Excitement over PM Modi’s US visit; but part of Indian-American community unhappy with MSG show

Indian Americans these days are abuzz speculating about what language Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will speak when he addresses a mammoth gathering of 21,000 members of the community at the indoor arena of Madison Square Garden (MSG) in midtown Manhattan.


The venue, famous as the home of the New York Rangers of the US National Hockey League, has been reportedly booked for $700,000 for the event on September 28 being organized under the umbrella of a recently formed not-for-profit organization called the Indian American Community Foundation (IACF).



The body will bring together over 500 diverse desi organizations and has energized the Indian-American community like never before — never in the history of Indian prime ministerial visits has such a huge event been organized by the 4.2-million-strong community.


But then Modi is the flavour of the season wherever Indians or people of Indian origin are present, and even more so in the US which has an organization called the Overseas Friends of BJP (OFBJP). “There is tremendous enthusiasm among the community to see our popular leader in person and hear from him his plans and vision for India,” says Chandrakant Patel, chairman of the IACF and president of the OFBJP.


The organizers expect the stadium to be filled to its capacity. The event is scheduled to start at 11 am with a cultural programme and a short film called India Marching Forward followed by the PM’s arrival at noon. The event will be hosted by the first Indian-origin Miss America, Nina Davuluri. Modi is expected to share the stage with a few US lawmakers.


While the excitement among the Indian-American community is palpable, there are growing rumblings of discontent. “The MSG show seems to have been organized more on the lines of a Bollywood extravaganza rather than a significant address by the PM of the world’s largest democracy,” says Mukesh J Mowji, principal of Silver Creek Hospitality, a hotel development and management company in Silicon Valley and an investor in several IT start-ups.


The Unhappy Lot

Mowji and a section of investors like him would have liked Modi to visit Silicon Valley and participate in “more important and serious” engagements. “This is the technology hub of the US and has an influential Indian American community,” he adds. Mowji will not attend the MSG carnival because he has more important business engagements.


Mowji’s absence will be ironic; as a former chairman of the Asian American Hotel Owners Association (AAHOA), he had played a key role in inviting Modi to the US in 2005 for the organization’s annual convention, following which his visa was revoked.


Like Mowji there are others who are also unhappy over the way in which the MSG show has been handled. “IACF is a hurriedly put together organization and although there’s a full board and executives, it is being run single-handedly by Bharat Barai [a Chicago doctor who is known to be very close to Modi],” Chicago businessman Shalabh Shalli Kumar, founder of the National Indian American Public Policy Institute, a think tank, told ET Magazine on phone.


Kumar is also unhappy over the lack of transparency in the fund-raising for the event. “Initially, there were no ticket sales for this reception, now there is a ticket price of $1,000 per person for reserved seats, of which there are around 1,900. The process is not transparent,” adds Kumar. Over $1 million is being reportedly spent on the MSG bash.


Modi Fever

Of course, the groundswell of enthusiasm easily overruns the disgruntlement. “We have over 1,000 members of our organization from not just the eastern states but some from further away such as Florida and Chicago coming to NYC only to hear him speak,” says Ashook Ramsaran, president of the Global Organization of People of Indian Origin (GOPIO).


Ajeet Singhvi, former president and currently a member of the board of trustees of American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin, too believes that the event will be a show of strength of the Indian American community. “We hope to hear the Indian PM speak about India’s national healthcare policy and ways in which we can collaborate and help,” Singhvi told ET Magazine from Los Angeles.


Aside from the MSG shindig, the consulate general of India in New York will host Modi for a private dinner at The Pierre, a Taj hotel in Manhattan, at which 300 select guests have a chance of getting up close with the prime minister. “It will be an opportunity to interact with the PM and discuss issues that are important not just for the community in the US but also for India,” said Sanjay Puri, chairman of the US India Political Action Committee.


As usual, Modi’s schedule will be a packed one — packed enough perhaps to make it difficult for the prime minister to sneak out for a quick thali at Vatan, NYC’s favourite Gujarati restaurant.

Source: The Economic Times

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