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External Affairs Minister’s virtual interaction with the Indian Diaspora in Kenya (June 13, 2021)

June 15, 2021

High Commissioner: We are here for Virtual interaction with External Affairs Minister of India Dr. S. Jaishankar who is visiting Kenya for an official visit and a session of India Kenya Joint Commission. It’s huge privilege and honour for us to welcome Honourable Minister to Kenya. As you know this visit at the level of External Affairs Minister from India to Kenya is after a long gap of 10 years and that makes the visit even more special. Thank you so much for expressing your address in meeting Honourable Minister and since community outreach happens to be an important area of work for the High Commission we had been thinking of how best do you utilise the time that we have to have a meeting to enable you to meet and greet Honourable Minister, it is understandable that it hasn't been possible to have this meeting in a physical format, because the virus has not allowed us. And while we were preparing for this meeting, I would like to thank you for your understanding for helping us to organise this virtual meeting.The format of this interaction is very simple. I would invite Honourable Minister to make his brief initial remarks, then I would invite individually, some of the members of the Indian community and I would like to encourage you to come forward and explain to Honourable Minister about your activities, and your thoughts about the relationship that you have with India, about your activities and how we could work better together. So I would now like to invite Hon’ble Minister for his brief comments. Sir.

External Affairs Minister Dr. S. Jaishankar: Thank you, High Commissioner. Dear friends, my fellow Indians, Indians of Kenyan heritage, it's a pleasure to meet with all of you today. The pleasure, of course, would have been much greater had we met in person, but I'm sure you understand that because of the COVID situation, this was the more prudent way of doing the event. I'm really very pleased to be back in Nairobi, I was here the first time accompanying the Prime Minister, many of you would actually remember that event. Certainly I remember that event, especially the meeting he did with the community in the stadium and I've travelled quite extensively with him and certainly, that is one of the more memorable tours that we did. This time around I’m here because we are holding the third meeting of the Joint Commission with Kenya. I came in yesterday; I had a long meeting with my counterpart, Foreign Minister Raychelle Omamo discussing various foreign policy issues. Tomorrow, we would be holding the Joint Commission; I will be hopefully calling on His Excellency, the President. I'm also meeting a number of other ministers in our Roundtable, I would be also taking part in a function for the day with the renovation of the Mahatma Gandhi library, which was one of the commitments made when Prime Minister Modi was here and in fact, just now this afternoon, I completed a business event with the India Business Forum. But no visit is usually complete without a meeting with the community. And so I felt that this was important to do, particularly so in a country where I know that the community has a very high standing, that its contribution to the development of this country has been enormous. And I must say even in the way that I've been here, I've heard from a number of people on the Kenyan leadership, even the officials I have been dealing with, really what's been the contribution of the community. And I see it’s really quite something which I recognise and respect. It's not just that the Indian community and Kenyans of Indian heritage have been here for a long time. From what I understand, you run schools, you have been a place of worship, your charity work is something which again, I see people talking about.

So it's really very much a fact that you've been a very effective bridge in building a relationship between India and Kenya and I would really urge you very much to continue on that road because it is something which certainly, both governments value very much. Now, when you have a community of Indian origin, or we have a large number of Indians living in a country, it's natural that the High Commission also would give priority to the consular side of our relationship. I'm very happy that it is indeed the case, and High Commissioner that you have adjusted, you’ve been flexible in terms of meeting the demands of a COVID situation. I gather that a lot of flexibility has been introduced in terms of meetings and open houses and inquiries, how they are responded to and also I’m happy that some of the requirements of travel back to India for medical reasons are also being met as and been, of course, travel continues to remain possible.

