Melbourne, February 21: Pravasi Bhartiya Divas or PBD as it is (or was) famously known since its inaugural big bang celebrations in New Delhi on 9 January 2003 – with much fanfare – seems to have run out of steam.

The sudden cancellation of the Indian diaspora’s January big bang for the 2016 – still baffles many.

And the government’s new format – a much devolved version asking its foreign offices to celebrate the day – by engaging the local diaspora locally – was not much of celebrations. Falling short of being Shakespeare’s ‘Much ado about nothing’, it was in fact ‘not much ado about nothing’.

The day was celebrated in Melbourne on Sunday, February 21, at the Indian Consulate office where Ms Manika Jain, Consul General of India in Melbourne hosted the event with her HOC (head of chancery) Mr Nirmal Chawdhary being on duty with audio-phonic arrangements.

Where did this novel idea to celebrate PBD in this fashion come from?

– ‘to connect with more diaspora who cannot really go to India’ said the CG, Manika Jain talking to Bharat Times in an exclusive interview.

That answer presupposes a wholesome if not full participation by the local diaspora; it was nothing of that sort.

Despite the invitations having been sent out to the whole of Indian Diaspora – as someone ‘likely a Consulate staff member’ confirmed, on the day and emphasized using words to the effect ‘I personally did send the invites to possibly all and everyone…’, the scant crowd of approximately 20-30 (staff inclusive) people made the panel of speakers (six of them) look extravagantly large.

The panel included Dr Rajkumar (CSIRO fame), Mr Ravi Bhatia (Primus fame), Mr Vasan Srinivasan (FIAV and CIIA), Dr Manjula O’Conner (Psychologist whose name is generally associated with issues of violence against women), Prof. Suresh Bhargava (RMIT) and Mr Srinivasan from the Australia India diamond trade.

SNAPSHOTS of the brief afternoon:

Ravi Bhatia spoke on ‘Make in India’ project of the Modi government and to his multiple page bullet pointed notes, Melbourne industrialist and former Liberal candidate for Clayton, Gandhi Bevinakoppa asked him, “all that you have discussed is information which is available on the internet, tell us what you would like to contribute to make the campaign a success”.

Vasan Srinivasan spoke about his visit to India with Matthew Guy, Vic opposition leader. While talking about his attempted collaboration of education projects with local Indian officers called BDOs, who could contribtue to smart towns and cities, he opined that the pay level of such officers in India was inadequately low.

He also opined that an app titled ‘My Contribution to India’ could be created for NRIs to contribute.

Vasan’s ‘low pay for the BDOs’ comment triggered a prompt response from the CG on behalf of the government of India with details of the 10-year cycle of the ‘pay-commission’ and how it works.

Dr Rajkumar expressed the view that there should be a co-ordinated effort from the Indian diaspora to make a contribution to the wellbeing of India their motherland.

Prof Bhargava expressed a view that associated to Modi’s idea of ‘Smart Cities’, there should be ‘smart universities’. He insisted smart education which is ‘more for less for more’ is the only way to go and batted very strongly for his institution – the RMIT and said the model that India should adopt is ready and can be explored any time.

Manjula O’Connor read out her long ‘Dos and Don’ts’ of an advertisement, she claimed was authorized by the government of India, when looking for NRI groom; to which CG said that it was not directly relevant to the guidelines of the program agenda.

Dr O’Connor claimed that 1 in 3 men commit violence against their wives which was challenged by her co-panelists on stage.

Attending the afternoon was a unique experience. It raised more questions than it answered and the Consul General Ms Manika Jain agreed for an exclusive chat with us.

Did New Delhi send the guidelines and agenda for the program on the day?

“Yes, the agenda and the guidelines were sent to our office by New Delhi (government of India)”, Ms Jain said.

Ms Jain implied all the local foreign offices were instructed to celebrate the PBD in this new format – making it convenient for the whole of the Indian diaspora to be able to participate.

And what was the budget allocated to celebrate PBD-2016?

“We did not receive a single rupee (not one rupee) for it”, and evidently the idea was to do it with local resources?

