Dipika Damerla Keen To Take Ontario-India Relationship Forward Dipika Damerla Keen To Take Ontario-India Relationship Forward
by BINOY THOMAS
Mississauga: “It was an amazing experience,” says Dipika Damerla, Associate Minister for Long Term Care, on her recent foray into the Vibrant Gujarat arena as a representative of Ontario. She was in the Canada delegation headed by Chris Alexander, Minister of Immigration.
Like so many regular visitors to India, Dipika too has come back with positive impressions and desire to strengthen our ties to her motherland.
During the four days that she spent there, what impressed her most were some of the people that are in charge of a new India.
Let;s start with her official host, the Chief Minister of Gujarat, Anandiben Patel, who took over after Narendra Modi became prime minister. Damerla notes, “India has had women leaders for quite some time now. What is different about these women is that they are not the daughters or wives of somebody in politics. So, whatever you may think about Mayavati or Didi, these are women who have made it in politics on their own merit. They are truly self made women.”
As a woman of substance herself, and yes, who made it on her own merit in Ontario politics, Dipika found it very fulfilling to meet kindred spirits in the land of her birth. There were others – like the first ever woman CEO of India’s largest bank, the State Bank of India, Arundhati Bhattacharya, who, told her about her own career challenges as a woman, before she reached the top. SBI and other public sector banks were recently instrumental in launching Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Dhan Yogna program to enlist each and every adult Indian as an account holder. They achieved an incredible 97% success rate, landing them straight in the Guinness Book of Records. The program was first planned during the previous Congress government, but didn’t take off. What was different this time? “A couple of things,” Arundhati told her. Modi asked the bankers on what stopped them from implementing the program, and removed the technical hurdles. Then he gave them a deadline. That did the trick!
There is still a schism that exists in women empowerment in the country. “On the one hand you have all these wonderful examples, on the other, there is this reality of violence against women,” Dipika says.
Another woman of substance that she met, was Sangita Reddy, CEO of the world famous Apollo Hospitals, who observed, “In healthcare here, you have this island of excellence surrounded by a sea of inadequacy. Similarly, there is this island of women who are doing very well, but there is a sea of women who are yet to catch up.”
There were many others Dipika met that gave her a new appreciation of India. LikeÂ India’s Finance Secretary, appointed by Modi. When asked how he made the difficult decisions that a high level bureaucrat has to on a daily basis, he said, “From very early one, I decided to serve without fear or favour. That’s how you come to good decisions, when you are not afraid or when you’re not trying to please someone.” Dipika says, “That’s something that I am going to keep in mind in my own life going forward.”
Dipika has come back from the experience enthused about the future. “This is a good time for Ontario and Canada to collaborate with India. India’s Prime Minister Modi holds Canada in high esteem. Earlier Premier McGuinty has led two missions to India, now, we can build further on it,” she says.
Among the opportunities that she has identified is telemedicine. “That’s one area we in Ontario does well. In fact, we have one of the world’s largest telemedicine networks. Gujarat’s Health Minister Nitinbhai Patel was very interested in the Canadian experience. One of the things that Gujarat is doing is moving towards universal healthcare. They are very interested in knowing how we did it in Canada. The Indian government is in the process of rolling out telemedicine and they are very interested in how we do it here. To be able to collaborate on something like that createsÂ a special bond that goes beyond just trade.”
Long term care is another area where Ontario can share its experience. “They are in the very early stages of long term care planning. I think we can share ideas on it, how to do it outside of the hospital system which is very expensive.”
Additionally, she would like to see closer collaboration between the Chambers of Commerce of Gujarat and Ontario.
“These are the three areas that I think we could work on immediately. Of course, there is potential in solar energy, smart cities etc. Did you know that Toronto is considered to be a smart city,” Dipika says, pointing out the opportunities.
And she is ready to play her role, stressing on her own unique identity as a Canadian who is totally at home in the Indian environment. “The fact of who I am gives a level of confidence in relationship building. The other more important thing is follow up, we have identified a whole bunch of areas, and I am going to speak to the relevant ministers to help take them forward,” she says.
And she would work on these files, not with a know-all attitude, but with genuine appreciation of the other side. “One of the fascinating things about these initiatives is that you don’t go there saying that you know everything. I learned so much in India.”