“The diaspora feels they have someone to look after them”
Interview with Mr Vayalar Ravi Minister for Overseas Indian Affairs
Mr Vayalar Ravi has been in charge of the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs since January 2006. Apart from the Prime Minister, he probably has had the longest stint among those in the Union Cabinet in any single Ministry run by the UPA Government. Vastly travelled and widely known, Mr Ravi’s forte has been his ability to make friends among both the newer generation of immigrants such as those in the Gulf, North America, Europe and the Asia Pacific as well as those who are from the older diaspora, such as the ones in Mauritius, Fiji, Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana, Suriname, the French West Indies, Malaysia, South Africa and Singapore. He’s presided over a Ministry that is still quite new and has the task of engaging with 25 million overseas Indians, scattered across over 140 countries. The job is tough as this heterogenous and diverse group has different aspirations from India. Mr Ravi has built several legacies that will serve the Ministry well in times to come. He spoke to Sayantan Chakravarty, India Empire’s Editor and Publisher, at his office on January 1, 2014.
You have completed more than eight years in this Ministry. It is a record for any cabinet minister in the UPA Government to hold any single Ministry for this long…
(Smiles…) Oh, that is quite interesting but I really do not make such calculations. But let me tell you that I’ve been given additional charge of other ministries. That is a fact.
What is that one single achievement that you’d like to highlight…
In one sentence, I’ve made the diaspora feel that there is a ministry to look after them. They now have faith in the Government of India. That is why they are regularly in touch with me. They feel the ministry is truly for overseas Indians.
Another one is that I gave them a sense of Indian identity by introducing the OCI cards. That you could say is one of the major initiatives, to give them an Indian identity. It is a success, the numbers would testify. Whenever OCI card holders need help, no matter which part of the world they are in, the ministry responds within 24 hours.
You’ve overseen a record number of PBDs. What are the significant takeaways from the event?
It provides overseas Indians an opportunity to get together. They can talk together. They can talk to the Government. They can discuss their aspirations, their expectations, ventilate their problems. One of the issues that I’ve been able to deal with strongly is that of unscrupulous agents who have cheated many people by luring them away to foreign lands, especially the Gulf. We first started our campaign against them by issuing advertisements. Personally I would warn people against the misleading agents at every meeting I attended, every platform I spoke, whether in India or overseas. I even threatened to prosecute them. Today I can safely say that the problem has come down drastically from a few years ago.