The other regular issue that comes up with Indian communities abroad is, of course, the utilisation of fellowships, ICCR fellowships, ITEC fellowships, study in India programme and again, I see there's a lot of interest there and I will continue to encourage you in that direction. So, let me share with you also what is happening in India, because I think that is something which is of natural concern for all of you. You all know, we went through a very severe second wave of the COVID. In fact, we're still going through it but from the peak of where it was which was about a month ago, today if you take the number of new cases as a index, we are down to about 20% of what the peak was. I think the general sense, looking at the positivity rates coming down, the pressures on the hospital, I mean it is clearly now very much on the decline.There was no question that this was a very, very severe public health challenge to us. And I can share with you, as someone whose both part of the response and have observed other very aligned with the Kenyan government in pursuit of their development priorities and find ways by which our partnership is more meaningful. We have now started to think of our 75th anniversary of our independence, India at 75, and I thought I should also take the occasion to urge you all to participate more closely with it, the High Commission will be putting out a set of activities. And again, your participation, I think can make a big difference there. And of course, we are very close to the International Day of Yoga. So, there again, that is one activity where I think you are natural stakeholders and you have the ability to enthuse others in your society as well. So what I would like to do, High Commissioner, perhaps conclude at this point of time. I would like to listen to community representatives, hear their concerns, their interests and certainly if there are issues, requirements, I will be happy to respond.

High Commissioner: Thank you Sir for your opening remarks. The Indian origin community here would like to share with you that the community has been very forthcoming, very generous in joining hands with the High Commission here in promoting various India related activities and in the context of India at 75, we are going to come forward with a series of activities where we look forward to their continued support. Now, Sir, with your permission, I would like to invite some individual community leaders to make their comments. To start with, may I invite Mr. Kamal Gupta, the Chairman of Hindu Council of Kenya. Kamal Ji over to you.

Kamal Gupta: Remarks by Kamal Gupta

High Commissioner: Thank you Kamal Ji for your comments. Using this opportunity, I would like to inform Hon’ble Minister that the Hindu Council of India and also your various branches in various counties in Kenya have been very supportive to the High Commission when we go county to county organizing consular camps to serve the Indian communities in various counties and especially during this difficult COVID period.

External Affairs Minister Dr. S. Jaishankar: Kamal Ji, first of all good to see you and I would say to a community leader of your stature, please keep up your good work. And I am so glad that the 2016 visit is so fondly remembered. So now your two questions, what you expect from us and the dual citizenship issue. Look, what do we expect from today Kenyans of Indian heritage? We expect you to really be a bridge; you yourself used this term Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam. You know India has always had space in its heart, in its mind, in its thoughts for the whole world, which is why we have its extraordinary pluralism that we have in India, it's actually our unique characteristic. Now, when the people of Indian heritage go abroad and make a home for themselves and do well and contribute there, you actually define India in the minds of the society where you live in. So, your success, your achievements, your endeavours of various kinds, this is really what the average Kenyan would think of India. So in many ways, you're already doing what we expect of you. But by being true to your country while maintaining your heritage, that is the bridge with which you actually help create. And as we become more prominent in the world, today, we are the fifth or sixth largest economy by the end of the decade, we will be hopefully the third largest economy, you can already see in the world, India’s stature in many ways has grown, for most international discussions, we are there, we are shaping the agenda. People want to know what is India’s thought, what is India’s role, what is India's contribution. So such an India needs more understanding, more friends, and more partners. And that's exactly what where people of Indian origin who have gone abroad can make a difference. Now, I think we would also recognise the citizenship issue is not a new issue, there are complications. So, I think the Indian system with a great deal of thought arrived at what was a reasonable solution, where the desire to be attached to the land of your origin was recognised and the desire to be true to the land of your domicile and nationality was also respected. And that’s how the overseas OCI, earlier PIO and then the OCI schemes came about. I think at the moment, our effort would be to make those schemes, the OCI scheme work, it will keep little bit changing well, there will be new issues, things which we may not have foreseen 10 years ago, 20 years ago, and they will come up we'll want to make this work smoothly. So I would say that’s where, I would like to keep that focus.

High Commissioner: May I know what Mugdha Patankatji, General Secretary Maharashtra Mandal. Mugdha Ji.

