From GOPIO Founding President and Chairman Emeritus
The Evolution of First Global Convention of People of Indian Origin and Formation of the Global Organization of People of Indian Origin (GOPIO)
(From the article which appeared in the souvenir brochure of the First Convention released on August 27, 1989 as well as from later convention and organizational reports)
By Dr. Thomas Abraham
Convener, First Global Convention of People of Indian Origin; Chairman of the Steering Committee; President and later Chairman, Global Organization of People of Indian Origin (GOPIO)
The first Global convention of people of Indian origin held from August 27th to September 3, 1989 at the Sheraton Centre Hotel in New York City was a historic event for people of Indian origin and India. Organized and sponsored by the National Federation of Indian American Associations (NFIA), an umbrella organization for over 300 Indian groups in the U.S, the convention was the first of its kind for people of Indian origin all over the world.
With millions of people of Indian origin outside India, a new global community of people of Indian origin has evolved. Most of these Indians have become highly successful in business and other professions. If our professional expertise and financial resources are pooled together, it will benefit not only overseas Indians but also their countries of residence and our motherland, India. In addition, overseas Indians can assume a new role in providing appropriate assistance at times of crisis to any of their communities around the world.
The first convention focused on the experiences of the International Indian communities and provided a common forum to foster harmony and a feeling of fellowship among the people of Indian origin. It also identified and discussed the problems faced by the overseas Indian communities, resulting the passage of twenty three resolutions. Other objectives of the convention were to:
Inspire people of Indian origin to play a vital role in the social, cultural and political processes of the countries of their residence;
Compile a history of Indian communities settled in different parts of the world;
Develop a mechanism for closer ties between India and people of Indian origin;
Open up a dialogue with appropriate governmental and non-governmental agencies;
Develop a mechanism for regular exchange of ideas about problems and issues of Indian communities in different parts of the world;
Make an assessment of India's developmental activities and the role overseas Indians could play;
Develop a resource guide for people of Indian origin and develop an overseas Indian think tank.
These and other issues discussed at the first convention and decisions made had proven to have profound impact for overseas Indians, vis-a-vis India.
The idea for this convention was initiated by the NFIA since the group had organized several national conventions in the U.S. After successfully organizing two national conventions in 1980 and 1982, we felt the need to reach out to our communities in other parts of the world. Thanks to revolutionary telecommunications technology, this desire became more of a realistic dream.
In 1984, I requested my colleague Mr. Niraj Baxi who was NFIA's Regional Vice-President at that time to meet the Indian community representatives in Philippines and Malaysia during his visit to those countries. Mr. Baxi's meetings with these groups were quite fruitful. The concept of networking with community representatives evolved further when a West German Indian group contacted NFIA in early 1987 for some specific help in organizing their group in West Germany.
Subsequently, I as a NFIA President at that time sent a Michigan Indian community activist Mr. Shrikumar Poddar to some of the European countries to share the idea of networking between Indian groups as well as the proposal to organize an Overseas Indian convention. The highly enthusiastic responses resulted in an NFIA meeting in Orlando (Florida) in December 1987 attended by representatives of all the major national organizations. The member organizations unanimously decided to explore the convention proposal further. Subsequently, three other brainstorming sessions were held, at Nashville (Tennessee), New York and Cleveland (Ohio).
The proposal to host the convention, was presented to the NFIA Board which unanimously endorsed it and was then presented to the NFIA General Body on July 3, 1988. The responsibility to host the convention was given to the committee consisting of:
Dr. Thomas Abraham, Convener;
Ms. Sudha Acharya, Executive Secretary;
Mr. Dhiraj Solanki, Treasurer;
Mr. Sureshwar Prasad Singh, Chairman, Finance Committee; and
Mr. Sharad Mehta, Chairman, Community Outreach Committee;
Following NFIA officials were ex-officio members of the convention committee:
Mr. Bharat Bhargava, Chairman
Mr. Inder Singh, President
Mr. Prakash Parekh, Secretary
Ms. Rajul Prakash Shah, Regional VP, Mid-Atlantic Region
The response to the proposal was so impressive that over forty people promised to become Founding Members by contributing $1,000 each. The convention effort was thus set into motion.
On October 22, 1988 over 80 people from the East Coast of United States attended a day long meeting at Baruch College of City University, New York at which five proposed conferences were discussed in greater details. Various committees were proposed to conduct the activities of the convention. The committee was expanded further in November 1988 and all the suggestions from the October meeting were incorporated in the proposal. We were now ready to reach out to the Indian communities around the world with a tentative proposal.
From November 23rd to 30th, two delegations visited following countries:
European delegation consisting of Mr. Ram Gadhavi and I visited England, Belgium, France, Holland, West Germany and Switzerland.
