Mahen Utchanah, Chairman GOPIO International
“Our Diaspora should show no aggressiveness but sincere determination. This should be a two-way traffic”
Our guest today, Mahen Utchanah, can be truly considered as one of the drivers of GOPIO. To him must surely go the credit for the laudable initiative of hosting this regional Pravasi Bharatiya Divas in Mauritius. In fact, the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas was held from the 26-28 October, the main venues being the MGI and the Swami Vivekananda International Convention Centre. There were business, academic and plenary sessions, with the full participation of both local and international delegates. As is expected in such large gatherings, there were variations in the level of the numerous presentations, and some aspects of the organisation and logistics need to be fine-tuned during future similar events. Overall, though, there were some very positive interactions and it is now expected that actions will follow.
As suggested by Lord Diljit Rana, a desirable outcome is a definitive Action Plan with clear parameters for implementation and monitoring through the assignment of responsibilities. The process, we hope, could start at the next PBD due in Kochi, Kerala in January next year…
* I understand that it’s following your request as President of GOPIO Mauritius that the Indian and Mauritian authorities agreed to the holding of Pravasi Bharitiya Divas in Mauritius recently. Tell us: has the Divas met the expectations of GOPIO Mauritius and of the delegates generally?
I once more thank the Government of India and particularly Minister Valayar Ravi for having accepted my request to hold the Regional PBD in Mauritius. We had a very positive outcome and a good attendance. It has been the best PBD outside India. The delegates stayed and participated all through; now they want action and we shall create the appropriate forum for follow-up. Minister Choonee has already announced that he will publish the proceedings.
* PBD Mauritius is the 12th meet of the Indian Diaspora after the first one held in New Delhi in 2003. Can it be said that it has given the lie to the critics who were initially saying that it would be a mere talking shop?
PBD Mauritius is the 6th Regional meeting. We already had 10 PBDs in India. It is the 16th meet. PIOs and NRIs are gradually becoming more attached to Mother India. They are now really keen on participating in PBDs’ functions. Thus we had a much larger number of them at our Platform which gives visibility and a voice to the Diaspora where they identify, debate their problems in a bid to initiate action, awareness, and legislations and prevent abuses one way or the other. It is good that the Diaspora airs its views openly and internationally. It is healthy for a democratic country. It takes time to work out things especially when many countries are involved. Decisions are forthcoming e.g.: in the case of PIO university.
* Looking back over the ten years of existence of the PBD, could you spell some of the major positive fallouts that have come about so far?
Many: PIO card, attending to the insecurity/work problems of Indian workers in the Gulf, more awareness of fraudulent marriages, NRI and PIO investment in India, more frequent connectivity between Diaspora countries and among them and with India, OIFC in operation, more pride and commitment in being an Indian Diaspora. Other projects in the offing: more research, studies and publications on the Diaspora are helping to increase knowledge and awareness. Yet, we should not be complacent. We should intensify our efforts to achieve more and ensure that the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs is kept busy working for the Diaspora.
* We usually see mostly middle-aged delegates and those in the higher age groups – those who have the time to spare and the money to spend – coming together at the annual PBD. The younger generation seems not to be concerned. Is that a correct impression?
Our Prime Minister Dr Navin Ramgoolam spoke on the role of the youth. The theme of the plenary session was on youth. GOPIO has already organised a Youth Forum this year in Guadeloupe. We intend to attract more youths by organising Youth Festivals in different PIO countries. Mauritius will be hosting a youth festival next August. We are inviting some 200 foreign young delegates. They will be the guest of Mauritian families.
* It appears that there is increasing awareness and interest among people of Indian origin in Francophone countries for going back to and renewing contacts with their roots. Why is that so? And what do they say about their encounter with those roots?
Yes, they have lived in an assimilative society, which is now quite open to India. Even France has become officially a laic (open) country. Their culture has too long been repressed. Now they want to make up for time lost. Mauritius has played an important role in organising the Francophone PIOs. I have created the Francophone Chapters worldwide. They are very keen to know and learn about their Indianness. There is a revival of Indian culture and religion; we need to help them to connect with their roots.
* The Indians have been very aggressive in establishing contact with the Diaspora: they have set up, amongst others, a ministry to look after overseas Indians, an Overseas Indians Facilitation Centre with a view to “strengthening ties with the Diaspora for partnering in India’s growth”, etc. Would you say that the PBD narrative goes beyond remittances to and investments in India by the Diaspora?
Our Indian culture, the most inclusive, if not the only inclusive one in the world should be prioritised to make PIOs and NRIs a united family. It is a complete relationship; from culture to economics, including politics. There is a wide area of common interests which should be further explored under the theme ‘Shared roots, Common destiny.’ FDI is vastly important. The more India prospers, the more it rebounds on all of us in the Diaspora, and we feel stronger and more confident with the improved image of India.
* Does it appear to you that the Diaspora generally is demonstrating aggressiveness in equal measure to tap into the opportunities that a rising India has to offer?
Our Diaspora should show no aggressiveness but sincere determination. This should be a two-way traffic, the only way to achieve a win-win situation. India has always extended her arms to the Diaspora youth, visitors, pilgrims, Diaspora from all ranks of life. With the phenomenal growth of India, certainly more opportunities, business, ICT, educational, health, etc… are opening up which the Diaspora should tap.
* The Diaspora present on Mauritian soil seems content with only a PIO Card to facilitate travel to India, or a few scholarships for study in Indian academic institutions. Shouldn’t they go beyond this and explore avenues for partnering with Indian entities that would help to empower the Diaspora here economically and be mutually beneficial? Can this be envisaged?
The PBD is an opportunity “par excellence” to network and identify yet more opportunities. This has been going on since a long time at different levels — cultural, educational, professional, technical, technological, business, languages, government to government, institution to institution. We agree that more avenues should be identified to strengthen these relationships which must be backed by the various States and Central Government.
* What has been the response of the Indian authorities to the five requests you had proposed to make in the context of PBD Mauritius, namely the setting up of a PIO university in Mauritius, the issue of PIO cards for 5th & 6th generations and for all Francophone PIOs, the setting up of a Cultural Centre in Reunion, and an Indian Consul General in Guadeloupe & Martinique?
1/ The PIO University is in process but it has taken too much time, which damages the good relationships between PIOs and India.
2/ 5th and 6th generations should be issued their cards and the definition of the PIO should be broadened.
3/ Francophone PIOs should be issued PIO cards like the rest of us. MOIA should solve this disparity.
4/ It’s urgent that India should attend to the need of the Francophone PIOs in Reunion by setting up a cultural and research centre. Remember that these PIOs from Francophone countries, as French citizens, act as important bridges between India and Europe, thus filling a diplomatic and geopolitical need for an expanding India. In other words, they are India’s ambassadors in France and Europe and EU.
5/Certainly the same facilities should be extended to Martinique and Guadeloupe.
* One of the panellists in the plenary session, Lord Diljit Rana from the UK, suggested that there should be a more concrete outcome, such as setting some objectives and preparing an Action Plan with clear timelines and deliverables, and the assignment of responsibilities for achieving the objectives. Is there anything along these lines coming up and if not now, can this idea be taken up during the next PBD in Kochi, Kerala?
It is very sound and positive. They need to be studied and applied. They will add a more rational dimension to modern scientific management, operations, organisation, results-orientation, accountability and good governance.
We should congratulate Lord Rana and we hope that his advice will be taken in due consideration by all of us, not only in GOPIO, MOIA but also in our day to day life, in business management, etc.
We shall take up these matters in our 11th PIO Dialogue with India in Kochi.
* Published in print edition on 9 November 2012