Dubai’s Expo 2020 had a star attraction in the dazzling India Pavilion, which is attracting plenty of eyeballs and footfalls. Recognized as one of the most iconic pavilions among 190 participating countries by the American Institute of Architects (AIA), the Pavilion, blending tradition with technology, was built over 40,000 square feet as a permanent structure that will remain for posterity as India’s legacy in the UAE. The UAE permitted India to build a permanent pavilion, a privilege given to a handful of countries.
The Expo 2020 Dubai, the world’s biggest trade and commerce exposition, started on October 1 and will end on March 31, 2022. The India Pavilion is among the top three biggest show windows after that of the UAE and Saudi Arabia. In just 57 days, it attracted 400,000 visitors. The Dubai Expo 2020 is one of the largest events to be organized in the Middle East and South Asian region following the coronavirus pandemic.
The India Pavilion showcases an emerging growth-oriented India, generating so much buzz that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi participated in at the launch through video conferencing, inviting global investors to invest in India. He is scheduled to visit the Pavilion in January 2022, which will be Modi’s first foreign visit of the year.
Inaugurating the Pavilion on October 1, Modi called India ‘a powerhouse of talent.’ “India’s Pavilion will showcase the best of India across these multiple areas. It will also showcase investment opportunities in multiple sectors like health, textiles, infrastructure, services, and more,” Modi said.
Naveep Suri, former Indian ambassador to the UAE and co-chair of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) national committee for the Dubai Expo, said he has “seen reports that the Prime Minister is likely to visit shortly,” and added that “this would be entirely in line with the exceptionally close ties that has blossomed over the last few years between India and UAE.
“The India Pavilion at the Expo is one of the largest and most visited among the 190 countries represented at the Expo. It is also a showcase of India’s ancient culture and civilization along with the rampant advances made by India in areas ranging from space to science and technology,” Suri added. FICCI is a non-governmental trade association and advocacy group based in India.
The India Pavilion is a design marvel. One of the massive structure’s highlights is the striking, box-like moving facade made of 600 individual colorful blocks, which changes from morning to evening with sound, light, and projection, and is capable of kinetic movements symbolizing the theme – India on the move. The visitors also experience the immersive Artificial Intelligence and Virtual Reality (VR) technology.
Designed by New Delhi-based CP Kukreja Architects, the Pavilion has a broad theme of openness, opportunity, and growth that was further split into subheads of climate, urban development, health and wellness, agriculture, and inclusivity. It has captured the 75 years of India’s Independence and gave a glimpse of the road ahead for Indian entrepreneurship. The interiors have been shaped on the themes of Make in India, Digital India, Skill India, and Start-Up India – all campaigns of the Indian government – that display the country’s capabilities on a global stage.
Once inside the building, the visitors are welcomed into a tunnel that projects India’s space programs. The country’s developments in the health sector, yoga, Ayurveda, and alternative medicine systems are also mentioned. The top three floors focus on exploring Indian culture, the country’s bilateral relationship with UAE, and corporate India’s ambitions. This year the focus is also on virtual reality pods, 3D augmented reality projected systems, LED surround projection, and walk-in experience kiosks – all to project India’s image as a fast-growing, modern economy.
“When we were planning the design of the Pavilion, we were clear that there would be four separate themes we would like to bring in. The first was to tell the India story in all its magnificence; the second to display India’s diversity by bringing the participation of States and Union Territories; the third was to reflect the policies and programmes adopted by the government across different sectors that highlights not only the government determination to promote a modern and yet inclusive society but also to present it as a land of opportunity for foreign investors; and fourth was to showcase some of the leading business groups such as the Tata Group, Reliance Industries Limited, Vedanta Limited, Hindustan Unilever Limited, the Adani Group and others who have contributed so much to the growth of industry and infrastructure in India,” said Suri, who was conferred with the First Class Order of Zayed II award in recognition of his efforts to strengthen the relationship and cooperation between UAE and India in 2019.
According to AIA President Daniel S Hart, the India Pavilion is “representing the diverse cultural background of the country.”
“The Pavilion not only showcases the rich history of the country but also represents the numerous opportunities, possibilities and offers a window into the future,” he said. AIA is a professional organization for architects in the United States, and its headquarters are in Washington, D.C.
Principal Architect of the Pavilion, Dikshu C Kukreja, developed 82 designs. After consultations with government officials, the final design was selected while building the Pavilion focus was also on sustainability. “We have used recycled aluminum metal boxes for the façade. We also have given a lot of focus to sustainability and have made a design as energy-efficient as possible. In Dubai, you see a lot of glass buildings. I thought that was not the solution for this hot and humid climate. That’s why we have created an environment-friendly design that will not have such a high energy demand,” he said.
