Nearly 1,000 people filled the main ballroom here at the Westin Bonaventure Hotel in downtown Los Angeles to kick off the 9th Regional Pravasi Bharatiya Divas, a two-day event held in Southern California November 14-15 to strengthen Indian Americans’ ties to India.
The theme for the convention was, “Indian Diaspora: Defining a New Paradigm in India-U.S. Relationship,” to the series of business meetings, conferences, cultural programs, and panels.
The Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs coordinated the two-day event with the Consulate General in San Francisco to bring the diaspora together and boost U.S.-India relations.
Indian Ambassador Arun Kumar Singh said hosting the 9th Regional Pravasi Bharatiya Divas in Los Angeles was fitting in light of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent visit to California and the contributions NRIs and Indian Americans make in the United States and India.
“California and people here have played a very important role in India’s struggle for independence and the Gadar Movement. This state is also home to a very significant path of the Indian origin population in this country,” Singh said. “If you look at today’s world where innovation and digital technology play a significant role, then Indian companies based here and Indian origin tech entrepreneurs in California are in cutting edge technology development in the United States and in the world. In this framework it is significant we meet here in [California] to observe the Regional Pravasi Bharatiya Divas.”
Rep. Janice Hahn pointed out that Los Angeles County is home to a half million people from India or of Indian descent. “What you have done with your community, your values, your interests in giving back has been such an important part of the fabric of Los Angeles, of California, and, really, the entire United States,” Hahn said. “You contribute so much to who we are and we as a country are so much better off.” Indian Americans and NRIs are taking on larger roles as policy makers, Rep. Judy Chu acknowledged.
“The Indian American community is growing, and now it’s the third largest ethnic group here in the United States. It’s made great contributions to the governance of the United States,” Chu said, acknowledging Ami Bera’s recent election to the House of Representatives and Dr. Vivek Murthy’s appointment as the country’s Surgeon General. Chu also acknowledged the efforts of the Asian American Hotel Owners Association to direct NRIs to small business investment and growth nationwide.
India and the United States continue to strengthen diplomatic ties and work together as allies, according to Rep. Brad Sherman. “The United States and India have a close relationship to fight terrorism and work on military matters,” Sherman said. “I don’t have to tell you how in the last 10 or 20 years our two countries have become much closer on diplomatic and military matters.”
Vijay Kumar Singh, Minister of State for External Affairs, explained the Regional Pravasi Bharatiya Divas is an ideal venue to connect with NRIs and generate ideas for sustained growth to bring back home to India. “Indian Americans in Los Angeles are a community who has done very well and is very proud of itself. Regional Pravasi Bharatiya Divas is a very valuable component of our outreach,” Singh said. “The India of today is moving forward. India is changing its infrastructure, the way it does business.”
Panel discussions primarily focused on how NRIs can facilitate technology, youth, and business opportunities in India. Some questions raised during the panel discussions included how the diaspora should be defined, which groups (immigrants versus foreign-born Indians) should be engaged for support, and how the NRI engagement level can be increased via elections and national campaigns such as Clean Ganga.
Ambassador Singh focused on training youth living in India for jobs of the future. A Forbes report, citing the World Bank, stated earlier this year India’s working age population (age 15 to 64) is expected to increase by 125 million by 2025. The same report found 50 percent of India’s population is age 24 or younger and 12 percent of college graduates around the world will call India home.
India’s court system, local activist Inder Singh who also helped organize the event, said during another panel, is inefficient and NRIs struggle with property transfers in the motherland.
“There are several issues NRIs continue to face and they are unresolved. The justice system in India is very slow,” he said.
A business meet was held ahead of the Saturday evening gala. The Overseas Indian Facilitation Center (a joint venture involving MOIA, the Indian government and Confederation of Indian Industry) hosted an Indian Diaspora Business Meet to discuss digital markets, renewable energy, and social impact investment. The business meet aimed to foster NRI collaboration, engagement and investment in India.
The event kicked off with the attendees honoring the victims of the horrific Paris attacks with a minute’s silence. The Indian government Nov. 14 announced a new internship program for Indian Americans youths in India even as Anil K. Agarwal, Secretary in the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs, said the Indian diaspora is making a very important contribution to the India-U.S. relationship.
Noting that somewhere deep in the heart of the Indian Americans there is desire to make India a country of opportunities as is this country, he said, “We in Ministry ou task to provide you with a platform to fulfill this desire of yours.” At the event, Kali P. Chaudhuri, chairman and founder of the KPC Group of Companies, was presented with the NRI of the Year Award. Los Angeles is only the second U.S. city to host the Regional Pravasi Bharatiya Divas, after New York.
Previous venues for RPBD events were London, Sydney, Toronto, Singapore, Durban, Mauritius and The Hague. The Overseas Indian Facilitation Centre (OIFC) of the Confederation of Indian Industry also organised an Indian Diaspora Business Meet on the sidelines of the Regional Pravasi Bharatiya Divas. Officials from Andhra Pradesh, Haryana, Jharkhand and Kerala also participated in the business meet.