Welcome Speech

 

 Sunil Prasad

 

President, GOPIO Belgium

 

to the  GOPIO Conference on

 NRI/PIO Business Networking for Trade and Investment and Contribution of Indian Diaspora in Europe

  4 October 2004, Brussels (Belgium)

 

 

Honourable Minister for Overseas Indian Affairs Mr. Jagdish Tytler, His Excellency Ambassador Abhyankar, MEPs Ms. Neena Gill, Dr. Charles Tannock, GOPIO Chairman Dr. Abraham, President Mr. Inder Singh, Excellencies from various Missions and distinguished guests.  

It is my proud privilege to extend you all a warm welcome.  We are honoured to-day with the presence of the Mr.   Jagdish Tytler in our midst.  Tytlerji you have many achievements to your credit but assuming the Ministerial responsibility of the first ever created exclusive Ministry for Overseas Indian Affairs, we believe is a tribute to your experience and your capacity to take up new challenges. A dynamic leader that you are, we have no doubt that you will successfully establish a deeper understanding of the vision and aspirations of the Indian Diaspora. GOPIO will extend you full co-operation.  Sir, Belgium is not amongst the 16 countries whose Indian Diaspora can avail the dual nationality and I would urge upon the Indian government to take up this issue with the Belgium Government. 

I would also like to take this opportunity to express my deep gratitude to the Government of India and particularly to His Excellency Abhyankar for his support and co-operation in organizing this event.  

I specially welcome MEPs  Ms. Neena Gill, Dr. Charles Tannock and Mr. Nirj Deva.  They have been doing a yeomen service to promote understanding between India and Europe in the parliament. They are our voice, they are our representatives. We owe our special tribute to Nirj  because it is he who inspired us to organize a conference on the theme of Business Networking. Thank you Nirj.

 

Participants here are successful business and community leaders in their own rights. They make India and their home countries proud of their achievements. Never before the Indian diamond community associated itself with any activity of such nature and today I warmly welcome Mr. Bharat  Shah, Member of the Board of the Indo-Belge Diamantaires Association and the shining diamond delegation from Antwerp. Their participation and sponsorship opens a new chapter for deepening our partnership with them.

 

I would like to take this opportunity to welcome and thank GOPIO Chairman Dr. Thomas Abraham and President Mr. Inder Singh for their intense interest in GOPIO Belgium. To all GOPIO International leaders I would like to welcome and salute them with my tribute: This is our moment of pride and you are the source and secret of our strength. Your presence we consider is the most precious birthday gift for us. We celebrated our second birthday only two days ago.  I also welcome the journalists and Media groups who are here in great numbers particularly from the O.H.M. from The Netherlands.

  

Ladies and gentlemen, today GOPIO is not just a celebrated organization, this event is a celebration of itself. I would like to express my deep appreciation and sincere thanks to the Members of GOPIO and its Executive Committee for their personal support to me in carrying out my responsibilities. They have given me strength, courage and wisdom and they have shared the responsibility; equally but differently. Believe me, my only contribution in organizing this event, has been to lead and translate the unified collective directive of our organization into an effective institutional framework. The credit of GOPIO’s achievements therefore goes to them and them alone.

 

I welcome and thank the sponsors of the Conference particularly sponsorship from our own members as it is their support that has helped us to organize this event.  

 

Friends, from Malta to Mexico, Nigeria to New Zealand and Thailand to Trinidad although the Indian Diaspora live under 110 different national flags, their dreams are one, their visions are similar and their aspirations are identical  - to achieve excellence in social, cultural, academic, economic and political lives.

 

During the last three decades, this community has emerged as a dynamic factor, changing India's image and steering a dynamic shift to India’s advantage in the world affairs.  In order to exert greater influence and power, what Indian Diaspora also need is political cohesion among them through social, cultural and business network.

 

Shri Tytlerji, however, I would like to point out that the 22 million Indian Diaspora must not be seen only as a source of potential economic benefit. The rise and success of this community in their “home” countries is as important as the success of Indians in India.  Their success is our success, their achievement is our pride.  In order to create everlasting relationship with them what India should aim is to establish better connectivity with a common foundation of mutual identity and strategic transformation of intellectual capital between them.

 

This Conference is about institutionalizing a body to enhance trade and commerce between Europe and India, it is about our strategic role in Europe, it is about raising the profile of the Indian community, it is about economics and politics, it is about learning and emulating the successful political and entrepreneurship skills of the Indian Americans, it is about our pride and prejudice, it is about our hope and despair, it is about our role and responsibilities, it is about our strength and weakness, it is about our rights and privileges, it is about our image and it is also about establishing Indian heritage in the European economic and political space.

Ladies and gentlemen, with more than 225 participants from 24 countries this truly is an international event of global importance.  Since printing our list of participants, 12 more have joined us. Tytlerji, if you permit, I would say that this event is a mini Pravasi Bharatiya Divas in Europe.

History will be created this afternoon with the launching of the Europe-India Chamber of Commerce. Three eminent Indian and European industrialists Dr. Ajit Shetty, who is undoubtedly the most successful Indian Industrialist in this country, Mr. Sanjay Dalmia, Chairman of the Dalmia Group of Companies in India and Mr. Karan Bilimoria, the young and the pioneering industrialist of UK will jointly launch this Chamber. The Chamber which will closely work with the European Commission, will cater to the long standing need for an institutionalized body to promote trade and commerce between India and Europe.  The Constitution and structure of the Chamber will take into account the emerging trade and commerce policies of the Commission and will work in tandem with the Government of India.

