The two-day Regional Pravasi Bharatiya Divas (RPBD), was hosted by the UK in London, on the 17th & 18th of October, which saw a little over 1,000 delegates congregate at the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre at the heart of Westminster. Even as this first ever European Regional ‘Pravasi Bhartiya Divas’ celebrating the 1.5 million Britons of Indian origin drew to a close in Westminster, a new prospect opened for Britain to be the partner of choice in the fast paced Indian dream, powering ahead with PM Narendra Modi at the helm. Indian foreign minister Sushma Swaraj added an emotional angle to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “Make in India” call as she urged the Indian Diaspora to actively participate in India’s growth story. NRI Achievers brings you a report
The Regional PBD event at London, which was attended by some 1,000 plus people on its opening day, included panel discussions across a range of subjects like infrastructure, energy and climate change, as well as the role of social media in uniting the Indian diaspora. “I am confident that we have achieved our objective of reaching out to those members of the community who have been unable to participate in the annual PBD in India and provide a platform for the Indian community in the UK and Europe to contribute to the relationship between countries of the region and India,” said Vijay Goel, chairman of the London Chamber of Commerce Asian Business Association and chief coordinator for RPBD 2014. Senior Indian-origin Labour MP and chair of the home affairs select committee Keith Vaz made a plea in his address for India and the UK to consider a reciprocal reduction in visa fees, an issue that was raised by a number of delegates: “This is a huge moment in history for both countries and I think it’s the right time to consider a reciprocal reduction in visa fees. I think it will hugely increase the number of people travelling back and forth.”
Sushma Swaraj, the Indian External Affairs minister, in her address to the assemblage, said: “I have come here not just to address you but to invite you; now is the time to come to India. There are immense opportunities waiting there for you. I promise I will listen to all your problems and solve each one of them. As we rejoice in the suc – cess of the Indian Diaspora, we also invite you to actively participate in India’s growth story. Our government is fully committed to good governance, clear policies, efficiency, accountability, speedy decision making, transparency and a favourable business environment. There are tremendous opportunities today for you to join us, especially in the fields of manufacturing, infrastructure development, education, health, skills development, science and technology, research and innovation, knowledge economy and youth development as part of our effort to realise India’s full potential.”
Speaking at the event, NRI industrialist and British Peer, Lord Swraj Paul, pointed out that India needs to sim plify rules to make the expatriate community feel welcome in their homeland and encourage their investments in the home economy. Welcoming India’s move to organise the first Regional Pravasi Bhartiya Diwas in London, Lord Paul said, “The world knows India largely through contact with its expat community and expat successes reflect well on India. India should therefore appreciate that the expats are the global personality of India.” Paul said expatriates can contribute a lot to their mother country, but “it is singularly unfortunate that the biggest barriers to expat engagement with India have been erected by Indians themselves. Ever since 1980 the expats have been yearning to do more for India but sadly have been discouraged by some members of the establishment, some politicians and the local business community,” he averred, echoing sentiments widespread among diaspora in the UK. Minister Sushma Swaraj, who also holds the portfolio of Overseas Indian Affairs, stressed that the newly-elected Indian government was mindful of diaspora concerns and their desire for greater comfort levels for sustaining links with India. She added: “We deeply value the role and contribution of Indian communities abroad – in building bridges of friendship and goodwill between India and their adopted countries. The Indian Diaspora truly represents the unity of India with all its diversity, and promotes understanding of Indian values and culture. We are proud of the great accomplishments of the Indian community in the UK and other European countries in all areas of human endeavour and the great reputation they have earned as industrious, law abiding and peace loving citizens, while retaining their Indian roots.”