Caribbean delegation consisting of Ms. Sudha Acharya, Mr. Dhiraj Solanki, Mr. Bal Naipaul, Mr. Ramesh Kalicharan and Mr. Ravi Dev visited Trinidad, Guyana and Barbados.
These delegations did the ground work to organize two regional meetings; one in London and the other in Port-of-Spain before the global convention.
Many convention representatives also travelled to several other countries:
Dr. Jagat Motwani, Mr. Sharad Mehta and Mr. Niraj Baxi covered Far East and India. Mr. Shrikumar Poddar organized several meetings in India including a three day meeting in Panaval near Bombay. Mr. Bal Naipal and I covered the East coast of Canada while Mr. Inder Singh and Mr. Harish Panchal covered the West Coast of Canada. Mr. Harsh Bhargava met the community representative in Mexico, Spain and Portugal. Mr. Nayan Shah covered South Africa.
A big promotion was done in various cities in India by Dr. Jagat Motwani and me. These meetings resulted in three preparatory regional conferences:
Trinidad meeting in March 1989 coordinated by Mr. Ravi Maharaj;
London meeting in May 1989 coordinated by Mr. Sinna Mani and Mr. J.S. Sachar; and
New Delhi meeting in July 1989 coordinated by Harish Mahajan, President of Indo-NRI Chamber of Commerce and Culture.
All these meetings were very helpful in focusing the conference agenda and the convention activities.
In May 1989, Prime Minister Gandhi agreed to become the Honorary Patron of this convention. The convention team consisted of Dr. Thomas Abraham as Convener; Ms. Sudha Acharya as Co-Convener and Executive Secretary; Mr. Dhiraj Solanki as Co-Convener and Treasurer; Mr. Ram Gadhavi, Dr. Jagat Motwani and Mr. Sureshwar Prasad Singh as Co-Conveners.
The convention provided an opportunity for sharing the experience of international Indian communities on a common platform and to help foster a feeling of "Indianness” and fellowship among the PIOs. Attended by over 3000 delegates, including such stalwarts of the overseas Indian community as Dr. Cheddy Jagan of Guyana, Basdeo Panday of Trinidad and Tobago, Mr. Jairam Reddy and Mr. Mahendra Chaudhry of Fiji and Minister Thondaman of Sri Lanka, as well as Minister Madhavrao Scindia of India representing the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, the convention discussed and identified issues facing the PIOs. It also provided necessary forum at the international level to voice their concerns. For the first time, a book on Migration of Indians Around the World, edited by Dr. Jagat Motwani and Dr. Jyoti Barot, was published and released at the convention. The delegates adopted twenty three resolutions pertaining to various issues and concerns of the global community.
The U.S, Postal Service honored the convention with two First Day Covers which were cancelled at the convention venue. At the conclusion of the convention, the Global Organization of People of Indian Origin (GOPIO) was formed starting with a Steering Committee headed by Dr. Thomas Abraham and Mr. Dwarkesh Shah as Secretary General.
GOPIO’s initial mission was established to network the global Indian community and to monitor and address the interests and concerns of overseas Indians, both people of Indian Origin (PIOs) and Non-Resident Indians (NRIs). The major issue of concern at that time was human rights violations, in Fiji, Guyana, Trinidad, South Africa, Sri Lanka, and the United Kingdom and even in the U.S.A (the “Dot Buster” issue). GOPIO filed petitions at the U.N. and made concerted efforts to fight for issues pertaining to human rights violations. Since then, PIO dominated parties were elected to power in Fiji, Guyana and Trinidad. Several PIOs became ministers in Malaysia, South Africa and Canada at state or federal level. However, the human rights violations continued to be issues of concern for several PIO communities, and GOPIO continued to actively monitor them and act as the advocacy organization for the Indian Diaspora.
One of the biggest achievements of the First Global Indian Convention was adoption of several important resolutions including Permanent Resident Card (PIO Card) for Indian origin people living outside India, Dual Citizenship and Voting Rights for Indian Citizens living outside India. In the later years, Govt. of India implemented these resolutions.
From 1990 to 1992, GOPIO filed petition to the U.N. on human rights violation of Indians in Fiji and Sri Lanka. The second European Conference of Indians was held in Stuttgart in May 1991.
Following the first convention and formation of GOPIO, a constitution was officially adopted at the Second Global Convention of People of Indian Origin in December 1993 in New Delhi. An updated book, Global Indian Diaspora: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow, edited by Dr. Jagat Motwani, Dr. Mahine Gosine and Dr. Jyoti Barot, was released at this convention. The book covered history of migration of Indians to over thirty countries and their current status perspectives in those countries. With the adoption of a constitution, new elections were held where Mr. Ram Lakhina was elected as the Chairman and Dr. Thomas Abraham was elected as the President.
