Sunday September 28th, 2014 was the perfect Fall Sunday in New York City. It was like any other Sunday except for the fact that 20,000 Indians swarmed like bees to a honeypot. Madison Square Garden; the legendary venue that has seen the likes of Frazier v/s Ali; Marilyn Monroe and Frank Sinatra; was to witness the first public speech by the Prime Minister of India to the citizens and diaspora of the country he officiates over. Organized by a community organisation; the event was free but the tickets sold out within a day of being open to the general public.
The Zoroastrian Association of Greater New York (ZAGNY) that represents the Zarathushtis of the tri-state area was invited to be one of the Welcoming Community Organisations. This enabled ZAGNY to get coveted seats for its members, before it opened up to the general public.
60 ZAGNY members and friends gathered at the venue and were seated in the first three rows to have a grandstand view. The energy in the stadium was electric and there was a fantastic sense of pride both for India which the diaspora calls home and for the United States where it’s possible to hold such events in such pomp and pageantry.
Cultural dances and popular Bollywood tunes kept the crowd entertained before the main act. The presence of senior level US elected officials was an endorsement of what the event meant to the US. The 4 senators, over 30 Congressmen and a couple of Governors made for one crowded stage !.
Just past noon, Prime Minister Modi arrived and entered the stadium attired in his trademark kurta and sleeveless Nehru-collared jacket. The stadium erupted in cheer and chants of Modi-Modi !
NRI’s in the American diaspora are no strangers to massive camapign rallies, come election time, and this was similar in vein.
Modi took the stage along with the US elected officials and the American anthem was sung. This was followed by the Jana Gana Mana, the Indian National Anthem sung by Kavita Krishnamoorthy and accompanied on the violin by her husband, the legendary L Subramanium.
After the formal part, Modi took centerstage on a revolving stage and addressed the crowd for over an hour. He urged the diaspora to join in the development of the nation in whatever way they could. Be it on the ground, through technology, funding, investing or intellectual capital.
He said he has heard their grievances and has already started to put plans in place to change that. Chief amongst that was the combining of the PIO and the OCI card status. Life time visas to PIO/OCI card holders and visa on arrival for tourists holding American passports.
Modi’s speech was in many a ways the first time that the PM of India had addressed the world stage in such a manner. He was selling brand INDIA and everything it had to offer. And the Non-Resident Indian was filled with pride in what they heard and saw.
Not only was the speech heard by those inside the stadium; it was telecast live to the overflow audience at Times Square and on national networks in India and all over the world where Indian diaspora reside. This also included live streaming on mobile handhelds and all social media platforms.
As in anything involving politics; there are skeptics. Many have had their reservations, rightly so; about Modi the candidate. However now that he is the Prime Minister of the world’s largest democracy; and has won a clear mandate; it was refreshing to see the diaspora get behind him and give him the opportunity to perform and put into action his election manifesto. The kind of euphoria seen today in India after Modi’s election is a once in a generation phenomenon. The last time the country was so hopeful was when Rajiv Gandhi was elected more than three decades ago. The energy that this wave brings will hopefully nurture real change and India will turn the corner and get on the road to real reform; which it has been promising for a long time now.
In inviting the Zarathushtis of the area to be a part of this function; the organizers showed the right mindset and sensitivity to be completely inclusive whatever the size of the community. In a small way it reaffirms the position held by the Parsis, not only in India but in the world Indian diaspora.
Dressed in Garas and Daglis, the Parsis of New York did the community proud. Many in the crowd stopped and recognised the Dagli clad men as Parsis and were so happy to see us participating in this event. A special thanks goes out to Astad Clubwala, the President of ZAGNY for orchestrating the complex logistics of getting everyone who signed up their tickets in time and with very clear communication. All in all, a proud day for the Indian Diaspora and the Parsi community in New York.
Here is the video recording of the entire speech.
If you don’t see the video embedded in the email click here.
Above images are by Shirin Kumaana-Wadia, Kaika Clubwala, Ruzbeh Daruwala and Arzan Sam Wadia