Even as yet another ‘flagship’ congregation event for the people of Indian-origin, the 14th Pravasi Bharatiya Divas 2017 (PBD), was held in bangalore this year, a thought about the way PBD has evolved continues to nag at the back of my mind, prompting me to ask if we have strayed from its original intentions. The latest PBD is being called a success beyond expectations, but for me, what is worrying was the absence of some of the most influential, bright and accomplished Overseas Indians settled across the globe in general, and from the US in particular. And as the curtains fell on a three-day jamboree for the Indian Diaspora – the absence of these ubuqitous NRIs/PIOs did to some extent come as a dampener of sorts for the grand gala event, which is oft hyped as THE platform for networking and showcasing the new India. It is my considered observation, now reinforced over the last couple of years, that not too many well-known Indian-origin people come for the PBD, and of late, the media too doesn’t seem to be according the event too much space, or covering it with enthusiasm. The growing concern is that if we do not do something about broadbasing participation and attracting more and more overseas Indian talent and changemakers, opinion leaders et al., to the PBD starting right now, and continue in the same vein as we do now, it would slowly lose the its lustre and potential.
Take for example, Ms. Kamala Harris, 51, a two-term attorney general from California. An Indian origin US politician who is already being seen as a next or future potential US president was among the noticeable absentees. The same holds true for another Punjabi mover-shaker again from the US, Nimrata "Nikki" Haley, the Indian-American politician who is Trump’s choice for representing the USA in the United Nations as its ambassador. Well, even if one of these two powerful women had been present, It goes without saying that it would indeed have created a huge media furore. But no, that was not to be. Nor did powerful Indian-born CEOs and Industry leaders like Microsoft’s Satya Nadella, Adobe Systems’ Shantanu Narayen, PepsiCo’s Indra Nooyi or Google’s Sundar Pichai land up for the PBD. Seems none of them really felt any need to even symbolically be seen as part of the effort. Leads me to wonder … were they even invited to attend?
Moving from US to Canada, where Indian-Canadians have a huge presence in their current parliament - there are 19 Indian-origin MPs with four of them holding Cabinet Minister ranks – five of them turbaned Sikh MPs who made a historic entry into the Canadian parliament, including harjit Singh Sajjan, Canada’s present Defence Minister. We did not see any MP or Mantri from Canada at this PBD? Point to ponder …
Lets cross the ocean and touch the United Kingdom. The story repeats itself - it is indeed a matter of grave concern that we did not see any political participation from the UK either. There are 10 Indian-origin politicians from across the political spectrum in the House of Commons alone, among them Keith Vaz, Priti Patel, Rishi Sunak (Infosys co-founder Narayana Murthy's son-in-law), Virendra Sharma (aka ‘Pandit ji’), Valerie Vaz, Seema Malhotra, Alok Sharma and Shailesh Vara. All of them have been no-shows – wasn’t it worth anything to showcase to the world that Indians – our Diaspora – are doing their bit for the world atg large? We lost a chance – spo what’s the big idea if cannot ensure the presence of overseas big ticket Indians?
I was also sorely missing Africa – even though the continent has a massive concentration of Indian origin people spread across African nations like Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, not many delegates were there from East Africa. Imagine the adulation an Avtar Singh Sohal ‘Tari’, who is considered as the greatest Sikh sportsmen outside India, would have fuelled if he had been invited … maybe he was not approached by the MEA to come attend the PBD? Tari has achieved a remarkable feet playing for Kenya hockey side in four Olympic Games and three times as a captain. A little bird tells me that Tari had asked the Indian high commission in Nairobi how he could contribute in furthering Diaspora connects like the PBD. While on the subject, note that Sunjeev 'Sonia' Kaur Birdi, born to Sikh parents in Nairobi, is An active member of the Kenyan Parliament. She was the first Asian-Kenyan woman lawmaker to serve in the national legislature. Was she at the PBD? No. But she was there at the swearing-in ceremony of PM Narendra Modi a couple of years ago. In neighboring Uganda Sanjay Tanna and Harmit Singh Marwah served in the last parliament. They too were missed at Bangaluru. Take the case of Vikash Dhorasoo and Vijay Singh, both are acclaimed sportsmen – Vikas, a midfielder, was part of the French Football team that walked away with the World cup under Zinedine Zidane’s captainship in 2006. Vijay Singh, top golfer, born in Lautoka, Fiji, could have been there as well … but no – these paople seem to be neither on the radar of the MEA, nor is PBD seemingly on theirs.
Going down to South Africa, another country where Indian origin people have made a sumptuous contributions in politics and numerous other fields, the likes of Yusuf Dadoo, Pregs Govender, Ronnie Govender, Ahmed Kathrada, Monty Naicker, Amma Naidoo, Indira Naidoo, Naransamy Roy Naidoo, Shanti Naidoo, Thambi Naidoo, Xavier Naidoo and Radhakrishna Padayachi are well-respected political leaders of Indian-origin. Padayachi was the Deputy Communications Minister a couple of years ago, and Mac Maharaj? The anti apartheid crusader and comrade of Nelson Mandela is anything but ignorable. We should make an effort to get such people for our PBDs. Let’s say it, even it be considered blasphemy on my part from our establishment. Unless we make strong efforts to include such Indian origin legends of the past and legends in the making, it will go without gainsaying that our PBDs will go from what they are today to deteriorate into numbing and dreary biennial conferences of Indian-origin people.
As a saving grace, we did see Indian-origin people from Malaysia, Mauritius, Fiji et al., at the PBD. Indians have massive presence in all these nations … as recently as couple of years ago, it was believed that the largest number of Indians outside India live in Malaysia – 30 Lakh people of Indian-origin, mostly from Tamil Nadu and Punjab. Now, lets put the US and South Africa into the same category. Its perfectly all right if large contingents of Indian-origin people from any particular country show up, but we should ensure the gathering gets more and more inclusive.