The Government of India’s apparent move to “shift” the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas (PBD) celebration this year to NRIs living abroad, instead of making it a big annual event on January 9 in Delhi, as was the tradition, is failing to get necessary response from Indian diaspora, if what happened in Melbourne, Australia, is any indication.
Organized by the Indian Consulate General of India in Melbourne, it is learnt that just about couple of dozen non-resident Indians (NRIs) out of the “target population” of over a lakh in Victoria Province attended the function. Melbourne is the capital of Victoria.
Held on February 21, one of those who attended the “event” called it a “completely lacklustre” affair, adding, “This is just a reflection of the fact that people abroad are losing interest in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s efforts to promote his flagship programmes such as Make in India and Clean India.”
The event, said this participant, was held at the Indian consulate in Melbourne in order to “take ideas about Modi’s Make in India, Clean India and other policies, but it flopped as the total attendance was 20-25, including 4-5 panelists and the consulate staff.”
The event was organized by two NRI companies and was addressed by Manika Jain, Indian consul in Melbourne. Other penalists, who spoke on the occasion, were Vasan Srinivasan, Ravi Bhatia, Dr S Bhargawa, Dr Raj Kumar, and Dinesh Malhotra.
A letter to NRIs in Melbourne, sent by the Consulate General of India, said that the Government of India “contributions of Indian Diaspora Associations (IDAs) to its developmental initiatives and flagship projects.”
It added, “On this occasion IDAs are encouraged to put forward their creative ideas, viewpoints and reasoning for expeditious implementation of the Government of India flagship projects.”
“IDAs are also encouraged to come up and declare their creative contributions with draft details of contributions in cash, kind and intellectual inputs”, it added.
Asking Indian diaspora to “come to this event and read your written text of your creative ideas and viewpoints, and “declare your input contributions to Government of India flagship projects, if any”, it made the event open to all NRIs.
“If you wish to come with your friends, please let us know their names and native places in India. The prior information is necessary for logistical and security arrangements”, the invitation said, adding, “Also if you can circulate this event in the community also, it will be highly appreciated.”
Things reportedly did not go well elsewhere in the world elsewhere. For instance, at the High Commission of India in Sri Lanka, which celebrated Pravasi Bhartiya Divas (PBD) this year at the Indian Cultural Centre, Colombo, just about 50 NRI “prominent members” attended the event.
This was despite the fact that Minister for National Co-existence, Dialogue and Official Languages of Sri Lanka Mano Ganesan was the Chief Guest on the occasion, with YK Sinha, High Commissioner of India to Sri Lanka, speaking the “contribution” made by Indian Diaspora towards nation building in India and in their adopted countries.
While PBD events were similarly organized elsewhere in the world as well, including all major capitals such as Washington CD and London, suspension of the big event was a big surprise to policy makers as well as NRIs.
“PBD has sanctity attached to it because it marks the anniversary of the return of Mahatma Gandhi to India from South Africa”, The event as a part of the Indian’s government’s outreach towards global Indians,” reportedly said R Dayakar, a retired Indian foreign service officer.
Munish Gupta, coordinator, Global Organisation of People of Indian Origin (GOPIO) International, reportedly said, “The cancellation of the PBD in 2016 for the first time after so many years is a big disappointment”, adding, it would slow down efforts to begin “a new chapter in India’s dialogue with the diaspora.”
President Donald Trump said Monday the United States will sign an agreement to sell $3 billion worth of U.S. helicopters and other equipment to India’s military.
The announcement came as Trump spoke at a welcome rally in the city of Ahmedabad, where a crowd of more than 100,000 people had gathered to hear from him and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Ahead of the visit, Trump had said a new major trade deal between the two countries would not be part of this trip. But in his address he promised the two countries will be making “among the biggest ever trade deals,” and said he is optimistic that he and Modi can reach “a good, even great deal” for both sides.
Modi also struck an optimistic note about a potential trade agreement, saying ties were expanding in spheres ranging from defense, the energy sector and information technology, and that a resurgent India would present new opportunities for the U.S.
Calling the two countries “natural partners,” Modi said they can help bring peace, progress and security not just in the Indo Pacific region, but in the entire world.
“We are inspired by a long-term vision, not just short term considerations,” Modi said.
Modi hailed President Trump’s visit saying it marks a new chapter between the two countries. “India-U.S. relations are no longer just another partnership. It is a far greater and closer relationship,” the Indian leader said.
“There is so much that we share, shared values and ideas, shared spirit of enterprise and innovation, shared opportunities and challenges, shared hopes and aspirations,” according to Modi.
