NEW YORK, June 18 (PTI): Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s first state visit to the US beginning this week will include an address to the Indian diaspora at a relatively modest gathering in Washington DC because of his tight schedule, dashing the hopes of community leaders who had hoped to organise a gala event.
“Narendra Modi is the most popular Indian prime minister for the global Indian diaspora. Now he is the most popular world leader,” said Bharat Barai, chairman of the Indian American Community Foundation, which had initially planned a mega carnival-like event in Chicago to rival the welcome the prime minister received at Madison Square Garden in 2014 and in Houston in 2019.
At both these events, and more recently in Australia, Modi was greeted by a rapturous crowd of tens of thousands of Indian diaspora, displaying enthusiasm and pride unseen before.
“The PM was gracious enough to delay his departure from DC by a few hours, and granted a slot for the diaspora meeting,” Barai told PTI.
“That was confirmed on May 29. In three weeks, we had to look for a suitable facility to organise the event. We came up with this event (in Washington) with great enthusiasm and support of the Indian American diaspora,” he said.
However, only a select gathering of nearly 1,000 people will be able to attend.
Barai, a medical oncologist hematologist, said Prime Minister Modi had accepted the invitation from the Chicago Diaspora in November last year to attend a big meeting in the city during his next trip.
Based on initial indication that Modi’s visit may be between June 15-20, Barai said they tentatively reserved for June 17 the United Center in Chicago, a facility similar to Madison Square Garden with an approximate seating capacity for 22,000 people.
“A few weeks later the indication changed to between June 21-25. We reserved Soldier Field stadium in Chicago with seating for 40,000 plus for June 25 and the University of Illinois arena for June 24,” he said.
With the Indian diaspora numbering nearly 4.5 million and spread across the country, its members expect the prime minister to connect with them in major cities, and he has been speaking to them in different US cities during his visits.
Barai, who was also a key organiser of the Madison Square event, said it was “all upto the host White House to decide the firm date and programmes associated with the state visit”.
So, to the Indian organisers, it was not clear until much later when and how long the state visit would be, he added.
As three months went by and the White House was not able to finalise the programmes amid its engagements with other state visits scheduled before Modi’s, Barai said they had to let go of their bookings.
It was only in the mid-May that the US administration finalised plans related to Modi’s visit which left organisers with little time to plan a big community event, more so as the prime minister had to be in Egypt on May 24 after his state visit ended on May 23.
So there was no time for him to fly to Chicago, Barai said.
Indian Americans are expected to travel to the US capital in large numbers to witness the official welcome ceremony for Modi on June 22, a day after he leads a Yoga Day event at the UN headquarters in New York, soon after he lands in the United States.