On the 5th & 6th of January 2017, immediately preceding the Pravasi Bharatiya Diwas 2017, the customary 2-day convention of GOPIO, the Global Organization of People of Indian Origin, took place in Bengaluru. With the theme of ‘empowering the diaspora to repower the motherland,’ the two day meet had interesting sessions that discussed diaspora affairs, and the opportunities that are today being thrown up by a fast growing India, eager to carry its diaspora along with it as part of its growth story. NRI Achievers was there to observe and assimilate the ideas, and here is our report on the GOPIO convention …
The 2017 GOPIO convention at Bengaluru struck the right note in articulating problems faced by the Diaspora. PIOs/NRIs from over 60 countries who had gathered in Bengaluru under the shadow of demonetization, had the opportunity to exchange views on the diverse issues that dog the Pravasis. Speaker after speaker spoke of cash crunches following demonetization of the old 1000 and 500 rupee notes. Through several sessions, GOPIO managed to put across to the government the difficulties faced by NRIs/PIOs due to the note ban. A resolution passed by GOPIO specifically requested the government to make the exchange of demonetized notes held by NRIs trouble-free. Another issue that figured prominently in the discussions was the inadequate representation of GOPIO in the PBD event. Chairman Dr. Thomas Abraham, President Niraj Baxi and Global Ambassador Sunny Kulathakal aired GOPIO's disappointment over this development. The Minister of State for External Affairs, Shri M J Akbar, who inaugurated the two-day convention promised to look into the complaint.
The idea 'GOPIO means business' got a boost in Bengaluru, brightening the prospect of broadening business linkages of the Diaspora with the motherland. Two sessions on start-ups, while touching on the emerging scenario in the fastest growing sector, also explored possibilities of NRI partnerships and investments. A brief on the impending launch of the proposed GOPIO Chamber of Commerce was also shared with participants.
M J Akbar, in his inaugural speech to the gathering, appreciated the role NRIs in strengthening relations between India and other countries. “India will have its first-ever strategic discussion with the UAE on Jan 20 and Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, crown prince of Abu Dhabi, will be our guest at the Republic Day,” he said. “The external affairs ministry will soon launch portals to help Indians who are travelling abroad in search of jobs,” he shared. On demonetization, he said, “A single, historic move by the Prime Minister has converted black money into white and this will now be used for the nation’s development.”
Highlighting the significant role that global Indians had played in strengthening international relations, Akbar said, "Once, we had this song, 'Mera joota hai Japani'. India no longer buys shoes from Japan. We are, in fact, in talks with Japan to build high-speed railway corridors. Nor is India buying Lal Topis (Red hats) from Russia. Instead, we are strengthening our defense, space and nuclear ties with Russia, besides becoming a major defense partner for America. This has materialized largely because of the global Indians in these countries," Akbar said. He also referred to the bilateral agreements signed with Gulf countries to ensure a better deal for Indian workers. In this connection he lauded the initiatives taken by External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj to solve problems faced by Indians abroad. Thomas Abraham, Chairman GOPIO, raised the issue of provisions for NRIs to exchange old currency. “We are thankful that the deadline has been extended to June 30. However, notes can be exchanged only in certain branches of the RBI. For a few thousand rupees, people cannot travel to a different city.” To ensure that the money does not go waste, he requested the government make provisions for NRIs to exchange notes in other banks.
President of GOPIO Niraj Bakshi told Akbar that the body had played a vital role in helping the government formulate the idea of PBD. "We have requested the government to allow our members to speak on this occasion, since we will be able to present the problems faced by the Diaspora in a more convincing manner. However, a former GOPIO president, who was impeached, has been selected to speak at PBD. We hope we will be represented in the coming events," Bakshi added. Akbar said that he had received a complaint in this regard, and would look into the same. Rajeev Chandrasekhar, MP, in his keynote address, said that NRIs were a powerful asset to the country. "The process of institutionalizing the NRI and PIO communities is a long one. Many problems they are faced with today are very old. However, the principle of 'leaving no Indian behind', which the Centre has espoused is starting to yield results," Chandrasekhar added.
Justice Gopala Gowda called for empowering the Indian Diaspora, which in turn would, according to him, bolster the country. Raj Purohit, MLA and Chief Whip of the BJP in Maharashtra, used the occasion to praise demonetization, which he described as a fight against corruption. He wanted the expatriate Indian community to back PM Modi in his efforts to transform India through various programmes like make in India and Swach Bharat.
Describing himself as a soldier for the GOPIO, motivational speaker and author Shiv Khera stressed the relevance and importance of the three ‘P’ skills — people skills, persuasive skills and prioritizing skills. Khera opined that the reservation policy in the country had outlived its utility and needed to change. "Reservation should not be based on caste, but education and economy. GOPIO should work with the government, and press for these changes," he said.
On the second day, there were sessions devoted to multiple topics of interest for the Diaspora. Interesting presentations on diverse subjects were made - on women’s empowerment, social India with focus on rural hinterlands, issues of the underprivileged, the proposed GOPIO Chamber of Commerce, Start-up India and Startup pitchathon were avidly participated in. At the valedictory function CM of Karnataka Siddaramaiah presented the GOPIO community service awards to six eminent NRIs who have excelled in their professions and contributed substantially to the cause of the Indian communities abroad and at home. Recepients were Dr Abraham M George, Chandu Patel, Nallandra Naidu, Dr Ram Buxani, Dr George Cherian and Vinod Patel.
While appreciating GOPIO's role in promoting the interests of Pravasis, the CM urged NRIs to build schools and hospitals in their native states. Referring to the new NRI policy unveiled by his government, he asserted that it aims to help residents from the state working abroad. Arathi Krishna, Deputy Chairman, NRI Forum, Karnataka extended all support to GOPIO convention.