Indian Minister Muraleedharan Interacts with GOPIO and Community organization Representatives on Diaspora Issues

India’s Minister of State for External Affairs V. Muraleedharn speaking at the Reception/Dinner in his honor held in Stamford, CT.

(Stamford, CT. August 15, 2021) “I am here to listen to you and want to make sure your suggestions are heard and implemented,” said India’s Minister of State for External Affairs Shri V. Muraleedharan during a Reception and Interactive session with the Indian American Diaspora on October 12th at the Hampton Hotel and Suites in Stamford, Connecticut.

Stating that the Prime Minister of India, Shri Narendra Modi calls himself a sewak of every Indian, Muraleedharan said, “The role of the Ministry of External Affairs is to care for the Diaspora and my visit today is for the purpose of benefitting the Indian Diaspora,” he told the audience.

“India is fully democratic. Judiciary is independent. Media is free. There is no substance to claims that the media is controlled” by the government, declared Shri V. Muraleedharan, who was visiting the United States to address the United Nations.

V. Muraleedharan, who officially took charge as Minister of State for External Affairs and Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs in May 2019, took the opportunity to travel to Connecticut to “listen” directly to the Diaspora and address their concerns.

“I’ve been in charge of the External Affairs Ministry for the last 2 years and I was feeling that there is a need for interaction with the US Indian Diaspora. And this forum is a place where people have an opportunity to share their problems and concerns,” he told the audience. While assuring the community that he has listened to the concerns of the Diaspora, he will address each one of them and find an amicable solution.

The event was organized by the Global Organization of People of Indian Origin Connecticut Chapter (GOPIO CT) along with the New York Indian Consulate in cooperation with other Indian community groups in Connecticut. GOPIO International Chairman Dr. Thomas Abraham, chaired the meeting and extended a warm welcome to Minister Muraleedharan. In his welcome address, Dr. Abraham brough to the attention on some of the Diaspora issue to the minister and also on avenues of cooperation to promote India all over the world.

In his welcome remarks by Dr. Thomas Abraham said, “After the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs was merged with the External Affairs Ministry, Cabinet Minister Dr. S. Jaishankar and his associate Minister Shri Muraleedharan have been dealing with Diaspora affairs. Minister Muraleedharan, we are so pleased that you took some time off your busy schedule at the UN to join us and interact with us.”

Dr. Abraham provided a brief history of GOPIO International, which was formed at the First Global Convention of People of Indian Origin in 1989 in New York, which has now grown into a Pan-Indian community organization for NRIs and PIOs with over 100 chapters spread in 35 countries. “We at GOPIUO are a partner with Indian missions abroad to protect India’s interest around the world,’ said Dr. Abraham.

GOPIO Chairman Dr. Thomas Abraham speaking at the interactive meeting with Minister Muraleedharan

Drawing the attention of the Minister on some of the issues of the NRI/PIO community, Dr. Abraham said, “We campaigned for Dual Nationality and the govt. came up with PIO Card and later on with the OCI card. We asked for voting rights for Indian citizens living outside India. Although voting rights are given, there has been very little participation because of the requirements of physical voting in India. The Election Commission has recommended Proxy Voting, but not implemented yet.”

He urged the government of India to appoint at least two Members of Parliament in the Lok Sabha or Rajya Sabha, representing the 32 million people of Indian origin living outside India, more than half of them Indian citizens.

“We also suggest some initiatives through Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) for sending cultural troupes to PIO countries for India’s 75th Celebration next year,” Abraham added.

Dr. Abraham introduced India’s Deputy Consul General in New York Dr. Varun Jeph, whom he described as a medical professional who changed over to a diplomatic career. “Dr. Jeph has joined the mission only last month and has already reached out all community organizations,” said Dr. Abraham.

Dr. Jeph briefly spoke on the services provided by the Consulate and thanked all community organizations for coming together at a short notice to attend the program, Dr. Jeph then introduced the minister.

CT Assemblyman Harry Arora extended warm a welcome to Minister Muraleedharan to the Constitution State and said both US and India, world’s two largest democracies are still growing while many other countries are diminishing in their growth. He further said that there are great opportunities for the Indian Diaspora to help India.

