He came, We saw, He conquered. Redefining the original Latin phrase Veni, Vidi, Vici, the recent visit of the Indian Prime Minister and his address in Sydney was nothing short of a phenomenon on its own.
The big day was the 17th November 2014, and it being a working day was no deterrent to the thousands of people who thronged the Sydney Olympic Park to hear The Hon. Shri Narendra Modi , Prime Minister of India. Attendance crossed 16,000 and what one witnessed had to be seen to be believed.
The Community Reception was organized by the Indian Australian Community Foundation, a not-for-profit organization that promotes Cooperation between India and Australia. Registration was free for anyone interested in meeting the Indian PM and seats were overbooked in no time. Prior to the visit, one might have wondered what the reasons behind this overwhelming response from the Indian-Australian Community would have been. Was it the gap of 28 long years since an Indian Prime Minister visited Australia, or was it the effect of Mr Modi’s landmark address at the Madison Square Garden in New York in September, or was it his charisma, or simply his crowd pulling ability? After pondering over this for a week since the event, we decided to publish the article now as the list of possibilities was endless and may well merit another write-up on its own!
Come D-day and operation Winning Hearts commenced right from noon, well ahead of his address in the evening, bringing in warmth and sunshine into many lives in more ways than one. And we are not referring to the favourable Sydney weather alone. Fans and supporters poured in from Sydney and the rest of Australia and were witness to, or part of, not just the address but a host of activities held as part of pre-show entertainment. The gathering in thousands included 220 supporters that travelled by a special overnight train from Melbourne called Modi Express with specially catered food cooked in the style of the PM’s home state of Gujarat. Visitors poured in from other far away cities such as Perth and Adelaide, to name a few.
Support for Mr Modi was shown in ways ranging from dressing up in traditional attire pertaining to one’s region of origin, to flash mobs, dancing, drums, chanting, cheering and what have you. The spirit of camaraderie and support to the sought after leader reflected in various forms and fashion. While some enthusiasts were seen sporting ‘#ModiInAustralia’ T-shirts that had his picture, others carried Indian flags, Modi masks and banners displaying text such as ‘Youth loves the Modified India’, ‘Modi Thunder Down Under’ and so on. Adoring admirers – each sporting a T shirt in one of the three colours of the Indian flag – may not have signified anything in isolation until they magically managed to be seated in three lots, representing the tricoloured Indian flag to the audience. From a distance one could not see their individual faces but the innovative way in which they collectively represented India made a statement for sure. Talking of the ambience indoors, even the lights on the ceiling seemed to be in tricolour: saffron, white and green, making us wonder if it was for real or were we seeing things.
The indoor venue hosted a themed show called Vibrant India. A host of cultural programs were presented by professional groups, showcasing the colourful Indian heritage by way of traditional and modern Indian music and art forms. The audience was enthralled. On one hand they were left feeling ecstatic when patriotic songs such as ‘Jahan daal daal par sone ki chidiya karti hai basera, woh Bharat desh hai mera’ and ‘Vande Mataram’ were sung live, and on the other a few quiet tears could be seen streaming down some faces later when the Indian National Anthem was sung in Mr Modi’s presence. A majority of the audience sang along, standing with a sense of pride.
In a nutshell, the entire ambience, right from the outdoor activities to the events held indoors leading up to Mr Modi’s speech, evoked a spirit of oneness and patriotism like no other Indian event in Australia has in recent past. There was also a surprise appearance by Brett Lee who greeted the audience with a Namaste and Kem Cho. He was accompanied by Tannishtha Chatterjee, both starring in an upcoming movie called Un-Indian. This was followed by a brief Video that captured footage from Mr Modi’s assuming office and overseas visits since.
It was then time to welcome the Australian dignitaries that included The Hon. Mike Baird, Premier of New South Wales. The stage was set. Soon after the Australian and Indian National Anthems, chants of ‘Modi, Modi Modi’ went up the air as the audience geared up to come face-to-face with their revolutionary leader. The Indian Prime Minister’s arrival was met with drum beats, applause and the ‘Modi’ chant by the audience, sending many into a state of transcendence. The audience received him with a standing ovation. Mr Modi put an end to the wait after a couple of handshakes and commenced his address by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we stand today. The rest of his speech was in Hindi. He spoke, we listened. As Indian media captured the event live, the nation watched back home.
