Madison Square Garden, Take Two

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The Indian community in Australia is all set to welcome Prime Minister Modi

Mudra Trivedi Shah claims that when she saw the Madison Square Garden reception for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi live on the internet on 28 September, she felt goose bumps.

A long-time Modi fan and supporter, the 28-year-old Adelaide-based MBA student decided almost immediately that when Modi came to Australia, she would go and hear him live.

“I was disappointed to learn he would not be visiting my city on his Australia trip,” she tells Indian Link, “But I’m definitely going to Sydney.”

Brisbane’s Sai Korrapati, a 31-year-old IT executive, is a recent Modi convert. “I believe Narendra Modi represents Indian values best and is a great hope for the country,” he says. “I will be in Sydney to show my support for him.”

Mahesh Rohira, a 35-year-old chartered accountant in Melbourne, is looking forward to his train trip to Sydney on the much-talked about ‘Modi Express’. He will join 220-odd like-minded Melbournians who are taking time off work to see India’s Prime Minister in Australia. “I think Modi is a fantastic orator and it’s great that we’re getting an opportunity to hear him speak here in Australia.”

Shah, Korrapati and Rohira are but three of an expected 18,000 people who will be part of a mega reception for the Indian leader at Allphones Arena at Sydney Olympic Park on Monday 17 November.

It will be the largest audience to hear an address by a foreign leader in Australia.

To say that there is an overwhelming interest in the Prime Minister’s visit, would be an understatement.

This is nothing short of Modi mania.

The reception is organised by the Indian Australian Community Foundation (IACF), a coalition of diverse Indian-Australian organisations who have pooled their resources specifically for the Prime Minister’s visit.

The event will take place on the sidelines of the G-20 summit to be held in Brisbane on 15 and 16 November. But for the Indian community here, the IACF event is far, far more significant.

Nihal Agar, the chairman of IACF, tells Indian Link, “Indian-Australians have waited for 28 years to host an Indian Prime Minister here, so this is truly a momentous occasion.”

Balesh Dhankhar, spokesman of the IACF agrees, but adds that the euphoria is also for the man himself. “Modi reflects the common Indian man, and his journey has been so inspiring.”


Sneak peak behind the scenes

Agar admits that the idea came about after Madison Square Garden.

Modi’s address to a capacity crowd at this New York venue had hit world headlines and won him even more admirers at home.

“When we heard about Modi’s Australia visit, we asked the Indian High Commission here if we could organise a community event in Sydney,” he reveals. “The political and economic agendas are to be concluded at the Brisbane, Canberra and Melbourne events, and so we thought we could have a social engagement in Sydney.”

The High Commission’s response was that the PM’s itinerary was all finalised.

“We then approached the PMO in India directly, and were able to convince them of the significance the Sydney visit could hold for the Indian diaspora. Modiji agreed to take up our invite to address the Indian community here.”

This set into motion a flurry of activity. The Allphones Arena was booked as the venue.

In characteristic style, Agar declared that the event would be an inclusive effort, in which as many community organisations as possible would be invited to take part. The message went out via a newly launched website www.PMvisit.org.au. Within three days, some 200 organisations had expressed interest to join, and they were inducted as ‘Reception Partners’.

“IACF has partnered with hundreds of community, social, religious and linguistic organisations that represent the diversity and pluralism that defines India and the three hundred thousand Indian Australians,” Nihal Agar says. “Our aim was always to be inclusive.”

Community members registered via their organisations their interest to attend the address.

When registrations closed, some 21,000 people had signed up from across the country. (Another 20,000 people are expected to register now that organisers have opened a number of seats for allocation by lottery).

No less than 400 people offered their services as volunteers.

Agar and Dhankhar both agree that other aims of the endeavour are to bring the Indian community together on a single platform, which they seem to have done commendably so far, and to send the message out to the wider Australian community that they can be a formidable part of the socio-political fabric of the country.

An hour-long cultural show is being planned, with a special event intended to showcase the hundreds of years of links that have existed between India and Australia. It will highlight new historical, archaeological and linguistic evidence indicating human migration from the Indian subcontinent to Australia around 5,000 years ago.

The technical team, whose job includes providing free telecast and broadcast to interested agencies, is 40 members strong.

Nihal Agar reveals that they did consult with the Madison Square Garden team, who advised on various issues as well as alerted them on possible trouble spots.

A fortnight out from the event, the IACF team are working round the clock to finalise all arrangements. Many have taken a leave of absence from their regular jobs (for a whole month in one instance). Two volunteers that Indian Link spoke to revealed they had been working non-stop for the past 24 hours. One of them disclosed that the efforts and energy being expended far exceed those in the Madison Square Garden event. As well, it was pointed out, the Chinese community’s efforts for the visit of their own President Xi Jinping (who like Modi will also address Federal Parliament), are not as extensive.



All aboard the Modi Express

Some 1000 Melbournians will be travelling to Sydney to attend the Modi event.

For 220 of these, it will be via a specially chartered train that is being called the ‘Modi Express’.

Shivesh Pandey of Melbourne’s Overseas Friends of BJP (OFBJP) chapter reveals that the train will be flagged off from Melbourne’s Southern Cross Station by a leading figure, but he won’t divulge who – it could be the Premier of Victoria, or the Transport Minister. Perhaps the Minister for Multicultural Affairs?

For Shivesh, it was exciting to see the numbers gradually build up from his city. As the numbers touched the low hundreds, the idea of the train came up during a chat with friends. It was like a light bulb had gone off.

