Intro: In a first, a visit on the sidelines of the UN has ended with the India-US joint statement. If on one hand it reflects the way US is looking at emerging India’s concerns; the other important change it reflects is the growing significance of the Indian Diaspora in the US politics.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrived in New York City on Friday, September 26, 2014. As the Air India touched the JFK Airport base,Non- Resident Indian (NRIs) were keenly seen waiting to receive him at the airport on this historic occasion, and many more arrived at the Palace Hotel to meet Modi. The next day, September 27th 2014, Modi attended United Nations (UN) session which was a grand success. The message he gave in the UN is quite different than the previous prime ministers. Rather than repeat the same agenda, global action, international peace, goals and priorities, Modi requested the world to use the Yoga as a tool to solve the world conflicts, specially the infightings between nations, people. It is a natural approach to make change in a person and in nations, he said. The UN meeting was followed by his Central Park speech for the Global Citizen Festival. Modi requested the working youth to come forward to end poverty, provide education and sanitation. The event was viewed by some 60 thousand American youth. Some of them who were seeing him talk for the first time felt India found a leader who can set the tone.
The next day, September 28th 2014, a public reception was planned at the Madison Square Garden (MSG), which started its operations around the same time as Swami Vivekananda’s visit. The event is the biggest ever attended by Indians for a visiting head of state. Baring concerts and movie events, very few Indian American events in America saw the gathering of 19 thousand spectators. Even the New York’s basketball team Knicks cannot attract such crowd unless it is the finals. The organizers, Indian American Community Foundation along with 400 other organizations did fantastic job of planning and executing the event. Infact, baring a small skirmish outside by an over enthusiastic journalist everything went super smooth.
Apart from the Indian Americans living in the Tri State region (New York (NY), New Jersey and Connecticut) many from across the United States travelled to the venue, Madison Square. Charter buses were arranged from Albany NY, Philadelphia PA, Boston MA and Washington DC area. The gates opened at 8:30 A.M., and the view was astounding, thousands of Indian Americans stood in line to get into the Indoor stadium. American policy makers consisting of congressmen, senators, governors and mayors joined the crowd in the event which started with cultural programs from the local Indian Organisations. An impressive speed painting of Modi’s picture accompanied by violin music captivated the crowd. Just before Indian PM entered the stadium, all the attending US lawmakers were invited on to the stage for the national anthems of USA and India.
Modi joined them on stage with thunderous applause from the audience. In his speech Modi reflected upon the immigration problem faced by NRIs, and gave some good news by merging the Persona of Indian Origin status with Overseas Citizen of India status.
He also requested NRIs to be part of the Clean Ganga and Make in India effort. While many NRIs were happy about the immigration policy change, one subtle yet powerful change Modi talked about was not noticed by many- he promised to cut down the red tape by removing obsolete laws. Just like how he mentioned that he is a small man who wants to do big things for small people, this cutting down the red tape is a small but the biggest thing to attract NRIs and American companies to be part of the Make in India initiative. The event finally ended with a video showing the importance of river Ganga.
Many attendees left the venue with a feeling that India has found an able leader. Those who were his critics also agreed that he has a vision, a vision which has not been reflected by an Indian leader in the recent past. The feeling, especially for the seniors living in the country for more than few decades was surreal. The older generation has never seen any political event of such magnitude. They feel that India’s time has come. Most resonated with Modi’s statement that the large percentage of Indian youth can change the country.
Many volunteers had spent sleepless nights leading up to the MSG event. It was a joyous opportunity for them to see Modi in person shake hands with them. It was their moment to be part of history, and to proudly say that they too were part of the team responsible for this never before event.
The next day, September 29, 2014, Modi arrived at Andrew’s Air Force base, located in Maryland just outside the Washington DC. The Andrew’s Air Force base is home of the Air Force One, the plane which carries the President of America. Many of the foreign head of states use the Andrew’s Air Force Base for visiting Washington DC as it is closer to the city and offers the service of Special Air Mission which supports foreign dignitaries using the Air Base.
During Modi’s visit, Indian Embassy arranged buses for NRI’s and community leaders to welcome Modi at the Air Force Base. He stayed at the Blair House Hotel across the street from the White House.
The next day the Indian Prime Minister spent his time visiting the President, Vice President and many visitor places. Many Indian Americans shook hands with him at the Lincoln Memorial and Gandhi statue near DuPont Circle. Like a true people’s man going into the crowds, he shook hands with most of those waiting for him at these places. A Large gathering of NRI’s waited outside the White house in the Lafayette Square area to see and greet him. Many NRIs working in the federal government sector took time off during the lunch break to get a glimpse of him. After meeting President Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, businessmen, Governors and many policy makers, attending the lunches and dinners he finally left for Bharat on October 1st 2014.
The five day period felt like an extended festival for many NRIs. Interesting to see was that not only did the right wing Indian Americans- the way Indian media portrays it- but NRIs from many organizations, volunteers from temples, Gurudwaras even Bhori Muslims loved to be part of the crowd that met Modi at all his engagements. Even congressmen from Democratic Party showed genuine interest to know more about Modi.
For the Indian American Youth, Modi was the great leader Indian India needed after independence. There were similarities between the ways Swami Vivekananda called up on the youth to what Modi emphasized upon- India’s prime asset being the youth of the country.
It was a much anticipated visit for Indians, Indian Americans and Americans. When it finally happened, it felt like, how the western world says “Seeing is believing”, after they saw him in person, there will not be any questions in their mind to believe his vision for India, his vision to partner with America. President Obama’s personal guided tour of the Martin Luther King Jr memorial is an example of the how President Obama treated Modi.
The message Modi gave to UN showed that he has solution for the problems of the world- simple solutions to solve complex problems. And this message is just not for America, but an indication that in large the world has to be modified.
—Bhanu Gouda, from Washington DC