New Delhi, Jan 15 (PTI) Prime Minister Narendra Modi will award medals to the winners of the ‘Bharat Ko Janiye’ quiz on January 22 during the Pravasi Bhartiya Divas celebration in Varanasi, Union Minister Sushma Swaraj said Tuesday.

The winners will also visit the Kumbh Mela in Allahabad, she said.

The quiz, conducted by the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), seeks to motivate overseas Indian youth to enhance their knowledge about India and connect with their roots.

The external affairs minister said the quiz had “changed the image” of India among the non-resident Indians and people of Indian-origin living abroad.

Swaraj was addressing a gathering at the Pravasi Bharatiya Kendra here, after the grand finale of the second edition of the event.

She also asserted that among all the events organised by the MEA, the quiz was the “dearest” to her.

A senior MEA official said, 24 contestants were selected for the semi-final, which took place on Sunday, from over 40,000 applications. From 24 semi-finalists, nine were chosen for the grand finale.

This year, a new category has been added — foreigners — besides the existing two — non-resident Indians (NRIs) and Persons of Indian Origin (PIOs).

Swaraj said the number of contestants in this edition had jumped to 40,000 from 5,000 in the first edition held in 2015.

“The youngsters who have been chosen as part of the quiz will get to experience and see India’s diversity which they have learned of only in books. All those who have participated in the event here, will now travel to Lakshadweep Islands, and also attend the Pravasi Bharatiya Diwas in Varanasi, and then also get to see the Kumbh Mela in Prayagraj, which happens once in 12 years,” she said.

“I am happy to share that these winners will get their medals from the hands of the Prime Minister himself in Varanasi on January 22, during the Pravasi Bharatiya Diwas celebrations,” Swaraj said.

After coming back from from Allahabad, the participants will also attend the Republic Day Parade at Rajpath on January 26, she added.

Lauding the event, Swaraj said it had helped people of Indian roots living abroad widen their horizon about the country.

“We had earlier done the Know India Programme (KIP) to familiarise Indian-origin youth with their Indian roots. And, many of them had a stereotypical notion that India was a country of snake charmers, abject poverty and had bad roads,” she said.

“The PIO youths, whose ancestors moved to foreign countries 100-150 years ago, are learning so much through this quiz,” the minister said.

Srihari Hulikal Muralidhar, 26-year-old PhD scholar at Aarhus University in Denmark, who won first prize in the NRI category, was ecstatic to learn that he will be receiving the medal from Modi.

“I am super excited about it, and about visiting Varanasi and Allahabad for the Kumbh Mela,” he told PTI.

Asked about the selection procedure, Muralidhar, who hails from Karnataka, said, “I saw a post about the event on the Facebook page of the Indian Embassy in Denmark and applied. After that, two online rounds were held, and the competition was tough,” he said.

Maha Gaida (31), a Tunisian, who participated in the foreigner category, said he was excited to explore India.

“India and Tunisia, both have a special place in my heart and I am delighted to be part of this event, and excited to explore India more,” she said.

This is published unedited from the PTI feed.