Mugdha Patankatji: Remarks by Mugdha Patankatji

External Affairs Minister Dr. S. Jaishankar: I hear your question with a lot of sympathy and understanding because alphonso I would have guaranteed anyway but this time in fact I just had lunch today and my salad had the avocado here and I can go back and tell people really Kenyan avocados have a class of its own.

Mohammad Ali: Remarks by Mohammad Ali

External Affairs Minister Dr. S. Jaishankar: I think, Mr. Mohammad Ali, perhaps the High Commissioner may want to make a comment before I do.

High Commissioner: To begin with Mr. Mohammad Ali, thank you so much for your comments. Using this opportunity, I would like to inform Honourable Minister that the Bohra community in Kenya have been standing with us, the High Commission at all times. And thank you so much for your active participation in all India related activities. As you know and we are had conversations in the past, The High Commission deals with the Indian origin community, and it has been a tradition of the High Commission to interact and deal with the various communities representing India. And in this context, we have been interacting with you, working together with you,we have been working together with the Hindu Council of Kenya, we have been working together with various other Indian origin communities.Your suggestion of having a larger umbrella India origin organisation, your suggestion to Honourable Minister to react to it, but it has served us well, it has served the High Commission very well, it has served the individual communities representing India very well, the format that we have been using so far. Thank you for your suggestion and I would request Honourable Minister to kindly react to this.

External Affairs Minister Dr. S. Jaishankar: Thank you. You know, Mr. Mohammad Ali, from the time I came here, I've heard only good words about the community from everybody I met. And when a community is held in high standing, I think the community should be capable of organising itself, to represent its interests in the best possible manner. It has done so for many years because otherwise it wouldn't be the case that the Indian origin communities held in the kind of respect and esteem in which it has. So it appears that the past record has a lot to speak for itself, and I don't know, I'm just a person who's been here 48 hours. All I would say is I'm very confident that the kind of concerns you have raised will be debated and discussed within the community, I'm fully assured that you will find all of you together, the best possible way of articulating your interests and contributing to the prosperity and progress of Kenya. So I leave all of this in the good hands of all the people I see in the screen in front of me.

High Commissioner: Thank you, sir. May I invite Mrs. Sujata Raju representing the Telugu Cultural Association. Sujata Ji.

Sujata Raju: Remarks by Mrs. Sujata Raju

External Affairs Minister Dr. S. Jaishankar: Sujata Ji, where vaccines are concerned, India is one of the major producers of the vaccines. We have made some commitments to the COVAX initiative. The vaccine producer in India had made commitments to the COVAX initiative and much of the vaccines which came to Kenya came either through the COVAX initiative or through a bilateral supply which Government of India gave. Now, that was done at a time when before the second wave when our own numbers were quite low. In fact, if you look at the new cases number in the month of February, the new cases number was as low as 10,000 a day. Now, in the course of the next few weeks, you saw the second wave, the second wave was very much bigger than anybody had modelled for, had anticipated and it actually went up more than 40 times from 10,000 cases a day to 400,000 cases a day. So, it is natural that when you have this kind of intensity of second wave, that you will focus on addressing that as the first priority. And so, today, what we have done is we have stepped up the vaccination programme in India and we know that the world understands, this is today, where the main problem is. After all the largest number of cases even today in the world are coming out of India. So, as the vaccination programme in India progresses, and we are very confident that we will be, we also have some production issues, that there are new vaccines, which are coming on screen, some of them are going to be produced in the next few weeks, still newer ones are going through the trials, once they are approved, they will also be produced. So, the situation will be very different in the coming weeks and months where there'll be more vaccines, increased production number, I think we'll have to revisit the issue, but right now, I think the world should understand that given the intensity of the second wave, the size of the second wave, it is natural that is where the Indian focus is going to be.