It was axiomatic that New Delhi had allocated ZERO budget for the PBD-2016 for Melbourne although there was a grand agenda – which asked us ‘obsequious devotees’ to sing and dance with our own drums and trumpets – while Ms Jain read the music sheets scribbled in New Delhi. This is now typical of any Indian government; no political party in exception.

Flashback to when Mr Modi was speaking in New York, Sydney and Melbourne did that reconnecting with the diaspora happen without a budget?

Perhaps ‘babus’ in New Delhi no longer think much of NRIs overseas without the need to create hype for visiting leaders.

No wonder Ms Jain had resorted to very skeletal staff, no fanfare and she performed much of the work herself along with Mr Chaudhary who is her Head of Chancery.

And then the knives were out for the Consul General – who “miserably failed to connect with the Indian diaspora in Melbourne”, claimed many.

Some in our community have started comparing her rapport with the Indian community to that of Anita Nayar’s, saying she had failed to carry on Anita Nayar’s legacy.

Really? Let’s look at just one example.

During her tenure, Ms Nayar had arranged a dinner with visiting Indian cricket team in Melbourne where locals got to meet their cricket heroes, only because of the efforts of Ms Nayar and her office.

Perhaps true!

But Ms Nayar paid a very heavy price for it – personally forking out more than $5000/- (five thousand dollars) of her own money as one of the sponsors (she named but I withhold the name here) ‘who had promised big money, came with family and friends, enjoyed the dinner, meeting the cricketers, the photo opportunity and went – and never paid up’.

And the trouble she had handling the tantrums of those heroes“Sachin Tendulkar turned up on the night not only with his family – but also in-laws and demanded to be seated as he wanted and not as we had planned (and sold) – …”.

“I had horrendous time and then had to fork out my own money… will never ever even think of doing it again – even if I am back in Australia and the Indian cricket team is touring down under”, Anita Nayar, former Consul General had told Bharat Times in her last interview at her CG residence in Toorak, before she bid adieu to Melbourne.

Not the cricket story, but the ability to connect with the community and the comparisons drawn – I put to Ms Jain and asked if she had failed to connect with the local Indian community.

“No, I did not fail to connect with the community, there are other reasons which I would not to communicate to the community because there could be internal reasons”, and for those internal reasons, she respectfully would not like to be drawn to such comparisons.

“But this function was not to be a festivity which used to happen in India, also a kind of celebration of festivity which also happens in Regional PBDs (or fete where people could come and have fun), it was basically to get some feedback from the diaspora through the missions” – more of an intellectual debate and exchange of ideas, Ms Jain argued.

How did you constitute the panel?

“People who had given to us something in writing on the flagship programs – went to the panel… except I do understand there was one lady – was not within the agenda ”, BT was told.

“Otherwise they would say there was no lady on the panel”.

If I can say, we did not achieve anything…

“I agree with you… Indian government is right now looking for if I can say, some intellectuals’ (or Budhijeevi’s) ‘meaty suggestions”… unfortunately I would say that we did not get any”.

“What we were asking for was not celebration… What we were asking for was giving an input which required putting their time and resources into and people are not willing to do it”, Ms Jain explained.

And Modi minders envisaged the PBD-2016 should deliver them “intellectual – meaty suggestions” working with resources – raised locally, as Ms Jain told BT.

Indeed, while moderating – at least twice Ms Jain asked two panelists making suggestions, if they would be able to work “pro bono”.

For the Indian Diaspora, it is important to look beyond the pageantry and start looking at the real purpose of anything the governments do. PBD came into being under the pretext of celebration of the Indian diaspora around the globe. The architects of PBD really wanted a huge in-flow of knowledge, ideas, skills and dollars with the felicitations they showered celebrating the PBDs.

The question is – has that happened?

The devolution points to the fact while the PBD offered a rich celebration of pageantry, pomp and show each year since 2003, the reservoirs constructed for the ‘expected in-flow’ from the Diaspora may be sitting shallow dry.

No wonder then, the Indian Diaspora has to face these austerity measures.

And if the Budget 2016 is any indication, NRIs do not seem to be Mother India’s favourite sons and daughters!

-Ramakrishna Venugopal with DM


PS: By the time we went to print, BT was still waiting for figures of investment made into India by the Australian Indian Diaspora since 2003.

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