Trump began his address by uttering the Indian greeting “Namaste,” and said that India “will always hold a special place in our hearts.”
“America loves India. America respects India. And America will always be faithful and loyal friends to the Indian people,” Trump said.
He celebrated India as a successful democracy, and said both countries are committed to working together to fight terrorism.
“Our borders will always be closed to terrorists and terrorism and all forms of extremism,” Trump said.
Trump’s visit began with a red carpet-welcome at the airport in Ahmedabad, in Modi’s home state of Gujarat. Thousands of people then cheered along a motorcade route as Trump and Modi traveled a short distance to a stop at Mahatma Gandhi’s ashram.
Pre-trip beautification effort
A small army of workers was deployed ahead of Trump’s visit to Ahmedabad to build a 400-meter-long wall along the motorcade route to block the view of where poor people live. The hurried beautification project also includes the placement of about 150,000 flowerpots.
After the stadium event in Ahmedabad and before heading to New Delhi, the president and first lady Melania Trump made a visit to the country’s most famous tourist attraction – the Taj Mahal – where they were given a tour of the site.
Indian media reported Agra will be on lockdown for the visit, although there is concern about controlling the menacing monkeys roaming the grounds of the 17th-century Mughal marble mausoleum.
“The forest department has been requested to ensure that the monkeys stay away from the Taj during Donald Trump’s visit,” Archaeological Survey of India Superintending Archaeologist Vasant Kumar Swarnkar was quoted telling India Today.
While Trump expressed his optimism for a trade deal, he said last week he was “saving the big deal for later on.”
There is mutual agreement on dozens of elements for the pact, but several contentious sectors are unresolved, including medical devices, according to sources close to the talks.
“Whether or not there will be an announcement on a trade package is, really, wholly dependent upon what the Indians are prepared to do,” a senior administration official told reporters on Friday. “That said, we have a number of significant commercial deals, which are of great significance that we’re very pleased to announce in a number of key sectors.”
Indian officials are said to be perplexed that U.S. officials halted trade negotiations just prior to the Trump visit, expressing a view that Washington pursued brinkmanship that failed in the face of a more patient India, which is the world’s fifth biggest economy.
“There’s no great hurry here” to finalize a trade pact, retired veteran senior Indian diplomat T.P. Sreenivasan in India told VOA.
“I was personally a little bit surprised that the two sides weren’t able to get this deal done,” Jeff Smith, South Asia research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, said.
In India’s capital, bilateral talks are to focus on contemporary concerns.
Indian officials could raise Trump’s hard line on immigration.
“They view the immigration issue — whether it is offering visas to students or the H-1B highly skilled visas or the green card issue — as becoming worse in the last four years,” Pande told VOA.
It is uncertain whether Trump will discuss the issue of Kashmir.
Six months after Modi ended Kashmir’s special status under India’s constitution, local politicians there remain detained and internet service is restricted.
Trump “is not always very thoughtful when he talks about such issues, particularly Kashmir. So that’s a bee in his bonnet and it’s going to come up in some form,” Sreenivasan, a former Indian ambassador to the United Nations, predicted.
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has called for Trump to help resolve the dispute between the two nuclear-armed neighbors over Kashmir, something the U.S. president has previously indicated he is willing to do. But Modi has strongly rebuffed offers from third parties to mediate.
Indian officials are apprehensive about Trump commenting on the Kashmir issue during the visit.
“He might say that ‘I’m a great deal-maker and I can resolve Kashmir.’ But let’s hope he doesn’t,” Pande, of the Hudson Institute, said.
Some members of the U.S. Congress are also expressing concern about Modi’s controversial move to give Indian citizenship to immigrants from three neighboring countries — unless they are Muslims.
Trump, during the India visit, will raise such matters, particularly the religious freedom issue, which is extremely important to this administration,” according to a senior administration official.
“Attempts to lecture, coerce, punish, intervene in India’s affairs have traditionally not been particularly effective,” Smith, of the Heritage Foundation, said.
Trump will be the fourth consecutive U.S. president to travel to India, continuing the shift in allegiance by Washington to Delhi from India’s arch-rival and neighbor.
Khan, after a recent meeting with Trump during the World Economic Forum in Switzerland, said the U.S. president also promised to visit Pakistan soon.
If “there is no complementary visit to Pakistan or no side agreement on some other way to assuage concerns there, then I think Pakistan will take it as a slight,” said Richard Russow, senior adviser for U.S.-India policy studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. (VOA)