Just outside the Varanasi trade facilitation centre, a group of students studying fine arts at a local institution have made a sand art, featuring Prime Minister Narendra Modi, President Ram Nath Kovind and UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath.
As many came to take selfies and admire the artwork which took six days and 10 young men and women, one of the artists said, “Modiji sirf desh ke logon ke liye hi nahin, balki videsh mein baithe logon ke liye bhi kaam kiye hain (Modi hasn’t only worked for people of this country, but for those outside as well).”
Standing guard near the sand art, a security personnel, who requested anonymity, told him, “Do you know who made the facilities here? It’s Mayawati.” The artist didn’t seem impressed.
A mixed response awaits Modi at the 15th Pravasi Bharatiya Divas convention, which the Prime Minister is set to inaugurate in his parliamentary constituency of Varanasi on Tuesday. While many NRIs were eulogising Modi for “what he has done for the prestige of the country”, there were a few naysayers as well.
Rajpal Tyagi, a Kuwait-based architect, said, “I am a bhakt, not a follower of Modi. Thanks to him, the ministers are so much accessible and transparent through the social media engagement. The External Affairs Minister and the Prime Minister are always available.”
At the Youth Pravasi Bharatiya Divas on Monday, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj struck a chord with the audience when she said that embassies have been proactive on digital media, providing consular help and guidance. Whether it is Facebook or Twitter, help is just a message away from any Indian national in distress, she said. “Our passport has become a security cover for our Indian diaspora. Ek tweet keejiye, just 140 characters, raat ke 12 baje keejiye, subah tadke 3 baje keejiye, dopahar ke 4 baje keejiye, 24 ghante ke andar andar aapka samadhaan hota hai, isiliye maine kaha hai, help is just one tweet away,” she told the gathering.
Susheel Kumar Saraff, a prominent NRI from Thailand, talked about the “prestige” of the Indian passport – and how it has increased in the last four-and-half years. But with elections a few months away, some are not so impressed.
Satish Mullick, a dentist who has been living in New Jersey for the last 40 years, said, “I have seen so many poor people in Gujarat and other parts of the country, including UP. But this government wasted so much money in building a Sardar Patel statue. Where are the priorities? We would have honoured Patel by building schools and hospitals with that money.”
Mullick, a “socialist” at heart, counted Subramanian Swamy and Tarek Fatah among his friends. “I don’t agree with their views, but would like to hear their points of view.” He pointed out the growing Hindu assertion as another point which he doesn’t agree on. “I had such high hopes from this government, but I feel very sorry about what they are upto.”
Neera Agar, an NRI from Australia who was one of the organisers of Modi’s diaspora event in Australia, said, “Modi tried to do a lot for us NRIs. The senior officials are quite cooperative at the Indian High Commission, but that attitude has not percolated to the ground level.”
Vijay Jolly, former coordinator of Overseas Friends of BJP, said that a lot of work has been done, but the main demand that needs to be fulfilled is the issue of “proxy voting” by NRIs. “Majority of those three crore NRIs are our voters, we will stand to gain, if Parliament passes the law,” Jolly said.
Stressing that countries such as the US, Japan and China are ageing rapidly, Swaraj on Monday said India is getting younger and this demographic perspective offers it an “unprecedented edge” that will help in building a “New Young India” by 2022.
“While the Indian diaspora started migrating centuries ago, it is the migration of the educated, highly-skilled and dynamic young Indians that has brought laurels to India,” she said, noting that many of the multi-national corporations are headed by young Indian-origin CEOs such as Sundar Pichai of Google and Satya Nadella of Microsoft.
Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath said he has made a lot of efforts to change the investment scenario in the state. He also invited all NRIs to invest in the land of their forefathers. On New Zealand MP Kanwal Jeet Singh Bakshi and Norway MP Himanshu Gulati being chief guests for the Youth Pravasi Bharatiya Divas, a key organiser from the party said, “Who knows these people from Norway or New Zealand? Why couldn’t they have invited Sundar Pichai or Indra Nooyi or Satya Nadella, who would have been inspiring to many youth here?”
Mauritius PM Pravind Jugnauth will be the chief guest of the convention, which concludes on January 23. The city is plastered with posters of Modi and Yogi, welcoming delegates to Kashi. Swaraj and MoS V K Singh adorn some posters, but former MoS M J Akbar’s pictures in a book outlining the MEA’s achievements created a flutter — although officials said that it was released during four years of Modi government.