On your issue of scholarships, we would certainly encourage that, it is something I expect to discuss tomorrow, that what do we do so that we have more exchanges between India and Kenya. On an average, we do 400 plus scholarships, which are offered to Kenya, certainly given the closeness of our relations and the importance of these exchanges that number could reasonably increase. So I note your interest. To my mind, exchanges are the best investment that anybody can make. So, I certainly will see that as a priority. What you said about the film industry, I will pass it along, but you know at the end of the day film is very much industry driven activity. The government can pass the word, it can encourage. Often, there are countries which give incentives to bring in the film industry. But it's not something which is a direct remit of the government. So, beyond encouragement, there is limits to what we can do. And finally on the health and medical side, absolutely, I think what impact of COVID has been it has made the health sector very prominent in everybody's thinking and we will be discussing it. There is already a lot of talk about how we can improve on the model where many people; many Kenyans have to go to India for treatment. Are there better ways; are there more cost effective ways, more convenient ways of doing it? That's something which is very much on our mind.

High Commissioner: Thank you, sir. May I now invite Mr. Naveen Bhai Shah representing Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh, Kenya. Mr. Shah please.

Naveen Bhai Shah: Remarks by Naveen Bhai Shah.

External Affairs Minister Dr. S. Jaishankar: Thank you. First of all, let me say I listened with great attention and a lot of respect to all the contributions that you and your organizations are making for young people, for students, for tree planting or on bore wells. All that you said, I think this is a very, very heart-warming story and I'm so glad, this is exactly the kind of activities which give Indian origin community, a good name in the societies where they are. Regarding the two specific points which you made, one, I would say this, we are always open to engaging with pravasis to discuss how best to project our culture, how to nurture it, foster it, take it forward. In fact, we are not just open we actually encourage it. And, as part of the Pravasi Bhartiya Divas activities which often take place between biannual meetings, we hold focused meetings in different areas. I will certainly note your point, when we do the culture focus sessions, I will make sure that our people get in touch with you through the High Commission and any inputs you can give us would be welcome, and I will also bring this to the attention of ICCR, they are headed by a very able and dynamic president, Dr. Vinay Sahasrabuddhe. So, I will tell him that there are ways by which ICCR could benefit by closer interaction and drawing inputs from the community. Regarding what was sent from Kenya during the second wave of the COVID. Look let me say this, the entire international community across the world responded to what happened in India, they did so, because, on the one hand, people recognise this was something very intense, very serious. On the other hand, there's a very good feeling for India, there's a lot of affection for India, for its people. People saw India had also done things for the world. So, to me, when someone feels for you, everybody expresses it in their own way.I take the feeling. For me, it was an expression of affection or of sentiment I value it. I can tell you, I value it. I know my government values it and I'm very confident my people value it. I have had occasions where actually, Foreign Ministers have called me up and said, look, we don't have anything practical to do we just want to call you up and tell you we feel free for you. I value that also. So please be assured that whatever concern there was in Kenya, whatever manner Kenya wanted to express its friendship and his affection for India, the people in India fully understand that. So take that from me.

High Commissioner: Thank you sir. I would like to invite Dr. Prakash Kheda, well known orthopaedic surgeon present here in Nairobi who is also Pravasi Bharatiya awardee. Dr. Kheda, over to you.

Dr. Prakash Kheda: Remarks by Dr. Prakash Kheda.