He said that it was a “pleasure to show the world that India’s architecture has evolved dramatically from the ancient monuments and is now at par with the global contemporary architecture.
“Our primary goal was to show the transformation our country has gone through since independence while keeping in mind the expo themes of sustainability, mobility, and connectivity. The kinetic facade, which changes with the Expo themes, has been crucial in showcasing the diversity of our country and interacting with the visitors,” he said, adding that “Our goal of representing India’s cultural and economic growth has been translated into a tangible achievement.”
The India Pavilion has hosted several sector and state-specific events to highlight India’s success and the roadmap of the future.”It is a great opportunity to showcase emerging new India to visitors who are coming from all over the world. Prime Minister Narendra Modi personally gave us ideas and a lot of guidance on how to showcase India as a modern, vibrant technology-driven international economy,” India’s Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal said after the inauguration of the Pavilion. Officials said they expect in the coming weeks the Pavilion will attract many more visitors, especially Indian diaspora business leaders from around the world.
Additionally, the Pavilion has represented India’s rich cultural heritage and has organized many cultural events with a unique amalgamation of culture, technology, and business opportunities.
Suri said that the “uniqueness” of the India Pavilion also lies in the manner India’s vibrant culture and civilization has been displayed.
“We start the morning with yoga and devotional music performed by community groups from different religions. We also have in the evening cultural programs performed either by troupes from the featured state or a diverse range of Indian community organizations. It is particularly heartening to see the lively performances by children from various Indian schools in UAE.
“Apart from reflecting India’s diversity, they also ensure the active participation of the Indian diaspora in India Pavilion activities and creates a sense of shared ownership,” Suri, who had a 36-year long career in the Indian Foreign Service (IFS), said. Food festivals featuring cuisines from different parts of India are also part of the Expo.
Added Dr. Aman Puri, Consulate General of India in Dubai, “..the India Pavilion beautifully captures India’s diversity and tells the story of India. Every day, we see thousands of excited visitors mesmerized by the Pavilion’s interactive nature. We are looking forward to hosting many such visitors and sustaining the momentum.”
The Pavilion has attracted several celebrities and leaders from around the world. Former Maldives president Mohamed Nasheed and United States Commissioner General Bob Clark were early visitors to the Pavilion. B M Jamal Hossain, Consul General of Bangladesh in Dubai, also visited the Pavilion on December 8 to mark the 50 years of establishing diplomatic relations between India and Bangladesh and celebrated it as ‘Maitri Diwas’ or Friendship Day.
Suri said the “most unique aspect” is that a ‘space for start-ups’ has been created. “We have made a conscious effort to create space for the start-up sector at the India Pavilion,” he said, adding that the Innovation Hub bus, which is providing an opportunity to hundreds of innovators from India to showcase their innovations, features a new start-up every week.
The Expo also provided India with the opportunity to attract investments. Invest India, a national investment promotion and facilitation agency that helps foreign investors looking for investment opportunities and options in India is actively engaged at the Expo.
Maharashtra has already signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) of $2 billion, while other states that have also attracted investor interests are Karnataka and Gujarat, said Suri.
He said some Indian diaspora companies based in Dubai have also been featured as commercial partners of the Pavilion. These companies include the Lulu Group founded by M.A. Yusuf Ali, who was listed in the Forbes billionaire list of 2019 for his combined worth of staggering $15 billion; Aster D.M. Healthcare, a healthcare conglomerate in the Middle East, founded by Dr. Azad Moopen; and the Sobha Group, a multinational real estate and construction group founded by P.N.C. Menon.
“These companies have invested in India and constitute a real bridge in economic relations between India and UAE,” he added.
According to Dr. Somdutta Singh, a serial entrepreneur and angel investor who is currently operating her third successful venture, Assiduus Global, the world’s fastest-growing cross-border, multi-platform E-commerce supply chain, world expos like the Dubai Expo are “unrivaled among international events for their colossal size and impact.”
“With visitors, global exposure, and a boost to the economy, it’s imperative for businesses to take advantage before the opportunity passes. Expos act as catalysts for growth,” said Singh, who was featured in 2020 in Fortune India’s 50 most powerful businesswomen edition and was also bestowed with Times 40 under 40 honor.
This article is part of a new series, Indiaspora Features, which commissions journalists to write about topics of interest for the global Indian diaspora.
Kavita Bajeli-Datt is an independent journalist associated with South Asia Monitor. She has worked in prominent Indian news organizations like IANS, PTI, and The Week where she wrote extensively on health, crime, politics, and art and culture.