Sydney witnesses Modimania !


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By Neena Badhwar

While Brisbane got to host G20 Summit with Modi pressing for black money to be repatriated to India as discussions on the agenda of anti-corruption, tax evasion and trade by the G 20 nations releasing a 3-page 21-point communique, Canberra received its own highlight where Mr Modi gave an address, a first Indian Prime Minister ever to have done so, in the Parliament House.

Melbourne had its own highlight where Mr Modi spoke to a CEO Forum and a Business Meet with the members of the AIBC. He was given a reception at the Melbourne Cricket Ground by Prime Minister Mr Abbott with a select group of invitees that included former cricketers Kapil Dev and Sunil Gavaskar. Prime Minister Tony Abbott referred to Modi ”˜as almost my brother’ as the two leaders forged a strong bond that had developed as they talked about trade and cultural ties between the two nations during Mr Modi’s 4-day 4-city trip to Australia.

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Modi proved to be a real magnet all around the arena

Sydney had its own Modi moment with Indian community gathered in huge number, around 20,000, for a community reception held  at All Phones Arena organised by the Indian Australian Community Foundation (IACF). It had everyone charged to the core brimming with enthusiasm to see Modi up close and in person an experience that Sydney saw never ever before. Many a rock star have come and gone including the likes of A R Rahman and Indian Bollywood stars such as Shahrukh Khan down under, Modimania hit town with Sydneysiders getting ready to the sounds of dhol echoing loud at the Sydney Olympic Park venue to meet their newfound hero of India in Narendra Modi. They had their wish granted since he got elected to lead the country having won the elections held in May this year to see him and hear him live right here.

Earlier this year Sydneysiders had celebrated Modi’s victory as many BJP supporters even went to his swearing in ceremony in India. For all those and many of the diaposora outside India who believe that finally a leader like him has come to lead India and give India a hope is what they all wanted to celebrate.  When Modi actually decided to visit  Australia and accepted Sydney’s offer of a welcome similar to Madison Square Garden reception in US it was a dream come true.   A quickly formed IACF went into action mode, shall we say that it worked 24/7 nonstop gathering momentum and support of over 250 Indian associations which registered. IACF head Dr Nihal Agar said that the community had responded overwhelmingly to the idea.

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Dr Nihal Agar at the arena

“In 3 days over 21,000 people registered to attend a number which swelled to 28,000 as  many were turned away disappointed only because the arena could take not more than 15,000 people,” Dr Agar says.

Well that did not stop the eager ones because there were 5,000 outside watching on the audio-visual screens provided. Mr Modi gave his speech inside the arena hall but the crowds outside the hall cheered at every word that Mr Modi uttered as well as they danced because inside the hall one could not. Yes there were a few Sikhs who had come to protest with placards written ”˜Modi you have blood on your hands’ yet the whole event was conducted quite smoothly with Mr Modi coming on time on stage unlike many rock stars that perform at the venue with some Bollywood stars who are known to be hours late than the stipulated time. As people went through security checks and settled in their seats, there was plenty to keep them occupied with dances, entertainment and the rest. Rashi Kapoor, a Miss India Australia hosted the show, decked in a beautiful sari and she invited guests and politicians one by one on stage. Mr Modi was welcomed by the Indian priests   and met Ramesh Chander Alandkar, an 84-year old Sydney artist who has leukemia and had wished to meet Mr Modi in person as his last desire. He was granted that wish when Mr Modi went and met him and held his hands lovingly. And when finally Mr Modi came on stage he could not stop the rising reception and the flag waving crowds he received as whole arena echoed with the loud chants of ”˜Modi, Modi’. One forgot whether one was in Sydney or in India that’s how charged the atmosphere was at that time. IACF had invited duly the Bora Ahmedia group who sat on the right hand side quite close to the stage and even the Sikhs sittiing in another section were acknowledged by Dr. Nihal Agar. Swami Sridharananda of Vedanta Centre Sydney was one of the distinguished guests at the venue as well as many politicians and businessmen who supported the event as sponsors. As Dr Agar thanked all, “It is difficult for me to name all the people but it is a great  honour that Sydney has been able to have Mr Modi here and without all your support we would not have been able to organise such an event.”

Mr Modi finally came on stage and started after bowing quite humbly to everyone on all sides of the stage and then started to speak. He started his speech talking about Swami Vivekananda and praising the beautiful city of Sydney and Australia as a country, with a quip, “It takes one just a day to reach Australia by plane these days but it has taken 28 years for an Indian Prime Minister to come to Australia, Friends in Australia, I assure you… you won’t have to wait for 28 years.”

Mr Modi talked of ”˜Bharat Mata’ not with 8 arms but 2,500 million arms out of which are 2,000 million arms belonged to the young. He talked about the dignity of labour in Australia how Australians do not differentiate between a doctor or a driver and speak with respect to both. That we must learn from them. He said he is a prime minister who loves doing small jobs than claiming to announce big plans. He talked about building toilets, starting ”˜zero account balance’ where the poor can open a bank account with zero money, no attestation of degrees by a JP as some of the achievements since the six months he took office.   For the NRIs Mr Modi promised that he will make sure that OCI and PIO are merged into one and he also said that he will make sure that an Indian Cultural Centre is set up by February 2015. He also talked about ”˜Swatchh India Campaign – cleaning India’ the year he set to achieve that is 2019 iterating that a clean country is not only good for hygiene, health and pride in general that it will encourage tourism and trade and make others have faith in India as a country where they can invest. He said he has also done away with police checks when people come to the country.

Modi also talked of improving infrastructure, creating better Indian railway and four universities within the railway but all that has to be seen as time passes.

Modi wooed Sydney as he got thunderous applause all the way through the evening and he spoke eloquently at times his humour was just spot on. He proved to be a good orator and a charismatic personality.

After the speech Modi came down the stage and one could see that people crowded around him too eager to see him from close as many hands stretched to shake hands with him.

India comprises diverse regions, cultures and people and Modi has to please all although he comes from a Hindu stronghold and support. As NRIs the only promises we got from Mr Modi was visas on arrival ”“ a process which needs clarification and PIO/OCI cards to be merged into one and a promise of an Indian Cultural Centre by next February with a Festival of India to be held in Australia in 2015.

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Community members invited by the Indian High Commission at the Ballroom at All Phones  

By the way about couple of hundred community leaders were invited in the ballroom by the Indian High Commission at the arena. After a thorough and lengthy security check, once inside, it took ages for Mr Modi to come. When he finally arrived for about 10-15 minutes people just crowded around him that many others could not even get a glimpse of him what to talk of meeting him in person. One can say that it was a very poorly organised meeting with the community members of high profile who just stood around watching all the drama that happened.

After Mr Modi’s speech in the hall, one could see that it was difficult to disperse the big crowd which took quite some time. Finally not finding a bus or a taxi to take one back home all one could do was ask for a lift from a car which a Sikh driver Amandeep, an IT student, obliged. Hail Modi! Slogans could still be heard as one drove past the cheering crowds to  a memorable evening that Sydneysiders are still talking about. Facebook is but the after proof of Modimania that happened to Sydney as it is still abuzz and is full of pictures!

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