Support of the Indian Diaspora to India is not automatic. They can be the severest critics of India on occasions, but they gush forth with support and solidarity when India does something right. The Emergency in India and the support to the Soviet Union when it occupied Afghanistan drew condemnation from the Indian Americans, while they stood like a rock with India at the time of the nuclear tests, even though the US Government was up in arms against India. The Indian Americans largely drove the subsequent nuclear deal. So the unprecedented rock star reception accorded to Narendra Modi at the Madison Square Garden (MSG) reflects the genuine admiration and expectation on the part of the Indian Americans that he will transform India.
In the United States, the rich 1% of the population is believed to be decisive in the fortunes of the nation. The 1% Indian American population, which is not only prosperous, but also in crucial professions, has considerable influence. That explains why several Senators and Congressmen, including the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the equivalent body in the House and a Governor were at hand to greet Modi. The Indian community finances their campaigns, gives them professional services and keeps them informed of the good and bad news from India. The India Caucus in the Congress and the Friends of India in the Senate are the offshoots of the growing clout of the Indian Americans in US politics. President Barack Obama cannot but take into account the tremendous enthusiasm of the significant 1% of his people for the new leader of the largest democracy when he sits across the table with him in the White House. The very purpose of the Madison Square Garden extravaganza was exactly that. Of course, Obama had anticipated the phenomenon when he appointed Nisha Biswal, Arun Kumar and now Richard Verma to take care of crucial positions in the US administration.
The MSG event was more important for its symbolism and implications for the future than for what was said or done there. But Modi could be trusted to say the right things at the right time. He harped basically on three themes---how the overseas Indians, particularly, Indian Americans, have raised India’s standing and prestige abroad, the greatness of India, old and new and his personal promise to meet the expectations by sheer dint of hard work.
Modi’s image of the Indians of today playing with the computer mouse rather than the proverbial snake was a compliment not only to India but also the overseas Indians, who spearheaded the IT revolution in the world. He thanked the Indian Americans for keeping awake with bated breath during the Indian elections, even though they could not participate in the vote. Many had even gone to India to provide support to him, he said.
Modi was at his best in waxing eloquent on Indian heritage and its potential. Gandhi created the freedom movement and he is determined to create a clean India movement. Indian is a young nation with an ancient history. With his penchant to create alphabetical soups for all occasions, he spoke of three Ds this time--Democracy, Demographic dividend and Demand—which would drive India. Having not taken even a “fifteen minutes vacation” since he assumed office, he would work tirelessly to keep up the promise he had given to the people.
He invited every one to participate in the Make in India program.
As expected, Modi spoke eloquently about ‘Mangalayan’, the highly successful Mars mission, which took India to the galaxy of four Mars explorers. In Gujarat, an auto rikshaw ride costs rupees ten per kilometer, but the journey to the Mars cost only rupees seven per kilometer, an argument against the charge of extravagance voiced by some. Though the Mars mission was launched before Modi’s emergence, he took the full credit for it.
Modi announced some consular concessions to overseas Indians, but not the dual citizenship, the long cherished dream of the Indian Americans. Many had expected him to announce it, going beyond the Person of Indian Origin (PIO) card and the Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) card, put in place by previous Governments. He must have explored it and realized that dual citizenship was not feasible for various reasons, including constitutional constraints. Lifelong visa for PIO card holders is, however, an improvement. His own visa issue appeared to be behind his comment that India was offering visa on arrival to those who are reluctant to give visas to Indians.
Modi was unconcerned about
the fact that he was addressing essentially foreign nationals , who owe their allegiance to the US than to India. He also ignored the fact that many of them did not follow Hindi. In fact, some in the audience had challenged Atal Behari Vajpayee in 2000, when he spoke in Hindi at an Indian community function in Washington. When Vajpayee said that that he had spoken in Hindi even at the UN, he was told that he had the facility of simultaneous interpretation at the UN. At MSG, the mood was so exuberant that what he said was less important than the privilege of being with him.
Modi did not dwell at length on India-US relations, even though US policy makers were present, perhaps because he wanted to hold his horses till he reached Washington. But the word must have reached Obama loudly and clearly that a significant 1% of his people saw Modi as a messiah of change in India and that partnership with him will benefit the US in meeting the global challenges of the future. The euphoria of MSG will definitely reverberate in the White House and the man, who was once a Persona Non Grata in the US, will be warmly received. Obama is sure to seek his counsel on Ukraine, ISIS, South China Sea and Afghanistan and seek to resolve problems relating to the nuclear deal, defense cooperation and investment. The moribund relations between the two countries may be awakened by the songs, dances and speeches at the Madison Square Garden.