Among others who attended the event included Consul for Community Affairs at the Indian Consulate Mr. A.K.Vijayakrishan; GOPIO-CT Executive Committee Members and Trustees; several community organizations from Connecticut including Milan Cultural Association President Suresh Sharma; Past President of the Federation of Indian Associations of New York, New Jersey and CT, Andy Bhatia; CT Tamil Sangam President Shivakumar Subramaniam and past president Uma Sekhar; CT Telugu Association Past President Rao Yelamachali who also represented the Satyanarayana Temple in Middletown, CT; Malayalee Association of Southern Connecticut (MASCON) President T.P. Sujanan; GOPIO Media Council Chair Nami Kaur; Sabinsa Corporation President Dr. Asha Ramesh; and former Provost and Vice President of Academic affairs of Sacred Heart University, Dr. Rupendra Paliwal.

Other issues raised during the meeting included, violence against Indians in South Africa; post pandemic issues of Indian workers in the Middle East; Challenges for NRIs to open and operate bank accounts in India and the cumbersome technical problems faced while submitting application for OCI Cards, removing travel restrictions to India for people of Indian origin who are citizens outside India and issues relating to OCI card holders doing business in India, but are treated as foreigners in some areas where changed government rules such as the Biodiversity Act are affecting them.

Another issue brought out was the banking regulations for the Indian diaspora living overseas. Most have properties in India and they need to pay for taxes & utilities. But American credit cards are not accepted for most of such payments. And opening up an NRI bank account in India is very difficult and tedious task. Minister Muraleedharan said that he would look into this issue.

Participants at the Interactive Session with Minister V. Muraleedharan

“The ministry of external affairs wants to offer opportunities for every Indian abroad the right to vote,” the Minister said. However, the practical aspect of this major issue has several challenges. Pointing to the fact that Indians are spread over more in almost all 193 countries and coordinating the efforts and ensuring that all those who are eligible are given the opportunity to vote has been a major challenge, while assuring the Diaspora that he will address the issue and follow with the concerned officials.

On Corona related travel restrictions, the Minister said, the situation is evolving. We want that every Indian should be given the opportunity to travel to India. However, it’s based on international civil aviation authority’s rules and that commercial flight operations have not started to the full yet. In order to attract foreign tourists to India, the Government has announced that the there will be no charges for visa for the first five lakh Visa applicants to India, Muraleedharan said.

On Press Freedom in India, the Minister categorically denied that Government is interfering with or “controlling” the media. “Allegations that the Indian media is controlled by the government doesn’t have any substance to it,” he said. Pointing to the fact that there are several media who are openly critical of the government, he asked the audience, “If the freedom for the media is restricted, how can the media be allowed to be critical of the Government? How could the media publish the stories of the bodies floating in the Ganges during the peak of the Pandemic, even though the situation is far from what was reported?” He described such allegations as totally fals and there is a need for the “management of perception.”

Responding to a question of NRIs not being allowed to own properties in India, he assured “you need not be worried” and said that he is not aware of any law in any state, including in the state of Andhra Pradesh that the properties of NRIs are going to be taken away by the state.

Muraleedharan said, the 75th anniversary of India’s Independence is “a celebration of Indians across the globe so I don’t think that you need to come to India to participate in that. All our Missions are organizing the events and I urge every Community organization to take the lead so that every Indian is involved in the celebration of the 75th year of India’s Independence,”

After listening to all questions and suggestions, Minister Muraleedharan said that he would address many of these issues. He suggested the audience to write him directly or to the mission. The program ended with a vote of thanks by GOPIO-CT Executive Vice President Prasad Chintalapudi.

Over the last 15 years, GOPIO-CT, a chapter of GOPIO International has become an active and dynamic organization hosting interactive sessions with policy makers and academicians, community events, youth mentoring and networking workshops, and working with other area organizations to help create a better future. GOPIO-CT – Global Organization of People of Indian Origin – serves as a non-partisan, secular, civic and community service organization – promoting awareness of Indian culture, customs and contributions of PIOs through community programs, forums, events and youth activities. It seeks to strengthen partnerships and create an ongoing dialogue with local communities.

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