Mr Modi’s address left the audience happy and hopeful, inspired and invigorated, emotional and energised, alive and attentive. A range of emotions were felt by the thousands that heard him in awe and admiration as the Prime Minister addressed them.
His speech brought to fore the oratory skills he is renowned for and the tremendous appeal he carries. He picked up issues and areas that impact common people, elucidating them in simple words. A wide range of subjects covered his plans for economic development in India. The thoughtful pauses amidst sentences, announcing of initiatives of various kinds, as well as references to philosophers and spiritual gurus such as Mahatma Gandhi and Swami Vivekananda provided a number of eureka movements that had the audience cheering, clapping and taking in every word he uttered. Their reaction left no doubts that they had complete faith in the 15th Prime Minister of the world’s largest democracy who gave the Indian community in Australia a ray of hope for a better India, better governance and a sense of belonging to a country poised for change and growth.
Some of the areas he spoke about sent fans and supporters into a state of rapture evident from the cheering, lauding and frequent ‘Modi’ chanting. These included referring to himself as being fortunate to have been the first PM born in independent India and his stating how we may not have had the fortune to die for the independence of our country, but can at least live for it. He also spelt out the need to improve dignity of labour as a concept he has learned from Australia and wished to carry back to India, cleanliness, access to clean water, sanitation and electricity, and his desire to make small dreams of the commoners come true. The audience erupted in a loud cheer when he said how his initiative of having the poorest of the poor allowed to open a bank account with a zero balance resulted in bank deposits of INR 5,000 crores, and also when he elaborated the Make in India initiative.
Some of the upcoming initiatives and changes he announced included:
– Differences between Person of Indian Origin (PIO) and Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) to be abolished by merging the two by 8-9 January 2015
– Visa on arrival for Australian tourists
– Establishment of Sydney Cultural Centre, and made operational by February 2015
– A cleaner India by year 2019
– Inviting 100% foreign investment to develop and upgrade Indian Railways
He stated how anyone can reach Australia from India by travelling overnight, while it took the Indian Prime Minister 28 years to get here. A simple statement, stating two facts, but the impact was so powerful that the audience went into a state of frenzy, cheering him and waving flags. He paused, smiling. Such was the power the Indian PM held over the audience that was nothing short of mesmerised by his presence and words.
He also encouraged the Indian-Australian community to reach out to him via the website called mygov.in to extend support and give back in whatever way possible or send in comments, suggestions or complaints. Expressing gratitude for the love extended to him by the audience, he added that on his part he would not shirk from working hard, and that everyone should get together to develop the nation. The audience stood up and hailed jointly with him, the sound of ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’ reverberating as he ended his address. Overall, his speech left the audience captivated, motivated and transfixed in many ways.
While many fans and supporters of Indian origin celebrated this visit, at the other end of the spectrum there were peaceful protests held by some members of Sydney’s Sikh Community. They felt that the plight of religious minorities in India has not improved, but actually worsened. The Sikh Council of Australia however disassociated itself from any public protest against the Indian PM stating nothing was going to be achieved by staging protests (source: singhstation.net).
The audience at the Olympic Park also included people that were not Mr Modi’s supporters but came to hear him all the same with an open mind.
Whether Mr Modi delivers on his commitments and brings in the much needed change that the Indian community across the world is hoping for remains to be seen; for now it would suffice to state that that all in all the Sydney visit was hugely successful and his resultant popularity seems to be growing from strength to strength. The Indian Prime Minister seems to have indeed acquired a celebrity status as was evident during this visit.
Besides the obvious enthusiasm displayed by the Australian-Indian community, the visit was amply covered by Australian media and supported by the Australian Government.
It would be pertinent to present some excerpts from a print message by The Hon. Tony Abbott, MP Prime Minister of Australia:
– Prime Minister Modi’s visit is a vote of confidence in the friendship between Australia and India. It is also an investment in an even greater future together.
– This is also an opportunity to recognise the significant contributions that the Australian-Indian community makes to our country
– Today, there are almost half a million members of the Australian-Indian community. Modern Australia is unimaginable without them.
(source: Swagatam magazine, distributed to visitors at the Sydney Olympic Park)
It would not be an exaggeration to state that the Indian PM’s visit to Australia would give impetus to Indo-Australian relations on political, social and economic fronts, hopefully bringing in a new dawn for both countries. The timing couldn’t have been better.
General feel after the event: United we stand, Modi’fied.
Article by Lalitha Chellappan.
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