Magic, mania and mystique. The Modi madness swamped New York’s famed Madison Square Garden on a bright Sunday afternoon when the leader of the world’s largest democracy unveiled his dream of remaking India and was lavished adulation that only rock stars can dream of.
Hundreds of Indian-Americans waving tricolours and sporting Modi t-shirts and tattoos thronged the Penn Plaza entrance to the iconic Madison Square Garden which is better known for hosting baseball legends, rock stars and singing sensations. Chants of MODI and WE LOVE MODI reverberated in the air. A few blocks away, Modi’s speech was beamed live on the giant screens at Times Square, with hundreds of Indian-Americans listening to the Indian prime minister on their mobile phones.
Carnival and Frenzy
Hordes of Indian-Americans had started swarming around the MSG since early morning, and the crush of people got only thicker with every passing minute. The lucky 20,000-odd Indian-Americans who managed to get inside the giant strobe-lit auditorium were abuzz with a sense of anticipation and had the seriousness of somebody on a modern-day pilgrimage.
This kind of carnivalesque frenzy has not been seen before during the visit of any Indian prime minister to the US, underlining the powerful chord Modi has struck with the over 3 million-strong well-heeled and well-networked Indian American community that has enriched their adopted homeland with enterprise, skills, innovation and sheer hard work.
Inside the iconic sports arena in New York, there was a party-like atmosphere, with balloons in the colours of the Indian flag hung from giant ceilings of the auditorium. A scintillating Bollywood-style fusion of songs and dance, bristling with patriotic fervour, entertained the congregation for nearly an hour before Prime Minister Modi entered the hall amid near hysterical chants of ‘Modi! Modi!’ and ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai.’ Over three dozen senators, congressmen and governors were called by their name to the centrestage, followed by soulful renditions of Indian and American national anthems.
And when Modi started speaking, he literally casts his spell. Dressed elegantly in saffron Nehru jacket, matched with yellow kurta, Modi stood on the revolving stage and unleashed a torrent of eloquence. From the word go, he struck an instant rapport with the audience, with Navratra greetings. Modi, who has been observing the nine-day Navratra fast, spoke for more than an hour, in Hindi, sans notes. The speech plunged the audience in a prolonged spell as after every few lines, he was showered with instantaneous applause.
Great India Dream
Remaking India – this was the master theme of Modi who wove a melange of interlinked themes in his speech, which included national renewal, the role of the Indian-American community in enhancing the global profile of India, his pet projects like clean India mission, cleansing of Ganga and a compelling re-articulation of the ‘Make in India’ campaign he launched just a day before he started his American journey.
In a speech with echoes of John F. Kennedy’s credo –- “ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country” — Modi exhorted Indian-Americans to become proactive contributors to his dream of making Indian anew through inclusive development. India, he said, needed a new revolution of development.
“India will not look back. India will march rapidly,” said Modi in a slightly prophetic tone, to thunderous applause from the Indian-American community.
“The 21st century will be Asia’s century. Some say this century will be the century of Hindustan (India). India has the capacity to lead. India will scale new heights in days to come. This is my firm conviction,” he underlined.
With an eye on the global audience, Modi underscored the singularity of India and its egregious destiny. “India is the most ancient country with an ancient civilisation. It’s also the youngest nation. It’s a miraculous combination.”
An Indian Century: 3D Mantra
Modi spelt out his 3D mantra for reinvigorating India. “India has three things which no other country has: democracy, demographic dividend (over 65 per cent population is below age of 35) and demand (it’s the world’s biggest market).”
Alluding to India’s IT prowess and its emergence as a knowledge hub, which has fed the success of Indian techies in Silicon Valley, Modi captured the metamorphosis of India’s global image from the land of snake-charmers to a tech giant. “Our country used to play with a snake, now we play with the mouse,” Modi said, triggering raucous laughter from the audience.
Making NRIs happy
Modi was all praise for the Indian-American community, which has emerged as a model immigrant community and batted vigorously for the India-US nuclear deal, which helped convert the once estranged democracies into engaged democracies. He also unveiled the government’s decisions to reconnect NRIs to their motherland. This included the government’s decision to provide permanent visas to all holders of PIO cards and scrapping the police reporting requirement.
The Audacity of Hope
With his crowd-pulling inspiring oratory, Modi, who was once shunned by Washington for his alleged complicity in the 2002 sectarian killings in the 2002 Gujarat riots, Modi’s blockbuster performance and the instantaneous response it got made him look like the new rock star of Indian politics. The choice of Madison Square Garden for hosting the largest civic reception for the Indian leader was also tellingly symbolic: this iconic stadium is home to New York Knicks. Beyonce, Bonne et all have strutted on its charmed stage. John Lennon played his last concert here and boxing legend Muhammad Ali fought his first bout against Joe Frazier there. This is, however, the first time that a politician has pulled off such a high-voltage performance here, and presented to Indian-Americans and Indians back home an inspirational miniature of endless possibilities that is India. This audacity of hope will surely be appreciated by US President Barack Obama who hosts the Indian leader in Washington DC on September 29 and 30. The maiden meeting between the world’s largest and oldest democracies could open up fresh avenues of twinning Indian and American dreams and opening a new chapter in what President Obama has called the defining partnership of the 21st century.
- Manish Chand is Founder-CEO and Editor-in-Chief of India Writes Network (www.indiawrites.org) and India and World, a pioneering magazine focused on international affairs. He is CEO/Director of TGII Media Private Limited, an India-based media, publishing, research and consultancy company.
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