Sushma Swaraj, who had begun to speak in English, later switched over to Hindi to express her delight at her first visit to London as the External Affairs Minister and went on to hail the BJP’s historic election victory earlier this year that had the audience cheering. “It was an election of hope and we must now live up to that hope. We know we have to deliver and deliver fast,” she said in reference to the mandate given to the NDA government by the people. She went on to point out that there were several projects on the anvil that the Indian disapora could contribute meaningfully toward, like the ‘Clean Ganga’ Project, the various ‘Metro Rail’ Projects, the ‘Smart Cities’ Project et al. Swaraj also hailed India’s relations with the UK, saying, “We are pleased that the people and government of the United Kingdom have shown tremendous goodwill towards India since the new government took over following the historic parliamentary elections in our country earlier this year.” Speaking of the disapora, she said people of Indian origin in the UK en – joy a special place in Indian hearts. “The UK has for long been a study destination for Indian students. Several legendary Indians including Mahatma Gandhi and Sardar Vallabhai Patel came here to study law. Several groups of people including those from Punjab and Gujarat have chosen to make the UK their home,” Swaraj said. “The Diaspora now has many generations born in Britain, but still nurture their roots in the rich Indian cultural heritage. Second and third generation British Indians have clearly made an impression on British life, making their mark in almost every profession from business, finance, politics and medicine to sports and life sciences,” she said. She highlighted that there are 8 Members of Parliament and 23 Peers of Indian-origin in the UK. Indian Business Houses too have done extremely well in UK, she noted. “Today the Indian Diaspora in UK is one of the largest ethnic minority communities in the country, with approximately 1.5 million people of Indian-origin in the UK, equating to approximately 1.8 percent of the population,” She said. “Yet another symbol of the growing strength and visibility of the community is the impact of Indian culture in this country. I am told that curry has overtaken fish and chips as the most popular food. Most major Indian festivals are encouraged and celebrated by the British Government. It is not uncommon to hear Bollywood music and Bhangra beats even at public places,” she said. Post the Regional PBD event, giving credance to the thoughts that found free play during the conclave and the Diaspora engagement meet that took place along the sidelines of the event, here is a quick off-the-cuff reading of the current scenario, and the opportunities that exist for synergies between India and the United Kingdom. The Modi government has charted out ambitious plans to take India into the 21st century, with 100 new smart-cities to be raised from the ground up for an increasingly socially mobile population of more than 1.2 billion people who are striving to compete, achieve and create wealth. While traditional left-of-center socialist mindsets tend to look upon this burgeoning Indian population more as a burden and a drag on economic development, Sushma Swaraj summed it up rather well when she said that those 1.2 billion people were in fact 2.4 billion hands, and her government’s vision was to create an economy that provides “a job for every hand, water for every field and food for every stomach.” After a decade-long paralysis and comatose condition that the economy had got into under the previous coalition government, India has entrusted the right-of-centre NDA government of Narendra Modi with the largest mandate and parliamentary majority in three decades. This overwhelming people’s mandate, however, came with a rider. Modi and his team are to do all the heavy-lifting to reverse the the socialist carnage of chronic high inflation, unemployment and taxation, so that the India story can get ahead and its people can uplift themselves out of poverty. As India gets back to ‘shining’ again, the global community is metaphorically knocking at it’s door, and nations that are determined to dream the Indian dream are queuing up at South Block. Japan, already India’s fourth largest investor, a little more than a month ago pledged to double its investments to US$ 35 billion over the next five years, while China has committed to invest US$ 20 billion in helping upgrade Indian railway stations, build high speed rail links and set up industrial parks in Gujarat and Maharashtra. With global investors showing such keen interest and the Bombay Stock Exchange scaling new highs after highs, Britain will in effect be competing for an ever diminishing slice of the fast growing Indian Alphonso cake. So far, we have had a lot of talk with offers of penurious £1 billion credit lines to British firms wanting to help build roads, railways and infrastructure, where the projected spending on infrastructure over the next five years in India is likely to cross a whopping US$ 1 trillion. PM Modi, who got more than 212 million votes, knows that the economic, developmental and political stakes could not be any higher than it is today, and that is the reason he has promised to deliver and is trying to deliver fast. Within a mere five months of taking over, Modi and team have managed to tame India’s Wholesale Price Index inflation rate to a certain extent as it fell to a five year low of 2.38 percent in September, an interest rate cut is now inevitable and foreign exchange reserves are comfortable again at US$ 312 billion. The ponderous elephant is once again on the move and this time round, it isn’t waiting for anyone.
The task ahead is of truly biblical proportions, with over 500 million people needing skill-training by 2022 in the world’s largest English speaking nation as they seek to join the estimated 547 million strong middleclass by 2025, which will for instance want to fill the seats of the 430 new Airbus planes ordered by India’s IndiGo airlines, totalling around US$ 40 billion. However, it is not all about corporate investment and government credit lines. Addressing a record crowd of around 20,000 Indian Americans in New York’s Madison Square Garden last month, Modi exhorted 2.8 million Indian Americans to “Come, Make in India,” contribute to the project to clean up the river Ganga, and to help enable his vision to see every Indian having a place to call home by the year 2022. Great Britain risks missing the new high speed train to Ahmedabad, while it wastes time dilly-dallying, thinking about sailing back to the Gateway of India in Mumbai from whence it departed the country in 1947. With his three visits and having led the biggest British business delegation to India in history, there is no gain saying that David Cameron’s commitment in building a special relationship with India isn’t in any way lacking. However, it is a bold new era, where the world is freely competing to invest into India – so just historical friendship, common language and a love for curry isn’t going to be enough.