Congress leaders Sam Pitroda, Himanshu Vyas and Rajeev Gowda at the NRI outreach programme to take their inputs on election manifesto in Dubai on Saturday. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: Suggestions from Indians in the UAE and elsewhere are for the first time being considered for Indian National Congress party’s election manifesto in the run up to 2019 general elections in India, a senior party member said in Dubai on Saturday.

It follows a rare public address by Congress president Rahul Gandhi in Dubai last month in which he said he wanted to include the recommendations of NRIs in the manifesto, which is currently being developed.

On Saturday, speaking to the press at the end of a two-day conference in Dubai to “consolidate” recommendations from Non-Resident Indians (NRIs), Sam Pitroda, chairman of the Indian Overseas Congress, said some of the NRI recommendations “may find place in it [the manifesto], some may not find place in it” after deliberations by the manifesto committee.

Sam Pitroda speaks at the NRI outreach programme in Dubai. Image Credit: Supplied

Senior members of Congress, India’s main opposition party, including Himanshu Vyas, secretary of the All India Congress Committee, and parliament member Rajeev Gowda were in Dubai to hear recommendations of 180 NRIs from 10 countries over the weekend.

Non-resident Indians (NRIs) are spread around the world, many of them living in the Gulf countries as migrant blue-collar workers and white-collar professionals.

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The NRIs, including those from the UAE, the GCC, US, UK, Canada, Australia, and other nations, were divided into more than a dozen topic groups, including healthcare, industry, trade, agriculture, education, and more.

NRI concerns

Pitroda, 77, said the Dubai meeting allowed Congress to “open up the conversation” with NRIs. He added that the meeting focused on three main areas: “What is that the Congress could do for NRIs? What NRIs could do for India? What are the other areas of concerns for NRIs?”

Providing an example of the concerns, Pitroda said some of the NRIs suggested that there should be an “NRI interface” in every Indian state because many of the “challenges” facing NRIs are “state-level”, meaning they can be resolved by the state government instead of the central government in India.

Pitrodo addresses NRIs out for the meeting. The NRIs, including those from the UAE, the GCC, US, UK, Canada, Australia, and other nations, were divided into more than a dozen topic groups. Image Credit: Supplied

NRIs building a school or hospital, or solving problems related to their ancestral home, are among the issues handled at the state-level, Pitroda said. When asked about admission issues facing NRI students when they return to India for university studies, Pitroda said “expansion [of universities] is the only answer”.

“Some people also talk about [the idea of] a university for NRIs, if such a university can be built, but whether that finds place in the manifesto, I don’t know.”

3million

estimated number of non-resident Indians in the UAE

NRI diaspora

NRIs are spread around the world, many of them living in the Gulf countries as migrant blue-collar workers and white-collar professionals. There are an estimated 3 million NRIs in the UAE, making them biggest expat community in the UAE. Globally, NRIs remit millions of dollars of their earnings to India every year.

Presently, NRIs are not allowed to vote from their country of residence for elections in India. On Saturday, Pitroda said “we [Congress] accept that decision right now… [As an NRI] your vote is zero for this [2019 general] election, but if you want to influence your community members [in India], that options is yours”.

When asked if Congress is planning to “mobilise” NRIs for the elections, Pitroda said: “That’s exactly what we’re doing. That’s up to them if they want to come to India [to vote for Congress].”