Prime Minister Narendra Modi’srecent State visit to the United States was a remarkable event indeed, but not just because the world’s oldest and the largest democracies agreed on historic technology and defence cooperation deals. It was also a surreal realization of the prophecies of two great Indian visionaries – Swami Vivekananda and Sri Arobindo. Both seem to have looked into the future to realize how these two nations were destined to come closer, for the benefit of each other and the entire civilization.
In 1926, Sri Aurobindo wrote: “India and America stand prominent at the two poles that have to meet and become one, the spiritual and the material life; one has shown a preeminent capacity of realisation on the spiritual, the other on the material plane. America must be able to receive freely India’s riches and to give freely in return from her own for the material organisation of a higher life on the physical plane; this is at once a condition and her chance. At present it is only a possibility; let us see whether it can be made an achieved and perfected symbol.”
A century later, the world can feel the possibility inching closer to reality! The final destiny will of course depend on how committed both sides remain.
On June 23, 2023, India’s Prime Minister said in his address to the US Congress: “Standing here, seven Junes ago (in 2016), I said that the hesitations of history were behind us. Now, when our era is at a crossroads, I am here to speak about our calling for this century… Let us work together to convert shared ideals into practical cooperation.”
In a joint statement a day earlier, US President Biden and PM Modi affirmed a vision of the US and India “as among the closest partners in the world – a partnership of democracies looking into the 21st century with hope, ambition, and confidence”. It referred to “warm bonds of family and friendship that inextricably link our countries together”, convinced that a “stronger, diverse U.S.-India partnership” will “serve the global good”. The magnitude of possibilities was reflected in the words: “No corner of human enterprise is untouched by the partnership between our two great countries, which spans the seas to the stars.”
In 1949 again, in a message to America, Sri Aurobindo said: “East and West have always met and mixed more or less closely, they have powerfully influenced each other and at the present day are under an increasing compulsion of Nature and Fate to do so more than ever before… There is a common hope, a common destiny, both spiritual and material, for which both are needed as co-workers.”
Kudos to the vision and ability that could predict the future course of two big nations over 13,000 kms apart!
Yoga’s introduction in America can be traced to September 11, 1893, when Swami Vivekananda made his famous speech at Chicago in the Parliament of Religions. “I am proud to belong to a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance,” he said.
Swamiji’s powerful oration won him many followers. In the months that followed, the Indian visionary used Yoga as the means to spread awareness on ancient Indian spirituality in the West. He realised that a large number of people in America craved for a personal experience of Indian spiritualism. He went on to establish the Vedanta society in New York in 1895.
In his book, The East and the West, Swamiji wrote: “Understand that India is still living, because she has her own quota yet to give to the general store of the world’s civilization.”
SYMBOLISM OF EVENTS
In international diplomacy, symbolism and subtle messaging plays a crucial role. In recent years, Team India has perfected it like a fine art.
Even as the Indian and American leadership paved the way for closer alignment of the two economic and technology ecosystems, India’s soft power and cultural ethos was highlighted at every step of the recent US State visit.
The Prime Minister of India was unabashed, in fact proud of his Bharatiya roots – his pride needed no words, his actions were loud and clear. From the Yoga Day celebration to the uniquely Indian gifts for the US First Couple, and of course the historic partnership deals, Team Modi was crystal clear as to what message it was sending out to the world. In diplomacy and strategic dealings, India was standing on very firm ground on the US soil this time and holding its own.
Beginning with the celebration of the International Yoga Day on June 21 at the UN headquarters in New York, a day ahead of the official ‘State visit’, PM Modi set the tone of the visit. The theme itself was significant – ‘Yoga for VasudhaivaKutumbakam’. Make no mistake – it was not a UN event, but specifically organised for the Indian PM’s visit.
The Modi-led event witnessed overwhelming response from thousands from over 135 nationalities, creating a world record. “This is Yoga’s unifying power in action,” Modi said at the event, which saw the participation of famous personalities of America like Hollywood actor Richard Gere, prominent American singer Mary Millben, and New York Mayor Eric Adams.
“Yoga comes from India and it is a very old tradition. Yoga is free from copyrights, patents, and royalty payments,” Modi told the participants. “Yoga is adaptable to your age, gender and fitness level. Yoga is portable and truly universal.”