Efforts  were made in the 70s and 90s to launch such a body but due to several factors and more particularly because of the  absence of effective interest and seriousness, the efforts did not see the light of the day. But to-day, this Chamber is no longer a dream, it is a reality. In the coming months, the GOPIO will host a meeting of all those Chambers of Commerce in the EU countries doing business with India to follow it up. Indeed, we shall seek co-operation from the Embassy of India. The success of this Chamber will depend upon the transparency of its functioning, your active participation and your support.   

Let me say that by assembling here to day, we are observing not only a celebration of the aspirations of the Indian Diaspora, but also a symbol of the beginning of a new relationship between India, Indian Diaspora and the European Union.  

GOPIO welcomes the EU-India engagement and stronger economic co-operation. We would like to assure the European Union that three million Indian Diaspora in Europe will continue to contribute to the economic prosperity of Europe and in strengthening the EU-India relations. This is our pledge to Europe. We hope that the Europe-India Summit next week will be another milestone in India’s strategic relations with Europe.

 

Friends, in welcoming you I would like to take this opportunity to touch upon one of the core objectives of this Conference. Enough has been said and written about why China gets far more investment than India and I do not wish to dwell upon those factors.

 

May be to the surprise of many, I would like to say that I take a positive view of this. The more I read and the more I learn about Chinese economic impact on India and Indian industries, the more I am struck by the sense of growing   nationalism as we are asking ourselves: "Why can’t we have the Chinese miracle in India? Why can't we have the same degree of success?  We have the drive, we have the know-how and we have the will to do so."  

 

Therefore I thank China for outsourcing its strength to India and creating this, shall I say, a small fire, within us.   However, we are also not far behind. Growth in India has only started but the country's brainpower is already reshaping corporate world.   

 

Those who have watched the CNN global debate live telecast from New Delhi three weeks ago about business process outsourcing, must have noticed how India is shaping itself the as the global business powerhouse. Just think what CNN or the BBC has got to do with this?  The fact is that India has started playing its global role and no one can afford to ignore India. The speed at which the global business environment is being influenced by India is just amazing.  The International media therefore were quick enough to realize this dynamic shift.   

In the context of trade and investment, it is true that there is an impression in the minds of investors that India’s administrative machinery is weak and corrupt and that India still has many infrastructural problems compounded with a lack of commitment to focus on attracting investment.  

This impression must change. The Indian community abroad has the intellectual, political and economic potentials to bring this change; all that requires is a proper co-ordination of their strength and resources. Let us realize our power. Let us realize our strength.

This Conference therefore, I believe, offers us an opportunity to change this mindset.  One Conference is not enough. This is the beginning of our mission and GOPIO is determined to continue it and I confess, we have miles to go before we can rest.  GOPIO is an organization with commitment and we believe in the future. We believe that 21st century is India’s century.  Tytlerji, we offer our experience and expertise and we seek your co-operation and support to realize this dream. In the race to become a global power, together we can win a Marathon, together we can make India a global political and economic entity and together only we can make a difference.

The World Economic Forum has asked us if we could become partner in their ongoing co-operation with India.  Ms. Collete Mathur who is currently in India two days  met the Indian Prime Minister Dr. Man Mohan Singh has informed him about this Conference. We have Ms. Gunveena representing the WEF in this event and I take this opportunity to convey to the WEF that we shall work with them.

Tytlerji, each Pravasi Bharatiya Divas is a manifestation of the aspirations of the Indian Diaspora. This Divas by the Pravasi, to the Pravasi and for the Pravasi must address global Diasporic issues but sadly there seem to be an element of misplaced approach to the basic framework of connecting with the Diaspora. Sir, in the service of the Diaspora ours is the only global organization which has stood the test of time and we refuse to be ignored.    

It would not be out of place if I mention that in the pursuit to become economic powerhouse, India as a nation needs to become a brand name which is something missing from the Indian psyche. When one talks of information technology, the attention of the world is directed to Bangalore, Hyderabad, Bombay. Why?  Simply because these cities and its IT industries have made a brand name for themselves.

 

A restaurant outside India offering Indian cuisine whether it is owned by an Indian, a European, a Pakistani, a Bangaldeshi or even a Sri Lankan is only called the Indian Restaurant and that is the importance of the brand name. You may wish to create hundreds of thousands of Taj Mahal, whether it is in the name of a hotel or resort, or restaurant or travel agency, nothing can over shadow the Taj Mahal and that is how she is the brand name for India.  

 

If to-day, we have more than 225 business and community leaders from all parts of globe, it is not because of Sunil, not because of Thomas, not because of Inder but because of the brand name that is called GOPIO, GOPIO.

 

Ladies and gentlemen, I once again welcome you all. Your day is packed with brain storming sessions and I do hope that you will find the content and the context of the conference useful. Tytlerji, we thank you so much once again for being able to be with us.  Friends, before I conclude, I would like to quote the French scholar Romain Rolland who once said: “If there is one place on the face of the earth where all dreams of living men have found a home from the very earliest days when man began the dream of existence, it is India”.

 

Thank you very much.

 

4th October 2004 

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