Indian American physician, philanthropist and publisher Sudhir M. Parikh
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INTERVIEWS - FIA seeks programmes for NRI youth
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FIA seeks programmes for NRI youth

Interview with Dr. Sudhir Parikh, President of FIA appeared on MSN India on Jan 3, 05


Dr. Sudhir Parikh, a practicing Consulting Allergist in the United States who has done much to further the political empowerment of the two-million-strong Indian American community there, has asked India to initiate focused programmes for next generation Indians abroad. Dr Parikh, who has received international acclaim in the treatment of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, is also listed in the Who's Who in America in the Field of Medicine. Here are excerpts from an interview with Dr Parikh.

Q: Could you briefly describe the activities of the FIA?
A: FIA or the Federation of Indian Associations and the one I represent is situated in Tri-State or the New York, New Jersey and Connecticut area. The organization represents over 80 Indian associations and is an umbrella organization. Besides serving the Interest of Indian Americans in USA, we conduct the largest Independence Day Celebration outside India. This year, we are celebrating the silver jubilee of the parade in Manhattan in the heart of New York City.

Q: What are your plans for Pravasi Bharatiya Divas this year?
A: We have pledged our support for Tsunami victims. We want to reach out them through an effective organization. We have several FIA members attending this year and one area we would look at is how to enhance business relationship between India and USA. We will also watch out for policies that are counter productive and bring that to the attention of the government.

One of the themes that will be discussed during Pravasi Bharatiya Divas 2005 is "New initiatives for the Diaspora". What do you think the initiatives ought to be?
It is pretty simple. We want a strong support back home in whatever we do and go after. For example, there are several things that government can do. What we want is focused programmes for next generation Indians.

I can talk in terms of my territory - USA. As second-generation Indian Americans are entering their 20s, most of them are going to school and entering corporate America. We believe there should be more programmes to bring them closer to India. Several institutions (including Columbia University), offer a Chair for Indian Studies. Some West coast universities have even gone to the extent of having regional (Punjabi, Gujarati, etc) centers (including the University of Berkeley, UC Davis, etc.

Q: Does the Indian government extend any kind of help towards organizations working for NRIs? If it does, is it adequate?
A: They support us morally and not in terms of funds etc. We don't expect them to pay money for our organizations. On several occasions, overseas missions have supported community activities and helped us reach the right executives. The government also sends ministers and head of states to US often. What we lack is a consistent interest from India.

There should be more delegations and follow-ups. As of today, there's no follow-up and the various projects fall through mid-way. Another help or mechanism the government can think of is a nodal agency (it can be the newly formed Overseas Indian Affairs Ministry) to give us instructions and support any charity or relief efforts we are canalizing to India.

Q: What made you devote time for the cause of FIA?
A: I've been associated FIA for the past 22 years. I started of as a volunteer and later became a grand sponsor of the Independence Day celebration in Manhattan. And, last year, I was the chair of reception committee and conducted the 24th parade with the overwhelming support of community and celebrities. I want FIA to become a true federation of Indian Associations in the United States of America. More second generation Indians should also be brought to our fold.

Q: Even now, there are many Indian families in the US not directly associated with any NRI organizations. How do you propose to bring such families under your umbrella?
A: We can't make everyone join an organization. When we take a step, call for a relief or conduct a community event, it is done with the people at large in mind. We don't want to hurt anybody. Most of the cultural and traditional events are geared to address the Indian Americans in the country and not just our members. I believe people should gravitate towards an organization of their choice. This can be based on the State they belong, the games they like or the social values they share.

Q: Have you felt any sort of discrimination against persons of Indian origin in the US?
A: As a physician, we've felt it as a group in our early days. The AAPI (American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin) was formed to fight the discrimination. We still see odd cases and we fight it out as a group. Our clout in the US congress and Senate and also our involvement in the politics of the country has given a new face to Indians in America.

Q: Is there a growing resentment among US citizens against Indians following the transfer of jobs to India?
A: There are issues in the state i belong - New Jersey. But with President Bush and his Republican administration coming back for a second term, all those politicizing outsourcing have fallen silent.

The Americans are realizing that in order to keep their job, some jobs have to go overseas. We are in a global economy where there's a free flow of jobs. Without that, companies cannot prosper. At the end of the day, it's all about profitability. I don't' think it is as big an issue as the media has made it out to be.

Q: India has been trying to make a brand out of the country in the 21st century. What can be the role of organizations like the FIA in branding India to the world?
A: We want to carry the message across North America. One thing we will keep in mind is the vision set by our esteemed President. We will strive and keep our agenda in pursuing that goal and will contribute every bit of our acts and avoid any conflicting interest. At FIA, our member organizations can do wonders. The impact it has over the New York community (the financial capital) and also Washington D.C are enormous.

We have close links with people in the administration. We were successful in blocking the sale of F-16 fighter planes to Pakistan to a certain extent and we can also work towards enhancing US-India relationship. I think, if President Bush visits India in 2005, you will be witnessing the culmination of a collective action by several Indian bodies.

Q: You were in the team, which toured Gujarat along with former President Bill Clinton in 2001. Did your team suggest any disaster management measures to Indian authorities?
A: This is a good question. Yes. We did suggest several measures to both the state and the central government. We were not scientists to push for setting up warning systems etc. Our focus was with respect to health care and also effective use of relief and aid we get from international organizations. We wanted the money we send to reach the right people.

Q: Do you think India has been lax in setting up a better disaster management mechanism, especially in the backdrop of the recent Asian tsunami?
A: India, given its advancement in science and technology should have done the same. I don't want to put the blame on anybody as this is a natural disaster and was unexpected. It is high time we have a warning system and disaster management mechanism. The authorities had three hours to take necessary steps to reduce the impact of such killer waves. I think it's the people who live in India who have to take this up and ake authorities accountable.

Q: India is trying to promote herself as the hub of globalization. Pravasi Bharatiya Diwas 2005 is discussing this theme. What is your take on this?
A: India is the word for software and technology. It is the center of BPO and several services. India has much better healthcare system compared to several Western countries, including US. But we have to take several steps before we become the hub. First and foremost is improving infrastructure.

We need good roads and sanitary systems and bribery at the common man's level should come to an end. Unless we improve our roads and airports, we are going no where. Trust me, we are far ahead in terms of telephony and communication but that alone won't solve the problem.

Q: India has been experiencing a reverse brain drain in the recent years. Have you felt a growing tendency among the Indian Diaspora in the US to return and work in India?
A: I know several friends and have also read reports about technocrats moving back to India. I know companies like Intel, Microsoft and Google have sent their Indian executives to India to get the business rolling. Life has changed in India. I am amazed to see the lifestyle of youngsters. With this IT boom, every one can own a home when they are 30. We could never imagine having our own home in India at such a young age.

Q: Do you feel at home in the US?
A: I live in New Jersey and I'm a citizen now.

Q: Do you plan to come back and settle in India? Do you think your children will support you if you decide to come back to India?
A: Not really. We've adopted America and more than half of my life has been spent here.