Clout of Indian-American Community Clear in Grand Reception for Prime Minister Modi
By Geeta Goindi
Manhattan, New York, September 28, 2014 – In a historic, memorable and massive community event, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was welcomed by the Indian Diaspora in the gladiatorial Madison Square Garden.
And the gifted orator reciprocated, lavishing praise on members of the Indian-American community for their stellar accomplishments. “Through your actions and values, you have earned immense respect in the US”, he told the 18,000-plus crowd who packed the iconic arena on a gorgeous Sunday morning-afternoon, for early Fall.
Speaking extempore in Hindi, he thanked them profusely for changing the perception of India abroad. “There was a time when India was known as a land of snake charmers”, he said. “If you hadn’t contributed in technology, this mind-set would not have changed”.
His hour-long address was punctuated with humor: “Our ancestors played with snakes, we play with the mouse”, he said, to the delight of an adoring audience.
Dressed in a saffron-colored jacket, he was in full form, his indefatigable energy there for all to see. “I have not taken a vacation for even 15 minutes since taking office”, he revealed.
Modi is definitely a leader on the move. Ever since he landed in the US, on Friday, he has dextrously handled public engagements, addressed thousands of people on world and community forums, met foreign heads of state, influential American officials and business leaders, interacted with members of various delegations – all this and more, from dawn to dusk!
At the Madison Square Garden, he promised the crowd, “I will never do anything that will cause you any embarrassment”. He pledged his government will not disappoint, will never let its people down and he vowed to make the India of his dreams a reality soon.
The Prime Minister began and ended his address with ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’, and standing ovations from his enthusiastic fans who could not get enough of the charismatic leader. His speech clearly resonated with members of the audience as they spontaneously broke out in chants of ‘Modi, Modi’!
Expressing gratitude for all the love and affection from the Diaspora, he wished everyone a happy Navratri, which he described as a festival of self-purification and the worship of Shakti (strength). “I feel lucky to meet you all on this occasion”, he said.
The political, social and economic clout of the Indian-American community was in full view at this event of epic proportions, spearheaded by Dr. Bharat Barai of New Jersey. Among the distinguished guests were: over 35 powerful bipartisan members of Congress including Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Robert Menendez (D-NY), Joe Donnelly (D-IN), Congressmen Ed Royce (R-CA) who is the Chairman of the powerful House Foreign Affairs Committee, Eliot Engel (D-NY), Jim McDermott (D-WA), Ed Royce (R-CA), Joe Wilson (R-SC), Congresswomen Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), Grace Meng (D-NY) and Carolyn Maloney (D-NY); Governor Nikki Haley of South Carolina who traces her roots to India; heavyweights of Corporate America; and community activists.
The Prime Minister’s speech was preceded by a cultural program featuring colorful dances of India and a musical performance by the talented husband and wife team of Kavita Krishnamurthy, playback singer, and Dr. L. Subramaniam, violinist. Lending glamor to the event was former Miss America Nina Davuluri who co-hosted the cultural and introductory segments with Hari Sreenivasan, anchor of PBS Newshour.
The event was not without its jarring notes. Outside the Madison Square Garden, television anchor and editor Rajdeep Sardesai, who recently joined India Today Group, was man-handled by pro-Modi supporters. He was one of the few journalists speaking to protestors, mostly Sikhs and Muslims holding placards of the 1984 and 2002 riots, respectively. After the incident Sardesai tweeted: “Great crowd at Madison Square Garden except a few idiots who still believe abuse is a way of proving their machismo”!
Inside the vast arena, Prime Minister Modi noted, “So many Sikh Gurus have sacrificed their lives for the nation”. He pointed out that in the Indian army and on the border, Sikh soldiers defend the country with their lives. A day earlier, he met a delegation of Sikh leaders from the US and Canada who gave him a memorandum listing their concerns. “I might live miles away from you, but I do understand your issues”, he said, at the community reception.
Acknowledging that Person of Indian Origin (PIO) cardholders face a lot of visa-related problems, the Prime Minister pronounced that they will now get lifelong visas. Furthermore, visitors who stay in India for a long duration will no longer have to report to the police. After some time, we will merge PIO and Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) schemes and make them one”, he told a delighted audience. Besides permanent Indian visas for PIO cardholders, he announced a visa on arrival feature for American citizens.
The leader noted, there is an atmosphere of hope and enthusiasm in India where people want change. “The 21st century belongs to Asia”, he declared. On his part, he said, “The will power of 1.25 crore citizens of the Indian nation is my strength. When they have given their blessings, it’s the blessing of God”!
Regarding India’s unique strengths, Modi enumerated the 3 Ds: Democracy which, he said, is “our greatest strength”; Demographic Dividend – 65 percent of the population is below the age of 35, he noted, adding that “We are a youthful nation with a very old culture”; and Demand – “the whole world is looking at India for its huge market”, he said.
With candor and a keen observation, the Prime Minister pointed out that “America is the oldest democracy; people from all over the world have come here. India is the largest democracy; Indians have settled all over the world”, he said.
Modi told the gathering that India has the talent to become the supplier of manpower to the world whether it is teachers, nurses, doctors, IT professionals or entrepreneurs. To meet international demand, can we not send teachers from India, he asked.
Invoking the spirit of Mahatma Gandhi and the India independence movement, he emphasized that growth and development should be with people’s participation. “Gandhi made the freedom struggle a people’s movement; every Indian felt part of it”, he noted. “We want to make development a mass movement”.
Speaking from a podium which slowly rotated 360 degrees, the Prime Minister told the huge crowd, “I invite you to ‘Make In India’. If you want human resources, low cost production, then India is your destination”. In this regard, he urged Indian-Americans to send their suggestions to him at MyGov.in
With an unmistakable pride, he spoke of Mangalyaan, India’s Mars Orbiter Mission. “India is the only country in the world that has been successful in its maiden attempt to reach Mars”, he said. “We reached Mars on a budget less than that of a Hollywood movie. It took only seven rupees per kilometer to reach Mars which is less than the cost of an autorickshaw ride in Ahmedabad at 10 rupees per kilometer”.
By now, the Prime Minister had the audience in the palm of his hand. “I’ve decided to get rid of outdated, unnecessary laws”, he said, to even more cheers. He alluded time and again to his humble roots and rags-to-riches story. “I’ve decided to make toilets”, he announced, which would go a long way towards women’s safety and sanitation. “People think it’s a small, menial job”, he told the gathering. “People ask me, tell us about your big vision. I reply, I reached here selling tea. I’m a small man and I enjoy working for the benefit of small people”.
Dwelling on one of his major schemes to clean the Ganga, Modi invited Indian-Americans to participate in the clean Ganga mission. Mahatma Gandhi never compromised on cleanliness, he pointed out. “He gave us freedom; we should give him a clean India”, he said. “In 2019, when we celebrate the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, let’s gift him everything he loved”.