I'm just a call away for overseas Indians: Vayalar Ravi
Minister for Overseas Indian Affairs Minister Vayalar Ravi Sunday urged the 1.75 million Indians in the UAE to go in large numbers to the upcoming Pravasi Bharatiya Divas at Kochi and said he was just a just call away for expatriate Indians.
"I am here to personally invite you to the function I am organising as a minister -- the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas in Kochi in January," Vayalar Ravi said late Sunday, addressing the members of the Indian Association at Sharjah.
"Since we are holding it in Kerala this time, it will be cheaper for you to attend. You can also go home to your family," Vayalar Ravi said in Malayalam, during a reception in his honour.
Malayalis form a large chunk of the 1.75 million Indians in the UAE. For the first time the annual Pravasi Bharatiya Divas -- India's annual event to connect with its 30 million diaspora in 130 countries -- will be held in Kerala, from Jan 7 to 9.
"The whole of Jan 7th has been set aside to discuss issues pertaining to Indians in the Gulf counties. The importance this time is toward the Gulf. That is why Kerala has been chosen. You can decide and set your own agenda," said Ravi, himself from Kerala.
The minister said the plan was to hold a mini-Pravasi Bharatiya Divas, which is always scheduled outside the country, in one of the Gulf nations. But later it was shifted to Mauritius last month. "It can be arranged in the Gulf next year."
Minister Ravi repeatedly stressed he was very approachable and any member of the Indian diaspora could just pick up the phone and call him in case of any problem.
"I've given you the liberty to give me a phone call if you have a problem. We'll try and find a way out, keep you informed of action taken. I am a person who picks up the phone. I have a notebook to note down your problems at office and at home," he said.
"I want to assure you there is a person in the Indian government to hear your problems, a friend. There is no difference between you and me. Only I didn't come here for a job," he added to much applause.
The minister said the billions of dollars in remittances sent by Indians in the Gulf had a role to play in Kerala's development and in India's development and said this simple act of sending money back to one's family was a "patriotic" one.
"Kerala is cited as an example, whether it is high education or low poverty levels. One of the factors is the money you send. That is equivalent to showing your love for the country. You send money to your family, but finally it goes to the country," he said.
The minister said he had personally ensured on several occasions that the interests of Indians in the Gulf are protected. "There was talk of taxing Gulf Indians. But we didn't agree and the government didn't go ahead with the move."
The minister is on a six-day whirlwind visit to the Gulf nations. He started with Kuwait Saturday and is scheduled to visit Abu Dhabi, Oman and Saudi Arabia as well.
(Malavika Vettath can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)