Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi connected with thousands of rapturously cheering Indian diaspora at Madison Square Garden here Sunday, promising them he would deliver on the electoral promise of a resurgent India and urged them to join in the mass movement to work for their country of origin.
Addressing a 20,000-strong crowd at the venue – that has seen former US presidents and rock stars take to the stage but never an Indian politician – and also thousands watching the event live outside on giant screens, and millions back home and around the world on TV and internet, Modi announced relief measures for the diaspora, including lifelong visas for Persons of Indian Origin cardholders and the merger of the PIO and Overseas Citizenship of India (OCI) schemes with a new scheme to be announced soon.
Speaking in his chatty style in Hindi for almost an hour, and attired in cream kurta-pyjama and a light orange jacket, Modi praised the Indian diaspora for its contribution to IT, saying India was no longer considered a land of snake charmers but of software wizards.
“Our forefathers maybe would play with snakes, but we play with the mouse (computer mouse),” he said, to wild cheers.
Referring to the elections that swept him to power in May, Modi thanked the diaspora for their support and said he has not taken even a 15-minute vacation since becoming prime minister.
“Winning elections is not for sitting on a seat, it is a responsibility. And I have not taken even a 15-minute vacation since becoming PM,” he said.
As the crowd chanted “Modi, Modi” throughout his speech, the prime minister said his government will not leave any stone unturned to fulfil the expectations of the people.
He said India is at an opportune cusp of circumstances, blessed with a vibrant democracy, with 65 percent of its people under the age of 35, and a market of 1.25 billion people and will scale new heights in the near future.
“These three things are present in one country, this is not there anywhere else in the world. And on the basis of this India will cross new heights – it is my belief,” said Modi as the crowd chanted, clapped and cheered every time the prime minister made a good point and appealed to their patriotism.
Referring to the ageing populace across the world, he said that India is blessed with the youngest population and the largest workforce in the world.
“India can supply the workforce to the world,” he said, suggesting that India should export its trained teachers and nurses across the world.
He also proposed that the diaspora should join in the efforts to rebuild the country, a “vikas jan andolan” or a mass movement for development – in helping in any way they could.
Referring to the skill development that his government has launched for the youth, he said his government has created a skill development ministry and would invite other countries to join in the effort.
He also referred to the Make in India campaign the government launched ahead of his US visit to invite investments and to manufacture in India as also the sanitation campaign to make a Clean India, a movement which he said would gladden the hearts of Indian abroad who often get turned away by India’s pervasive squalor.
He asked the Indian diaspora to connect with him directly online and also asked them to join in the endeavour to clean the Ganga river.
Modi also announced visa-free arrival for US tourists in India and that Indian missions in the US would grant long term visas to US citizens, which was widely welcomed by the Indian Americans.
Ahead of the address, for which tickets were sold out days in advance, there were some performances by Gujarati and Rajasthani folk dancers and a song by noted singer Kavita Krishnamoorthy, who also rendered the Indian national anthem.
Capping two days eventful in New York, Modi travels to Washington Monday for summit talks with President Barack Obama, his top cabinet colleagues and Congressional leaders to renew and revive a bilateral dialogue and strategic partnership that seemed to have run into uncertain weather in recent times.
His address to the Indian diaspora comes a day after he enthralled a 65,000-strong youthful crowd at Central Park, unveiling to them his vision of a clean India with toilets for all, and ending with the iconic words “May the force be with you” from the evergreen hit Star Wars films.