US-based billionaire Darshan Singh Dhaliwal who was denied entry into India because of his support to the 2020-’21 farmers protest has been honoured with the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman Award (PBSA), the highest government award for overseas Indians. Mr Dhaliwal’s name features in a list of 27 awardees that includes Israel-based restauranteur Reena Pushkarna and CEO of Fedex Raj Subramaniam.
Out of all the names it’s the inclusion of Mr Dhaliwal that has surprised many. Mr Dhaliwal left India in 1972 and has been based in Milwaukee, US. In 2004 India Today magazine described him as the “largest petrol retailer” in the US. Mr Dhaliwal, a self-made billionaire reportedly owns thousands of petrol pumps spread across the United States.
Mr Dhaliwal began running a langar ( community kitchen) in early 2021 as thousands of farmers parked themselves at Singhu border near the capital demanding the withdrawal of three controversial farm laws. He had landed in the Indira Gandhi International Airport on October 23 2021 and was denied entry by the immigration officials who had questioned him for several hours.
The issue snowballed with Mr Dhaliwal hinting that he was denied permission to visit India because of his support to the farmers’ protest.
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Subsequently, his younger brother Surjit Singh Rakhra, former minister in the SAD government in Punjab had come out in his support. Mr Dhaliwal, reported ‘NRI Vision’ had earlier extended help for relief work after the 2004 tsunami. The officials at the IGI Airport had allegedly asked Mr Dhaliwal to stop supporting the farmers’ protest that ended after the farm laws were repealed by the Parliament on November 29, 2021.
Mr Dhaliwal went back to the US even as leaders of the Shiromani Akali Dal including the patriarch of the Badal family Parkash Singh Badal had come out in his support. Mr Badal had asked PM Narendra Modi to invite Mr Dhaliwal as a “goodwill gesture”.
After the repealing of the farm laws Mr Dhaliwal was seen in an event in Chicago in June last year when two books on Prime Minister Narendra Modi were unveiled by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and Indian ambassador to the US Taranjit Singh Sandhu. One of the books -”Heartfelt- The Legacy of Faith “ - had highlighted PM Modi’s work for the Sikh community. Mr Dhaliwal stood beside the Indian ambassador to the US and unveiled the books that were dedicated to PM Modi. Mr Dhaliwal has been selected for the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas Samman Award under the category of “Business/Community Welfare”.
The Award will be given during the PBD Convention to be celebrated during January 8-10 in Indore.
Bharatiya Kisan Union(BKU), the outfit that organised the yearlong protest against the repealed farm laws has welcomed the award for Mr Dhaliwal saying, “The Government had projected the farmers’ protest as the work of the Khalistan-supporters. The people who supported the movement from abroad were also projected as sympathisers of the Khalistan movement but now by giving the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman Award to Mr Dhaliwal, the Government is proving that they knew that their allegations were untrue from the beginning,” said Dharmendra Malik, Spokesperson of BKU.