Over 80,000 Indians in Brisbane showed great enthusiasm just to catch a glimpse of PM Modi, write MOHAN THITE and TASNEEM ZAVERY
As soon as the news spread that India’s newly elected Prime Minister Narendra Modi was visiting Brisbane to attend the G20 summit, there was a jostle to secure passes to attend his events and the office bearers of Indian organisations in Queensland had a tough time pleasing their constituents!
Following Modi’s rock star performance at Madison Square Garden in New York, Indians in Australia couldn’t wait to witness a repeat performance here and he sure didn’t disappoint.
The Indian support for him in Brisbane was so overwhelming that some opposition leaders back home in India grudgingly accused PM Modi of bringing in ‘hired crowds’! Even the record temperatures in Brisbane during the weekend of the G20 summit couldn’t keep the crowds away.
Apart from attending the G20 events, PM Modi’s schedule in Brisbane included a visit to the Queensland University of Technology (QUT), unveiling Mahatma Gandhi’s statue at the Roma Street Parklands and a civic reception at the Town Hall.
As soon as Prime Minister Modi arrived in Brisbane, he tweeted a picture of the beautiful Brisbane city skyline. During his visit to QUT, he was introduced to the various facilities and research programs, including a tour of ‘The Cube’, one of the world’s largest interactive learning spaces.
PM Modi also inspected QUT’s Agro Robot, a machine developed as part of the university’s program to develop robotics technology in the agriculture sector.
Asked to write a message on the Robot, Modi wrote a message in Gujurati, including: “Research is the mother of invention. The development journey of mankind is a continuous stream of research.”
Meeting with high school students, PM Modi made a point of acknowledging former Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s birth anniversary, and posed for a series of ‘selfies’.
A minor controversy erupted when some people noticed that Kashmir was conspicuously absent from the map of India displayed at the event, but organisers apologised for the blunder the following day.
The television coverage of Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott entering the G20 inauguration accompanied by PM Modi was a clear indication of India’s rising status among the world’s most famous and powerful leaders.
At the unveiling of the Gandhi statue, PM Modi was introduced as the ‘hottest star of the hottest day’, in reference to the soaring Brisbane heat.
While only a handful of passes were issued for the event, those Indians who couldn’t get in had the chance to see and hear him from a distance and cheered as he waved at them and acknowledged their presence.
It transpired at the unveiling that the idea of a Gandhi memorial in Brisbane was mooted by Modi way back in 1999 when he visited Australia as a private citizen. He warmly acknowledged the Indian families who hosted him during his previous visits.
He congratulated the G20 organisers for hosting the most peaceful summit ever, keeping in tradition with Gandhi’s ideology.
In his brief but memorable speech in Hindi, Prime Minister Modi highlighted how Gandhi’s ideals are still relevant today, particularly in relation to the two most pressing challenges in the world, namely, terrorism and climate change.
“If we hadn’t exploited Mother Nature the way that we have done, and we had only used to the extent that Mahatma Gandhi had preached, then we would not be faced with these problems today,” Modi said.
It was indeed a historic and memorable occasion on all counts and one that Indians in Brisbane will remember for a long time to come.
At the Civic Reception held in his honour at the Brisbane City Hall on the Sunday evening of the G20 weekend, a large crowd waited in anticipation for the arrival of Prime Minister Modi.
Indigenous Australian and Indian dancers set the scene followed by beautiful renditions of the Indian and Australian national anthems.
Speaking in English, Modi began his speech with the words the people of Brisbane were desperate to hear. “What an outstanding job. I know that you have often lived in the shadow of Melbourne and Sydney, but you have shown the world what a great city and host you are,” PM Modi said.
Joined by Campbell Newman, Premier of Queensland and Lord Mayor Graham Quirk, the Prime Minister expressed delight that his journey in Australia began in Brisbane.
The Reception was a strictly by invite-only event for both the Indian and Australian communities. Dressed in traditional attire, people made a point of being at the premises at the given time of 4pm to get their spot for the best view of the Indian Prime Minister.
Brisbane City Hall also seemed to welcome the Indian community and the Prime Minister, with the ceiling lit in the colours of the Indian flag.
Lord Mayor Graham Quirk welcomed the people and the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “This is a proud land where the G20 was conducted, also where a peaceful assembly and rights of democracy have been exercised.”
“Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the people see you as a man on whom they rest their hope, destiny and aspirations. You know you are carrying the responsibility of their unprecedented support.”
The Lord Mayor continued by saying that there is an unusual relationship between Brisbane and Hyderabad, and the cities have “recommitted to the relationship to ensure that India and Australia continue to grow in strength”.
Premier of Queensland Campbell Newman acknowledged people of Indian descent and highlighted the similarities between India and Australia.
“It’s an honour to be reaffirmed with the Honorary Indian of the Year title by the Indian community here. We share the same National Day, January 26, and then there is cricket.”
Fans cheered as Indian Prime Minister Modi took to the podium. “Queensland is in the forefront of the relationship between Australia and India, and the credit of this long partnership between Indian and Queensland goes to you, Premier Newman and Lord Mayor,” PM Modi said.
“Queensland has emerged as an area of major growth in resources to power Indian’s development. It is also a major destination of Indian investments – you have supported partnerships in education and skills.”
“The friendship and understanding among business and academic leaders from India demonstrates a strong partnership with Australia, especially Queensland,” PM Modi continued.
“Brisbane has emerged as a centre of advanced technology, as Hyderabad is also known as ‘Cyberabad’. These two cities have a sister-city relationship and I truly welcome the engagement between states and cities. I am very keen to involve states in India with international engagement.”
Talking about the new wave in India, Modi said, “This is an exciting moment in India, filled with optimism, an era of change and progress and the prospect to achieve, driven by the energy and enterprise of our youth. This is the time to forge partnerships in India.”
An excited Fatema, who has been in Brisbane for only a few months, said, “I am extremely overjoyed to see our Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It was an inspiring speech and I was pleasantly surprised to hear him speak in English, I would have loved to hear more.”
“It is nice to get close and personal with an eminent political figure, and with the Indian Prime Minister’s visit to Australia, it will definitely strengthen the alliances of both the countries,” said Anuj Sodha.
For Shobha Rawal who has lived in Brisbane for 44 years, “Seeing Narendra Modi is a wish come true. I thoroughly enjoyed his speech and it is good to see progress and relationship between both the countries.”
Atul Bhardwaj, wished the Indian Prime Minister the very best, “We as Indians have lots of hopes and aspirations rested on him,” he said. “He will march our country into the future shoulder to shoulder with the big powers.”