On Friday External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj made an emotional plea to the Indian Diaspora in the UK to invest in their motherland, saying “now is the time” to come to India to tap the “immense opportunities” awaiting them.
Swaraj, while launching the two-day Regional Pravasi Bharatiya Divas here, said she attached great importance to the event as it is the first large-scale engagement of the new government with the highly successful and vibrant Indian- origin community of the UK and other European countries.
While highlighting the “tremendous opportunities” and “exciting projects” across various sectors, she also acknowledged concerns of the Indian Diaspora seeking greater ease in sustaining links with their motherland.
“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,” she said.
Speaking at the event, NRI industrialist Lord Swraj Paul said India needs to simplify its rules to make the expatriate community feel welcome in their homeland and encourage them to invest in the country to help shape its future.
Welcoming India’s move to organise the first Regional Pravasi Bhartiya Diwas here, Paul said, “The world knows India largely through contact with its expat community and expat successes reflect well on India. India should 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 said.
Paul, the founder-Chairman of the Caparo Group, recalled that he was one of the first persons to substantially invest in India.
Swaraj, who began speaking in English, later switched 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 clapping and cheering.
“As we rejoice in the success 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 favourable business environment,” she said.
“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,” Swaraj said.
“It was an election of hope and we must 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.
The Minister who is also in charge of Overseas Indian Affairs stressed that the new government is committed to engaging with the Diaspora to leverage each other’s strengths for mutual benefit.
Swaraj said her government was mindful of certain concerns in the community and their desire for greater ease for sustaining links with India, pointing to the decisions on merging the PIO and OCI cards and life-long visas for PIO card holders.
“We deeply value the role and contribution of the 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…,” Swaraj said.
“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,” she said.
Swaraj pointed out that there were several exciting projects such as the Clean Ganga Project, Metro Rail Project, Smart Cities Project etc that are on the anvil, where the Indian Diaspora can contribute meaningfully.
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.”
“India and the United Kingdom have enjoyed decades of partnership as two vibrant, pluralistic and multicultural democracies. The shared values of the rule of law, basic freedoms, mutual respect, peaceful coexistence of diverse communities and emphasis on inclusiveness have enabled our two countries to build enduring bonds of friendship and cooperation,” Swaraj said.
“We regard relations with the United Kingdom as a priority in India’s external engagement and seek to raise this multifaceted partnership to greater heights. The role and contribution of the large Indian Diaspora is an important input in this endeavour,” she said.
“I deeply appreciate the presence of Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond and thank him for making time to grace this important event. I also thank other senior Government dignitaries, Parliamentarians, community leaders, participants from the UK and other European countries and all friends of India for being with us today,” Swaraj said.
She said the Indian Diaspora in the UK is a special one as it has been formed over the years, over several decades due to various historical factors.
“The UK was always a destination for Indian students. Several legendary leaders including Mahatma Gandhi, and Sardar Vallabhai Patel came here to study law. Several groups of people including those from Punjab and Gujarati expatriates have chosen to make UK their home,” Swaraj said.
“The Diaspora now has generations born in Britain but still keeping their roots in the rich Indian cultural heritage. The second and third generation British Indians have clearly made an impression in British life. They have made a mark in almost every profession from business, finance, politics and medicine to sports and life sciences,” she said.
Swaraj highlighted that there are 8 Members of Parliament and 23 Peers of Indian-origin in this country.
Indian Business Houses have done tremendously 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 per cent of the population,” Swaraj 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.