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Honored by Pravasi award, not upset about being sent back from airport: Dhaliwal

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US-based NRI Darshan Singh Dhaliwalwho was sent back from Delhi Airport on the night of 23 to 24 October 2021, allegedly for his involvement in unrest of farmers on the borders of the national capital, said on Tuesday that he was “very honored and excited” to be among this year’s 21 recipients of the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman Award – the highest honor bestowed on Indians abroad.

Based in Milwaukee, 72-year-old Dhaliwal was sent back from Indira Gandhi International Airport after “arranging a langar” for farmers protesting three new farm laws that were later withdrawn. Speaking to The Indian Express by phone on Tuesday, Dhaliwal said: “I wasn’t disappointed when I was sent back. I bow before the Almighty and believe that whatever is done by Him is always for good.”

Dhaliwal said he decided to organize the langar for the farmers after “observing what they were going through”. He said, “I wasn’t involved in the farm laws.”

The NRI businessman also praised Prime Minister Narendra Modi, saying, “He has done a lot for the country. He has done great things for Sikhs and I wish he continues to do so.”

Dhaliwal’s selection of the prize was reportedly part of a government-led rapprochement exercise with the Sikh community after the farm protests ended. An influential member of the Native American community, Dhaliwal had organized a few events in the Chicago area, and an outreach exercise was also undertaken by Indian officials. The award is the culmination of that outreach, the sources said.

Sources said that Dhaliwal’s name was finalized by the jury and the awards committee, which has the vice president as chairman and the foreign minister as vice chairman. The panel unanimously selected the final list, they said.

Dhaliwal has been an influential NRI entrepreneur for several decades, with gas station, trucking and real estate businesses across the US.

The President of Guyana, Mohamed Irfaan Ali, and the CEO of DSB Group, Piyush Gupta, are among the other awardees, who will be presented during the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas Convention, which will be held in Indore between the 8th and 10th of January.

Speaking to The Indian Express, Dhaliwal’s younger brother Surjit Singh Rakhra, who was a minister in the previous SAD government of Punjab, described the award as “a blessing from Guru Maharaj”.

According to Rakhra, the prime minister met with Dhaliwal in Delhi last April. “PM Modi invited around 100 eminent personalities including him (Dhaliwal). He attended the event,” he said.

Asked about Dhaliwal’s support for the agricultural unrest, Rakhra said: “We had only provided a langar for the protesting farmers, but the government thought we could help mediate and break the stalemate. My brother had three options: stop the langar, help with a deal with the ranchers, or return to the United States.

Their family comes from Rakhra village near Patiala. Rakhra said Dhaliwal would arrive in India on 7 January for the convention in Indore.

In 2021, after Dhaliwal was sent back from the airport, Rakhra told The Indian Express, “My brother landed at 7pm on 23rd October 2021, on a United Airlines flight and after questioning him for 5 to 6 hours, he was sent back on the same flight to the United States.”

The former Chief Minister of Punjab, Parkash Singh Badal, had at the time sought the intervention of the Prime Minister. Asking Modi to personally invite Dhaliwal as a “goodwill gesture that will send a big positive signal to the NRIs”, Badal also sought “severe action against the erring officials who have brought the country a bad name by their action”.

Dhaliwal migrated to the United States in 1972. He is married to Debra, a resident of Wisconsin, and the couple have three sons and three daughters.