The event hosted by Ambassador Navtej Sarna drew over 700 activists from across the US
By Geeta Goindi
McLean, Virginia, June 25, 2017 – In his signature event on the first day of a working visit to Washington, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed a rapturous crowd of some 720 Indian-American activists from all across the country.
The event, a community reception, was hosted by Indian Ambassador Navtej Sarna and held at the classy Ritz Carlton hotel in Tysons Corner, a posh suburb of Washington.
Prime Minister Modi was in his element Sunday afternoon speaking in chaste Hindi to the creme de la creme of the Indian diaspora at the packed reception held in his honor, a highlight of his two-day visit at the invitation of President Donald Trump.
He lavished praise on members of the audience for their contributions to America and credited the system which enables them to flourish. Noting that there are many intelligent people in India, he promised that they would also get opportunities to succeed unlike anyone has ever imagined. With good governance, effective leadership, the aspirations of people become achievements, he said.
Noting that social media is very powerful these days and he uses it regularly to convey his message, he extolled External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj for using this platform to help Indians abroad who are in distress. She replies to a tweet within minutes, and then takes effective action to solve the problem. This is known as good governance, Prime Minister Modi said.
The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) has emerged as a strong humanitarian force for Indians globally, he noted. In the last three years, over 80,000 people have been rescued and brought safely back to India. The diaspora can rest assured that if they have a problem, the Indian Embassy will find a solution, he said.
Prime Minister Modi is a master orator and this was his event: an address to Indian-Americans who hung on to every word he spoke.
Noting that the world is concerned by the menace of terrorism, he spoke of the surgical strike conducted by India against terror launch pads across the Line of Control. This strike showed that a nation which normally exercises restraint, can also defend its sovereignty and ensure its security. We don’t disturb the global order, we respect international norms, he pointed out. No nation in the world questioned India about the surgical strike except the one against which it was directed, he said, without naming Pakistan. We have been successful in explaining to the world about the terrorism affecting India.
A good part of the prime minister’s 50-minute speech was devoted to the accomplishments of his government in the last three years. It has not been tainted by corruption, and technology has promoted transparency, he said.
The prime minister underlined the importance of clean energy for a healthy society, spoke of India’s strides in space including the launch of 104 satellites, and emphasized the importance of infrastructure for sustainable development. Referring to Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) inflows, he noted the world is seeing India as a top investment destination.
Looking across the spacious ballroom, the prime minister said, “I see both a mini-India and a mini-USA. People from all the states of both the nations are represented here today”.
He implored the diaspora, especially the younger generation, to stay engaged with India. Indian-Americans are the best educated and most affluent among minority communities in the US. And they serve as a bridge, a strong bond, between India and America.
“Keep the bridge open with India”, Prime Minister Modi told the gathering. “The younger generation must continue to strengthen the bond with India”.
It was heartening to see Indian-American whiz kids at the community reception including the 2017 champions of the National Spelling Bee and National Geographic Bee — Ananya Vinay, 12, of California, and Pranay Varada, 14, of Texas, respectively.
“It’s really exciting and it’s a great opportunity to be here”, Ananya told us. About winning the Scripps National Spelling Bee she said, “It was good to see my hard work help me achieve something”.
Upon winning the prestigious contest, a lot of great opportunities have come her way, she mentioned, including receiving invites to the Warriors (professional basketball team) game and the Google campus. “It is really fun and I’m enjoying it”, she gushed.
It is interesting to note that the community reception was held in a Democratic District within the Commonwealth of Virginia, a state which voted for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 US election.
Weighing in on Prime Minister Modi’s meeting with President Trump at the White House on Monday, community stalwart Shekar Narasimhan said, “I hope they have a good meeting. I hope they reach an understanding on issues such as security and trade, and I hope it leads to more dialogue. But, I don’t have any expectations of any announcements or any dramatic developments”, he added.
Narasimhan believed, “Given all the distractions in Washington with the healthcare vote coming up in the Senate, the South Korean president coming, the visit will get overshadowed in the press”. It would be more a get-to-know-you visit as the two leaders have never met, he said.
It is estimated that the Indian-American community in Washington is much smaller in size compared to New York/New Jersey and California and the reception here was in marked contrast to the huge, loud events held at the Madison Square Garden and SAP Center during the prime Minister’s previous visits to the US. The reception at the Ritz was an invite-only function for distinguished Indian-Americans across the country.
Speaking about the importance of the event prior to the keynote address, Narasimhan noted that prime minister Modi realized from the outset “there is a very powerful diaspora and it started with his Madison Square Garden event and then San Francisco. So, he has clearly understood, let’s move this diaspora”.
As chairman and founder of the AAPI Victory Fund, a political organization whose goal is to mobilize the Asian American community, including the Indian-American community, in politics in the US, Narasimhan hoped the prime minister would talk about civic engagement. “This diaspora needs to engage in politics because if it does, it can be very powerful”, he said, bemoaning, “Most of it right now is photo opportunities as opposed to engagement”. But, he was optimistic as “young people are standing up and running for office”, he noted.
Yogi Chugh of Fremont, California, was a member of the organizing committee of the SAP Center reception. At the Washington area event, he told us, “I’m excited to be here because when we hosted prime minister Modi at the SAP Center in Silicon Valley, it was an opportunity to do something historic. Today, coming as a participant, you look back at how far we’ve come. As immigrants, you feel so good that the prime minister is coming to Washington, having a working dinner with President Trump to build upon a strategic relationship that India and the United States will be forging in this geo-political world”.
Chugh mentioned the six-hour journey from the west to east coast to attend the community reception was nothing compared with the opportunity “to meet Indian-American leaders, to participate in something that is so historic and such a gratifying moment”.