From 1994 to 1999, GOPIO was struggling to define its objectives. Since the issue of being outside the political mainstream in several countries was no more a major issue, GOPIO was attempting to narrow down its objectives and mission in a new global society. Since India also took major steps to liberalize its own economy, GOPIO also defined its goal to mobilize the resources (both professional and financial) of the Indian Diaspora for the benefit NRIs/PIOs, the countries they come from and India. This was the rallying point in the later part of the 1990s.
When Singapore government took the initiative in organizing the First Global Indian Entrepreneurs Convention in 1996, GOPIO extended its full support for the same. Later it supported Second Indian Entrepreneurs meet in 1998 organized by Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry in New Delhi. GOPIO itself organized the Third Global Indian Entrepreneurs Meet in 2002 in New York City.
In 1997, GOPIO organized a series of three conferences in New York City in June, July and August to celebrate 50th Anniversary of India’s Independence. The celebration culminated into a conference titled, Changing Role of Indian Women Worldwide held in Mumbai in November 1997.
A Conference on Senior Citizens of Indian Origin held in New York in September 1998 resulted in the formation of National Indian American Association for Senior Citizens, Inc. (NIAASC). This organization has become a major advocacy group and coordinating group for Indian senior citizens living outside India.
GOPIO organized its 10th Anniversary Celebration in New York in September, 1999. The New York Secretariat was expanded with a new team of people, with Dr. Jagat Motwani serving as Secretary General and Dr. Sushila Gidwani-Buschi serving as the Treasurer.
The year 2000 saw GOPIO inaugurating its Business Council in New York City. A conference titled Social Services for the Indian American Community held at the Indian American Kerala Cultural and Civic Center resulted in the formation South Asian Council For Social Services (SACSS). SACSS has become a major service provider for the South Asian community in the new York area. Another major accomplishment in the 2000 was the GOPIO Convention held Zurich, Switzerland where a large number of Indo-Fijians attended since a few weeks before this convention; the then Fijian Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry was taken hostage. He was released just before the convention. GOPIO delegation went on to meet the officials of the U.N. Human Rights Commission where GOPIO submitted its protest on the violence against Indians in Fiji. At the elections held, Dr. Thomas Abraham was elected again as President while Mr. Inder Singh was elected as President-Elect. Mr. Ram Lakhina was elected again as the Chairman. Dr. Jagat Motwani was appointed again as the Secretary General while Dr. Sushila Gidwani-Buschi was appointed as Treasurer. Mr. Jagdish Makwana was elected as the Executive Vice President.
In 2001, GOPIO was accredited by the U.N. as an NGO to participate in the World Conference Against Racism held in South Africa. GOPIO has sent a delegation of ten people to this conference. When the 9/11 terrorist attack happened in new York City, GOPIO had to cancel pre-planned Global Indian Entrepreneurs Conference. Instead, GOPIO organized a solidarity rally against terrorism and raised funds to benefit American Red Cross. GOPIO also contributed funds to organize programs to help victims of this tragedy through SACSS.
In January 2002, GOPIO organized a tribute Dilip Singh Saund, the first U.S. Congressman of Indian Origin. The Third European Regional Conference was held in Leiden, The Netherlands in June 2002. This was followed with the organization of the Third Global Indian Entrepreneurs Conference and Indian-NRI/PIO Economic Summit in September. All these programs were highly successful.
Fourteen years after the first convention of people of Indian origin, Government of India started organizing a conference of overseas Indians at a scale much bigger than what the NRI volunteers had put together in New York in 1989 and named it Pravasi Bhartiya Divas (PBD) which is organized annually now. GOPIO also joined the Govt. of India with its own conference in conjunction with PBD, Perspectives and Issues of PIO Communities in New Delhi on January 8, 2003. GOPIO organized the Gaddar Movement Celebrations in Nay 2003 in Santa Clara, California. In the same year, GOPIO organized a conference Dec. 4, 2003 in Brussels, Belgium titled, India – Opportunities Unlimited.
The year 2004 was a turning point for GOPIO when it adopted a new constitution at its New Delhi Conference with city or area based chapters similar to Lions or Rotary International with providing service as an integral part of the chapters. At the new election, Inder Singh took over as the President and CEO while Dr. Thomas Abraham was endorsed by the Executive Council as the Chairman. Mr. Ashook Ramsaran was elected as the Secretary General. This team was reelected again in 2007 with Lord Diljit Rana joining as Executive Vice President.