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India 360: Just an NRI jamboree?

CNN-IBN
Jun 16, 2007 at 03:16pm IST

The fifth Pravasi Bharatiya Divas ended in Delhi on Wednesday and the Government has rolled out the red carpet to Non Resident Indians (NRIs). The PM made a speech asking NRIs to invest in India, not just financially but emotionally and intellectually also. But are any concrete steps actually being offered by the Government or are NRIs still India's neglected diaspora?

On CNN-IBN’s show India 360 we asked: Are events like Pravasi Bharatiya Diwas more a ritual than a forum to address the real issues of NRIs?

On the panel of experts were: Minister for Overseas Affairs Vyalar Ravi, filmmaker Shundell Prasad and Managing Editor of India & You magazine, Ranbir Singh Nayar.

Refuting claims that the Pravasi Bharatiya Diwas was not all hype and that the Government of India had taken concrete steps to woo NRIs, Vyalar Ravi says, "It is a wrong mindset in India that the only thing NRIs can do in India is invest. I am afraid that outlook needs to change. This is not a global investment meet. It is a method of transferring knowledge to the system and people of India".

But does the Government concentrate on rich NRIs in US and UK and ignore the poor NRIs of the gulf?

Disagreeing with the question Vyalar Ravi says, “I have myself taken up this issue and in this session I have announced certain concrete measure for labour protection and this includes the unorganised sector also. We are doing the best that we can for the Gulf workers”.

“The new MoU that has been signed with the Gulf countries will expect the concerned host country to intervene for the benefit of the workers. We want to protect their interests within the framework of the law of each country,” Vyalar Ravi adds.

As far as dual citizenship is concerned, the Minister for Overseas Affairs categorically ruled it out saying, “This amounts to citizenship minus political rights. Voting rights are being offered to those people who have Indian passports”.

The Pravasi Bharatiya Diwas is supposed to be a celebration of the global Indian but is the hostility and suspicion towards the NRI still there?

“I personally don’t think there is any hostility towards NRIs. I am a person of Indian origin (PIO) and I have never felt any of that,” says Prasad.

On integrating into the American society Prasad says, “My family has been out of India for the past 120 years. I personally have always felt a strong connection with India. Though, I won’t say that my opinion is shared by everyone in my community back in Guyana”.

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Prasad says that she carries Indian food and culture wherever she goes. “I came back to India two years ago to make a film and ever since the Government has called me to be a speaker at the pravasi functions. So there is a great sense of warmth and I feel welcome every time I come here”.

But can the Government do more for the Western NRIs in terms of helping them protect their culture and from racism?

Agreeing to the question Nayar says, “There are some efforts that the Government can make. Even this Western NRI is not one whole block. It also depends on the relations that the host country shares with India. Indo-US relations are very good and so NRIs in US are treated better. On the other hand if you look at an NRI from a country like France, from where I come, there are problems for the Sikhs. The problems have not been solved and the Government of India has done very little to solve it”.

Nayar also talks about another country, which is South Africa where they “de-recognised the Indian languages. And I have not seen any kind of efforts from the Government to make its protest felt”.

He believes that the Government needs to do a lot more in protecting the identity of NRI communities living in the West.

“The Government must send out the message that our interests are theirs too. That hasn’t gone through as yet,” Nayar complains.

Many NRIs feel that the Government reaches out more to the NRIs of the Silicon Valley or the people who have made it big than for the people of Indian origin. Like in the Prime Minister’s speech to the pravasis, he only mentioned Laxmi Mittal, Indra Nooyi, Kalpana Chawla and Zubin Mehta.

“But if you ask someone from a country like Mauritius or Fiji their impression will be totally different,” says Nayar adding that the Indian Government did nothing when the Mahendra Chaudhry government fell in Fiji.

“What did the Indian Government do when the Fijji government was overthrown? Look at Mauritius it has the largest proportion of PIOs living in any country. About 70 per cent of population in Mauritius comprises of Indians. But the Indian Government is totally focused on the US,” Nayar says.

However, Prasad begs to differ and concludes on a positive note saying, “I personally don’t think it is the Government of India that imposes the distinction between an NRI and PIO. It exists because unfortunately that is self-imposing and is caused by NRIs or PIOs in their home countries. Government of India has not made those distinctions”.

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