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The Rediff Interview/Ujjal Dosanjh
January 17, 2003
Ujjal Dosanjh, former premier of British Columbia, was one of the 10 distinguished Persons of Indian Origin to receive the Pravasi Samman Award. Honoured by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee on January 9, during the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas, the award commemorates individual excellence in various fields.
In an exclusive interview to Onkar Singh, Dosanjh, who still likes to think of himself as an Indian child, said he hoped the government would soon offer dual citizenship to NRIs and PIO with certain privileges.
What was your experience of the three-day Pravasi Bharatiya Divas?
This is the first time such an event has been held in India. Like many others, I had my apprehensions. I think it is a good step to bring in Indian experiences from many countries and learn from them.
I believe there is internal connection between the Indians and those living away from their homeland no matter where they are. This connection ought to be nurtured. It will strengthen those who are living outside. There is a mutual benefit for all of us if we help each other. No matter if you left India 500 years ago or a few years back, your heritage essentially remains very much Indian. We have yet to see what benefit will flow from this exchange of ideas.
Prime Minister Vajpayee has announced dual citizenship for the Indian Diaspora in certain countries. Is it really beneficial to you in any manner?
I think to make the exchange of ideas between people and particularly Pravasi Bharatiyas is always going to be a good thing. The world is increasingly becoming a smaller place more of a global village, hence it is good to reduce as many barriers as possible.
If dual citizenship removes certain barriers, whether notional, emotional or legal then it is a welcome step.
If dual citizenship make you accountable both in India as well as the country where you live in, would you take it?
I do not think that is going to be a condition when we are offered dual citizenship. What I understand is that it means you have certain rights. But you may not have the right to vote or stand for a public office. There are many models of dual citizenship. We have to wait and see what model the Government of India adopts for us. I do not want to get into the technicalities.
But this offer is limited to a handful of countries. The Gulf nations have been left out.
I wish the privilege had been extended to more countries. But this is not for me to decide. It is the Government of India that has to take a decision. By allowing people back and forth you can dispense with visa formalities because removal of this irritant would make our relations with our mother country better.
Did you notice any major shortcoming at this conference?
Frankly I am not an organiser and did not look at it from that point of view. Even if there were some shortcomings, it does not matter. What matters at the end of the day is that the collective achievements of the NRIs were celebrated by India.
What bothers Indians is how NRIs can come back and invest in India, how to make investment easier. This is a larger question that needs to be addressed and that is why there was focus on the Indian Diaspora, because they felt the Diaspora could assist the country in developing further.
Do you see NRIs investing in India?
Certainly, they would like to invest in their mother country. But the dollar would go where there is peace, prosperity and opportunity. Where there is skill and talent to be exploited and used.
India provides a somewhat unstable environment for investment. What prevents NRIs from making investments in India is the prevailing corruption at almost every level of administration. There are all kinds of barriers that do not help in running smooth businesses.
If you can remove those irritants that keep the NRI business community away, the development of India would be much faster and the growth of Indians living in villages would be fuller.
I feel sad whenever you say India is inflicted with corruption, Indians turn around and say other countries have corruption as well. They tell us Canada is corrupt, Japan is corrupt. The societies I am talking about are by and large free from corruption.
How did you feel when you were honoured at the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas?
I had mixed feelings. I was honoured but also felt guilty that instead of fighting these problems I ran away like a fugitive.
Did you ever dream you would become premier of British Columbia?
No, not at all. On the contrary I never thought I would enter politics one day. As luck would have it, I became premier of British Columbia. Now I try to spend more time with my family, trying to give them what I had taken away from them.
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