External Affairs Minister Dr. S. Jaishankar: Thank you Dr. Prakash Kheda Ji. "Aapki jo raaye thee, aapki soch jo thee, maine bahut seriously liya hai. Par main aapako yeh bataana chaahunga ki ham Africa ke saath ek partnership chaahte hain taaki unko bhee lage ki yeh bhagidari hai. Unki jo priorities hain uske anusaar hamein in rishto ko aage le jaana hai aur pichhle saalon mein ham kaafi pragati kar chuke hain. Ismein agar aap dekhen to Africa ke poore continent mein abhi kahoonga ki kareeb 37 deshon mein hamare project chal rahe hain. Abhi ham logon ne 5 saal- 6 saal pehle unko aashvaasan diya tha ki ham 50000 schholarship chalaenge. Abhi tak usmein 40,000 tak de chuke hain aur log aa bhee chuke hain. To ye jo hai, unke hit, unki soch, unke anubhav ko sab maante hue usko kaise aage le jayein, ye hamaari koshish hai. Jo aapne kaha bilkul maanta hoon aur mujhe lagta hai ki jo yahaan jo Bhaarteey mool ke log jo hain, hamari yahaan jo kaum hai, vo humare message ko ek kism se amplify kar paegee aur mujhe poora vishwas hai ki aap bhee usmein saath denge. (Answered in Hindi; Approximate Translation) Thank you Dr. Prakash Kheda. Whatever your opinion was, and your thinking, I have taken it very seriously. But let me tell you that we want a partnership with Africa so that they also feel that it is a partnership. According to their priorities, we have to take these relationships forward and we have made a lot of progress in the last years. If you look at this, in the entire continent of Africa, I would say right now that we have projects going on in about 37 countries. Now we had assured them 5 years - 6 years ago that we will run 50000 scholarships. So far 40,000 have been granted and people have already come. It is our effort to take in to consideration their wellbeing, their thoughts, and their experience and take things forward. I absolutely believe what you said and I think that the people of Indian origin, who are here, our community here, will be able to amplify our message in a way and I am sure that you will also support it.”

High Commissioner: Thank you sir. Now I would like to invite Abhishek Rana who is secretary of Africa Hindi Samiti, and who is doing promotion of Hindi.

Abhishek: Remarks by Abhishek,

External Affairs Minister Dr. S. Jaishankar: "Ek to main kahoonga ki uchchaayukt se maine samiti ke bare mein prashansa hi sunee hai to mujhe pata hai ki aap log bahut achchha kaam kar rahe hain aur mujhe yah bhee jaanakaari mili hai Covid ke kaaran abhee kuchh beech mein kuchh rukaavatein hain, par poora vishvaas hai ki Covid ke bad jo kaam aap kar rahe hain usko aap aage le jaenge. Jo is kshetr ke bare mein, hamen jo khaasakar world Hindi secretariat ke saath milkar jo kaam karana hai, jo aapake sujhaav hain, main jaroor unke saath mujhe ek baar baat karne deejie aur ismein ICCR ka bhi yogdaan hota hai. Veh ham sab ek kism se milkar hamari team hai, aur ham mil jul kar kaam karate hain. Jo aapake sujhaav jo hain main bilkul unko mann mein rakhoonga aur mujhe vaapas jaane deejie aur ham log is ko aage badhaane ki koshish karenge. (Answered in Hindi; Approximate Translation) On one hand, I would say that I have only heard praise from the High Commissioner about the committee, so I know that you guys are doing a great job and I have also come to know that there has been some interruption due to Covid. But I have full faith that you will take forward the work you are doing, after Covid. Whatever work we have to do in this area, especially is with the World Hindi Secretariat, whatever your suggestions are, I must say, let me talk with them once and ICCR also contributes in this. We have our team consisting of all of us in a way, and we all work together. Whatever your suggestions are, I will absolutely keep them in mind and let me go back and we will try to take this forward.”

High Commissioner: Thank you, sir. Before we conclude, I would like to say that the various comments that we heard today from the Indian diaspora, it shows the warmth and the instinctive admiration that the diaspora has for India and India-Kenya relations and our work together with the High Commission and the community has my assurance that this tradition of our close relationship will be carried forward to make it even more closer together. With these words, I would like to thank Honourable Minister.

External Affairs Minister Dr. S. Jaishankar: No, I just like to end with one message which is India at 75 is coming up. So I have every confidence as I said in my initial remarks that you know, India at 75 will be a success in Kenya if the entire Indian community enthusiastically embraces it and works with a very strong partnership.

High Commissioner: Thank you so much, Sir, for giving us this huge privilege and honour to have this very productive conversation with the Indian diaspora. And thank you for your guidance.

External Affairs Minister Dr. S. Jaishankar: Thank you.

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