As the fifth Pravasi Bharatiya Divas draws to a close, one can see angry as well as content faces here and there. While some appear overwhelmed by the warmth of the people here, others vent their ire at the Government of India for ignoring their problems and doing nothing to protect their interests.
"In fact, the event is a big improvement from the previous year. I am glad to be here. It’s an excellent opportunity to get in touch with the people here and to get back to your roots. It’s good to know that we’re now welcome in our motherland. This was not the case a couple of years back," says Albert Rodrigues, a businessman from Dubai, who attended the conference last year too. He is originally from Karnataka and is at present heading an insurance brokers company.
However, Angeli Kakade, a pop singer, does not feel the same. She is not here because of any emotional attachment, but she finds India extremely interesting. She loves the film industry and is a fan of actress Ameesha Patel.
"As a kid I used to hear a lot about India but I never liked it, but now I am a lot more curious about the country. And surely I am happy to be here now and to meet a lot of people... I like them. But I don’t really feel attached to this place as there are many differences… in language, lifestyle, and culture. So it’s difficult to connect."
Angeli has come all the way from the USA to meet and establish connections with some Bollywood producers. She is already working alongside an Indian producer on her upcoming musical album.
For Canadian Freyana Polad, who has come for the Know India Programme, "it’s a nice experience," and she is enjoying the affection of the people here.
Businessman T Selvam, a third generation Indian settled in Malaysia, feels, "It’s a big platform to establish stronger bonds with the people here. With the India economy booming, surely, India now offers huge opportunities in various fields. The whole world is looking at India. I am looking forward to investing here."
A few others, however, seem tired of having to listen to too many speeches. For them PBD is all talk and no action.
The irritation becomes evident when several NRIs very vocally announce that nobody is ready to listen to them.
"The main idea behind such events is to use the expertise and money of the Diaspora for the development of this country, but unfortunately, I have to say that there are so many meetings, there’s so much talk of the government doing this, doing that… we don’t see all this being converted into action when it comes to NRIs investing in this country," says Jacob John, a Dubai-based businessman from Kerala.
John says instead of organising such big meetings, the government representatives should sit together with small working groups of NRIs and discuss the issues of concern.
Angry at being turned into mere listeners and not being allowed to voice their grievances, he says, "I’m not at all satisfied with the Govt’s approach. All these ministers talk so much about their promises, plans, achievements, but they never ask what the NRIs feel about all this and the conditions here… the roads, the basic amenities, the infrastructure."
About the Ministry of Indian Overseas Affairs’ style of functioning, he says, "They lack the experience and smartness to utilise the efficiency of the NRIs."
John, who is very keen on learning more about the situation in various parts of the country and wanted to attend some of the working sessions related to the states, is also unhappy about the programme. "What I have realised in the last two days is that they are holding several sessions simultaneously. How is it possible for a delegate who is interested in attending more than one session to make it to the other sessions?"
Almost a similar opinion is voiced by some of the participants of the exhibition running alongside the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas. Mary Suhasini, Assistant Secretary, YMCA, Indian Student Hostel, London, says, "What’s the use of putting up a stall here when there’s not many to come and see? How’s it going to work when sessions are on one after another? People don’t find time to come here and see the exhibition."
Some of the delegates are furious over the dominance of bureaucracy. "Bureaucracy is still rampant in India. One of my friends wanted to do some charity work here but they put him to a different department. He had to run from one office to another, the entire process got delayed. If you can get rid of these bureaucratic hurdles, you can find a lot more people interested in helping India move towards prosperity. Of course a lot has improved now, yet there’s a long way to go," says APP Chawla, Chairman, MKC Trust Roko Cancer Campaign, London. Chawla migrated to the UK in 1965. The MKC Trust run by him is a charity organisation dedicated to spreading awareness about breast cancer, and helps provide treatment for the same.
"They talk of sharing knowledge, NRIs investing in India and a lot of other things but at the end of the day, the crux is money. But they don’t want any interference, any knowledge from abroad; they always think we’re trying to dictate. We can’t shut our eyes. If Pravasis are going to invest, they would like to have a say and that’s very important."
Chawla thinks meeting people of substance here is another big problem because they do not have the time.
"Even for my own project, unless and until I go through other routes, I can’t get things done. Sometimes I feel that I am investing my energy and money, but at this age I should sit back and enjoy myself. Since I’m emotionally involved I enjoy my work, but it would be more enjoyable if there’s a helping hand from the Govt. Such cancer projects should be taken care of by the Govt so that later on if it takes shape of an epidemic, you don’t have to borrow from foreigners."
Chawla’s spirit, however, remains undaunted. This is the second time that he is here for the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas and is looking forward to meeting many more people and attending the event in future also. "There’s lot of scope for India… and yes it won’t be a global superpower overnight but it is going in that direction," he asserts.