Modi supporters are everywhere. I bet Mangalyaan will find them even on Mars. Here in New York, there are Modi supporters all across Manhattan. They have come in busloads to support their hero. So from Dekho Dekho kaun ayaa... Bharat ka sher aya (Look who has come, India’s lion is here) to Bharat Mata ki Jai to Vande Mataram, every slogan that Narendra Modi the campaigner raised during his gruelling election campaign was repeated over the weekend in the Big Apple.
Relax, I’ll handle it: Prime Minister Narendra Modi at Madison Square Garden yesterday. Pic/PTI
Not many could get anywhere near Modi the PM. But that did not matter. They were thrilled that the Hindu Hriday Samrat, yes that is what one of them called Mr Modi, was here in New York. At a temple in Queens, Indians dressed in Navratri finery, see the PM visit as a signal that ‘Devi maata has sent her son to us.’ Over the top did you say? Try telling that to the fans. Their enthusiasm and blind faith that Narendra Modi will deliver India from all ills is all pervading. They believe that India will become modern and free of corruption. They bristle if you ask questions. They only want to be asked, “Aapko kaisa lag raha hai? (How do you feel?).” The question that evokes derision back home.
The acronym FOB stood for the phrase Fresh Off the Boat used to describe first-generation immigrants who resisted assimilation into the host nation’s culture. It now stands for Friends of the BJP. They are everywhere, on the Internet, at garba functions, at universities; all convinced that ‘achche din’ are here for the country of their origin. That corruption is on its last leg, that visa quotas will improve, that travel to India will be easier. Their faith in Modi is deep and strong. They can outshout angry Pakistani demonstrators raising plebiscite for Kashmir slogans outside the UNGA, they have convinced many Sikh organisations that the 1984 riots accused will soon be brought to justice, they argue with Muslims that it is all Congress propaganda that the BJP is anti-Muslim just because it is Hindu nationalistic.
If all this makes Narendra Modi believe that he is the next avatar then I wouldn’t blame him. This kind of adulation from Indians who live thousands of miles away could go to anyone’s head. It would require a special kind of discipline to be steady and focus on getting a team in place, focusing on deliverables and achieving targets. Here, in the US, there is a general consensus that global sentiment is turning in India’s favour, and more specifically, there is faith in Modi’s efforts to mend governance and restore credibility in India’s economic edifice.
Modi has over 50 meetings scheduled in his five days in the US. These include one-on-ones, delegation level meetings and interactions with community leaders. The most important one is clearly with the American president. It would be the first time that the two would be meeting. Obama and Modi: two heads of governments who began their political careers as underdogs, and now lead two democracies, one the largest and one the most populous.
President Obama is on the ‘legacy leg’ of his second and final presidential term. Prime Minister Modi is just about embarking on this first term. Their goals and priorities are different. And yet, the two leaders can ill afford to ignore the importance the other country has.
Modi wants to promote ‘Make in India’ and President Obama needs to provide jobs to his people. Modi needs to curb inflation and eliminate poverty; Obama has to mop up allies in the war against ISIS. Divergence maybe, but a partnership in any or all these goals would make achieving those goals possible. From a transactional relationship, the two countries are on the threshold of becoming partners of sorts, given the right vision is in place.
Modi heads to the American Capital on Monday where he will dine with President Obama and Vice-President Biden. Another meeting will follow on Tuesday. The two leaders are keen to break the ice and work towards establishing a rapport that will translate in positive action. Mr Modi, it seems, has put the past behind him, has forgotten the visa rejection and is now ready to write a new chapter as the Prime Minister of India. Whether America will respond with similar enthusiasm, is something we have to wait and watch for.
Smita Prakash is Editor, News at Asian News International. You can follow her on twitter @smitaprakash