Unfortunately, one of our neighbors has been fomenting trouble in this region by aiding, abetting and funding terrorist activities. We cannot allow this to go unchecked.
India takes pride in the fact that we have always believed that not only our country but entire world is one family. We celebrate pluralism, multi-lingualism and multi-religious mosaic of thought, expression and practice. It’s one of the most inclusive and tolerant democratic countries in the world in which the interests of all groups including minorities are taken care of with empathy and deep appreciation. It’s a country which had Presidents, Vice Presidents, Prime Minister’s, Supreme Court judges and Heads of Defence Forces drawn from most prominent minority groups.
India is on the move and is fast becoming a favorite investment destination for the world. You as India’s ambassadors in Sierra Leone can build a bridge that connects your motherland with the land that you have chosen to live in. You should contribute to the development of both countries and exemplify the true essence of Indianness which is caring for others and sharing your prosperity.
I shall be visiting tomorrow the Choithram Memorial Hospital being run by the Choithram Memorial Trust for the past two decades. I am happy to note that the hospital provides Comprehensive Medicare to the people of Sierra Leone. I am pleased to note that the hospital is committed to the highest standards of medical & service excellence, patient care and medical education to the people of Sierra Leone. i would like to share with you that the Government of India is also extending support for disabled patients by organizing “Jaipur Foot” camps under the “India for Humanity” programme organized to commemorate the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi.
It has been a pleasure sharing my thoughts with you. I wish you all success in your endeavours.