GIFTS FOR THE PRESIDENT, FIRST LADY
The Prime Minister gifted a handcrafted sandalwood box to President Joe Biden, and a 7.5 carat eco-friendly green diamond to the First Lady. The symbolism of the gifts was not lost to anyone.
The sandalwood box gifted to Biden, who turns 81 in November, contained a silver idol of Lord Ganesha, a diya (oil lamp) and ‘Das Danam’. “Das Danam” signifies donations made when a person becomes ‘DrishtaSahasrachandro’ or the one who has seen one thousand full moons after completing the age of 80 years and eight months.
The Prime Minister also gifted Joe Biden a copy of the first edition print of the book ‘The Ten Principal Upanishads’.
The diamond, gifted to Jill Biden, was placed in a box made of paper pulp, known as kar-e-kalamdani. This exquisite diamond not only reflects the chemical and optical properties of earth-mined diamonds but also embodies eco-friendliness, as it was crafted using sustainable resources like solar and wind power. Together, the lab-grown green diamond and the artistry of the Papiermâché box symbolise the vibrancy of India’s cultural tapestry, blending innovation, sustainability, and traditional craftsmanship into a remarkable expression of luxury.
The US is home to the largest Indian diaspora in the world. Indian Americans are the second-largest immigrant group in the US, estimated at 4.9 million.
Significantly, PM Modi’s speech to the Indian diaspora on the last day of his visit focused on the growing partnership between the two countries and how they’re ‘heading towards a better future together’. At the start of his speech, Modi told the audience, “In a way, you have charted out the full map of India in this hall. I can see people from all corners of India here.”
“I want to thank you all for showing such a beautiful image of ‘Ek Bharat, Shreshth Bharat’, in America,” he added. “Together we are not just forming policies and agreements, we are shaping lives, dreams and destinies,” PM Modi said amid a thunderous applause and a roaring crowd.
Cultural and people-to-people exchanges between India and the US have naturally increased over the past few years.
The US was the largest source of foreign tourists arriving to India in 2021 at over 429.8 thousand visitors. American tourists have been outnumbering the tourists that visit the country from other European and South Asian countries in 2021.”
A media report in March 2017 said the US tourist flow had grown 27 per cent over the last four years despite travel advisories.
On the other hand, India emerged as the fifth largest source country for international visitors to the US in 2021 — up five places from pre-pandemic 2019 — despite the restrictions. In terms of spending by overseas visitors (not including airfare) in America, Indians were the third highest.
The negative forces of this world hate success stories and will always try to pull them down. And so it was with the Indian PM’s US State visit. A so-called journalist’s question to PM Modi, meant to further a particular narrative, during the joint press conference and a CNN interview of former US President Barack Obama sought to surround the visit in the shadow of controversies.
In an interview with CNN, Obama said India may “pull apart” if the rights of the religious and ethnic minorities are not upheld. Notably, the critical remarks from Obama came on the same day when PM Modi held multiple meetings in the US.
Reacting to Obama, Johnnie Moore, former Commissioner of US Commission on International Religious Freedom, said: “I think the former president (Barack Obama) should spend his energy complimenting India more than criticizing India. India is the most diverse country in human history. It’s not a perfect country, just like the US is not a perfect country, but its diversity is its strength… and we should be complimenting the largest democracy in the world every chance that we have… Even in that critique, (former) President Obama couldn’t help but also compliment PM Modi, and I certainly understand why, having spent some time with him.”
US declares a day after Indian spiritual Guru
Joining a league of 27 American and Canadian cities, Allegheny County in the US declared June 22 as Sri Sri Ravi Shankar Day for his humanitarian work.
County Executive Rich Fitzgerald issued a proclamation to declare June 22 as Sri Sri Ravi Shankar Day to ‘honor him for his work as a global humanitarian, spiritual leader and peace envoy.’
The citation read: “Gurudev focuses on advocating harmony amid cultural diversity; his efforts to unite diverse communities through volunteerism and social initiatives to reduce inner-city violence and crime, are only eclipsed by his initiatives that bring cultures and communities together during conflict and a global leader, Gurudev has inspired a wave of volunteerism and service with more than one million people worldwide dedicated to building empowered communities….”
Apart from 25 cities that celebrate days in his honour, Gurudev has also received the highest civilian honours from 5 countries, over 39 honours and awards from governments across the world, and 26 honorary Doctorates, in recognition of his work.