KUWAIT CITY, Sept 20: M.J. Akbar, Minister of State for External Affairs — India was in Kuwait for the Third India-Kuwait Joint Ministerial Commission Meeting on Wednesday, 20th September 2017 at the invitation of HE Anas Khaled Al Saleh, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance of Kuwait. Held after a gap of nine years, this meeting aimed at addressing issues of common interest including trade, economic, scientific and technological cooperation between India and Kuwait.
The minister was greeted on his arrival by a large number of distressed workers who had gathered at the Embassy premises to voice their grievances. Employees of two well-known contracting companies in Kuwait, these labourers have been struggling for their rightful dues for months.
They are facing a livelihood crisis brought about by unpaid salaries, and benefits and nonrenewal of their work permits. The labourers who waited for hours to meet the visiting dignitary apprised him of their dire straits and inhumane living conditions. Despite repeated interventions of the Indian Embassy with Kuwaiti officials, the matter is still to find a lasting solution.
The minister gave them a patient and empathetic hearing and assured them of making this issue the main agenda of his talks with the concerned authorities on Wednesday. “I am upset that our brothers who came to Kuwait to earn their living and fulfil their dreams are now facing a life of sorrow and deprivation,” he said.
“These poor people gave their sweat and toil but failed to get their dues. I will make this the main point of discussion in our meetings tomorrow,” the Minister reiterated to the large number of Indians who had gathered at the Indian Embassy auditorium on Tuesday evening to hear him speak and share their concerns. It now remains to be seen if the assurances bear fruit. M.J. Akbar is one of India’s most renowned journalists who set benchmarks with his sharp editorial content and fierce and forceful writing.
On Tuesday evening, the journalist turned parliamentarian, and now minister spoke in the voice of a polished politician while addressing the Indian community. In a stirring speech tempered with allusions to a ‘Modi’vian vision of India, M.J. Akbar offered a promise of a ‘new’ India that will take its citizens irrespective of social, religious and economic divide to a path of great change to be realized by 2022, a time frame which incidentally is subject to the ruling party winning the general elections in 2019.
“According to Bloomberg, India will lead the third wave of revolution in Asia, after Japan and China, and this wave will have longer lasting results,” said the minister. “You will see the change,” he promised. “It is not easy to affect change, but once it accelerates it takes everything in its wake. Our country is on the brink of a revolution, but you have to ensure you don’t keep your doors closed, and allow it to pass by. Be a part of the change. This opportunity is for every Indian,” he urged the audience. He spoke of economic changes that gave 300 million poor people bank accounts and therefore hopes of a better future. He also spoke of policies that will help root out corruption at all levels.
Earlier the minister highlighted the strong relations enjoyed by Kuwait and India. “The two countries enjoy not only political and diplomat good relations, but the warmth and closeness of its people is visible in people to people contact.” The scheduled joint commission meeting, he said, would look into wide-ranging affairs and work out solutions to problems that have stagnated for some time.
He reiterated the narrative of economic and social progress for all Indians including the most deprived. “Our Prime Minister is clear about one thing. It makes no sense to be in government if we are unable to do anything for the poor. For us, justice for the poor is most important.” In his address, he spoke of an India devoid of ‘poverty’, ‘communalism’ and ‘inequality.’ “Issues of terrorism, racism, sectarianism, and communalism that have plagued us in the past will be uprooted.
We will do away with anything that tries to break us as a country, and embrace that which joins us as a nation,” he assured. But in the context of a secular, equitable vision of India he offered, he failed to give an opportunity to the audience who had gathered in the auditorium and waited for a long time to ask him questions not only on local issues but on matters that have drawn international criticism namely cow vigilantism, public lynching, unsolved murders of progressive thinkers, activists and journalists and the stand on the Rohingya refugees. But the minister offered hope when he admitted, “There are issues, but we want to make India a country where the black shadow of ills we have inherited historically or which happened because of our own mistakes will be obliterated.”
By Chaitali B. Roy Special to the Arab Times