SAN JOSE, CA – About 18,000 Indian-Americans must have nursed their throats a day after filling the SAP center here to capacity, on Sept.27 after having screamed and yelled with unbridled enthusiasm listening to the Indian Prime Minister speak on development schemes, his administration’s vision for his nation’s future,
Correctly reading the pulse of the people on the west coast - who saw an Indian Prime Minister here after over three decades - Modi asked, “Today after 16 months, I want a certificate from you. I had said I will not leave any stone unturned... to fulfill the responsibility I have been given by 125 crore people. Every moment of my life I will devote to work. Have I kept my promise, am I working hard?” The response from the ever responsive crowd was provided by an approval that had the decibel meter off the charts and everyone on their feet. After attacking the previous Indian government and its leadership for corruption, Modi sounding like he was on a campaign trail, provided another avenue for the crowd to show their approbation, “Aren’t you sick of all of this? Aren’t you angry? My countrymen, I am standing in your midst. Is there any allegation against me?” This time unhesitatingly, a character certificate was given by the adoring crowd.
A master orator, who referred to no notes, Modi’s fiery speech began contextually. He told the crowd in chaste Hindi, “I am coming here after 25 years. I am seeing a lot of changes here including new faces...I see a vibrant picture of India in California,” he said. On India’s California connect, the Prime Minister harked back to the time when the Indian leader famed for his opposition to the Emergency, Jayaprakash Narayan had studied in the state (Berkeley), Stanford University’s first Indian graduate Gopal Mukherjee and the first Congressman Dalip Singh Saund.
While some Sikhs protested outside the venue dredging up Khalistan, Modi praised the larger Sikh community to the crowd inside. Sikhs, he said, came to California years ago and even while engaging in agriculture and making a life for themselves here, remained in touch with India. “Who can forget the Gadar movement in which there was a torch lit for India’s independence here thousands of miles away. India is independent because here in California, here in the west coast, my Sikh brothers living here were looking for all ways to fight for India’s independence,” he said.
Fresh from meeting CEOs of tech companies and with a Silicon Valley audience in front of him, the Prime Minister, to their utter glee, flattered, “The magic of your fingers on the keyboard has given India a new identity. You are forcing the world to change,” he declared. Signaling a shift in stance, and speaking directly to the community, the pragmatic Modi sanctioned emigration saying, “This is not brain drain but brain deposit. Don’t think of this as brain drain. When the opportunity comes, it will come to the service of Mother India - with Interest!”
He also gifted the Bay area with three weekly flights by the government run carrier, Air India, between San Francisco and New Delhi. The crowd expectedly raised a cheer hearing that it might be the only non-stop link to India with the west coast.
Indian-Americans having witnessed the aftermath of 9/11 know the real pain of terrorism. When Modi poked the U.N. for not being able to define what terrorism was, it struck a chord. “Terrorism cannot be defined as good or bad terrorism,” he said and had the crowd cry out its support. With Richard Verma, Washington’s Ambassador to India, Nisha Biswal, Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, and Congressman Ed Royce, Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs present, Modi complained about his interactions with the State Department several years previously when he had talked about the terrorist attacks his country faced and it had been dismissed as a law and order problem. He recounted how the tenor of State Department officials changed after the 2001 attack. “The world has to realize that terrorism can hit anyone at anyplace and it is the world’s responsibility to recognize it and unite against terrorism,” he said adding for further effect, “I come from the land of Mahatma Gandhi and the Buddha, the icons of peace.”
Modi evoked the memory of another icon from India who avowedly did not choose the same path but has nevertheless captured the imagination of the public – Shaheed Bhagat Singh. The Prime Minister began and ended his speech with a rousing call, “Today is Sept.27 and in India it is Sept.28,” he said, “Sept.28 is the birth anniversary of Bhagat Singh. I salute him. I will say ‘Veer Bhagat Singh’ and you raise your hands and say ‘Amar Rahe, Amar Rahe,’” he urged.
As the flash bulbs went off and the Prime Minster walked down the stage, he was mobbed like a Bollywood star is. Surrounded by security, he still managed to clasp hands and smile as he walked off to take his special Air India flight from San Jose’s Norman Y Mineta airport to New York.