“The idea clicked because Modi himself travelled by train, as a grasssroots social and political worker,” Shivesh says. “It is the common man’s mode of transport in India, after all.”

To hear the plans for the train journey would remind you of a pilgrimage in India for which trains are similarly chartered. There’s going to be Modi banners, tricolour balloons, and you guessed it, dhoklas and theplas and phephras galore!

Shivesh says there’s one Middle Eastern couple from Adelaide who will travel especially to Melbourne to board the Modi Express bound for Sydney.

“There’s also another Sydney-based couple flying down to Melbourne to catch the train back to the Modi reception,” Shivesh says.

One thing’s for sure, the train journey will hold some pretty special memories for a lot of people.

“Unfortunately we could not accommodate so many others who wanted to join us,” laments Shivesh.

Australian fan base

The OFBJP had a dream debut in Australia as the BJP won the general elections months after the organisation was founded. Its numbers have burgeoned since then, in every major centre in Australia. And there are many more supporters of Modi out there who are not even members.

As a Gujarati, Mudra Trivedi Shah is very closely aware of the Modi style of operation which has worked wonders for her state. “Even as PM, Modi’s initiatives like MyGov, Make in India, Man Ki Baat radio program, even his social media call-out to the community here to share ideas on important issues, all show his sincere efforts to shake the country out of its complacency.”

Deeksha Chopra of Sydney, 31, who missed out on getting a seat at the Sydney event, but will watch the proceedings via giant TV screens outside the venue, says, “Modi is a visionary and I believe that he wants India to truly shine. His journey from ‘an ordinary chaiwallah’ as he calls himself, to the Prime Minister of the country is no ordinary journey. Who can forget his Madison Square speech… he inspires me to be as passionate and driven as he is.”

Dilip Jadeja of Sydney will also be an “outsider”, having been too late to register, but is grateful for the opportunity. A die-hard Modi fan, he does not care about aligning himself to an association to show his support.

Sai Korrapati is a recent convert. “I come from a Congress-inclined family, but lost faith in the last two years. I became a Modi fan first, then a BJP supporter.”

And there are mainstream admirers as well. Matt Kean, Member for Hornsby in the NSW Parliament, is looking forward to the Allphones Arena event, and will also be in Canberra to hear the Indian leader address the Australian Parliament. “PM Modi is an inspiration for me as a young MP,” he tells Indian Link. “His story provides proof that standing up to your beliefs and working hard, which he has done all his life, wins you not only the respect of the people, but also success in politics. I also believe that Mr Modi’s vision for India can transform the world.”

Interestingly, amongst the IACF top brass, there’s a mix of allegiances. Shivesh Pandey claims unabashedly to have been a BJP supporter and voter for a long time. Nihal Agar will admit he has never been a BJP supporter, but has always been an admirer of Modi. And as for Balesh Dhankhar, he roundly refuses to answer the question. “It is of no relevance what my political leanings are, as regards my voluntary work with the IACF.”


Media interest

There’s been much interest in India at Modi’s upcoming visit. The 24-hour news channels scurry to find their ‘unusual angles’ on the story, such as what the Pakistan Australia Business Council is doing as one of the participating organisations, and listing it, rather unnecessarily, next to all the “Hindu” associations that are participating.

Allphones Arena is typically described as having “hosted concerts of musicians Pitbull, Ricky Martin, Rihanna and Mariah Carey in the past,” and where “Katy Perry will perform a few days after Modi’s visit”.

Move over, rock stars!

There’s also been mention of Gujarati film Bey Yaar (Two Friends) released here to coincide with Modi’s visit. News junkies may be forgiven if they believe the bey yaars in the film are Modi and Abbott…

No doubt the excitement is high in India, to see another rah-rah affair being organised in the diaspora for its Prime Minister.

“My friends from India are asking if I will go to the big community event,” Mudra Trivedi Shah reveals. “Even my dad has been emailing me news clips from various sources about his Oz visit.”

In Australia,mainstream media have begun to take notice of the community preparations for Modi’s visit, no doubt taking the lead from the interest shown by the American media at Madison Square Garden. It will be interesting to note how they will cover the actual event on 17 November. Is there a Jon Stewart or a John Oliver among them who will come up with a report that will go viral on social media? Are they waiting to see if Hugh Jackman will appear alongside the Indian PM again (and this time correct him for a sci-fi gaffe?) Will there be shrieking schoolgirls?

Or will they see him for what he wants to be seen as – someone who means business and someone who wants to steady India as it totters from its economic and political position on a global platform?

Of one thing we can be sure though: Madison Square may have started it, but Sydney’s Allphones Arena will stamp Modi NRI mania as a trend to be followed.

Modi in Oz: Itinerary

15 Nov: Arrive in Brisbane

15-16: G-20 summit

16 Nov: Unveil Gandhi statue at Roma St, Parklands, Brisbane, followed by civic reception cum high tea at Town Hall

17 Nov: Address Australia’s Indian community at Allphones Arena, Sydney event at 5.00pm, and then depart for Canberra

18 Nov: Hold bilateral talks with Tony Abbott; address joint session of Parliament, and depart for Melbourne

18 Nov: Attend state banquet with Tony Abbott at MCG after tour of stadium

19 Nov: Depart for Fiji

Rajni Anand Luthra
Rajni Anand Luthra
Rajni is the Editor of Indian Link.

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