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Old September 28th, 2014, 11:40 PM
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PM Narendra Modi enthralls a rapturous crowd at New York City's Madison Square Garden

PM Narendra Modi enthralls a rapturous crowd at New York City's Madison Square Garden

NEW YORK: India came of age in the United States with an epic show of political, social and economic clout, and cohesion on a raucous Sunday afternoon at the Madison Square Garden in New York City. In a chest-swelling, heart-stirring show of bipartisan strength, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and overseas Indians indulged in a mutual love-fest that sharply etched the country's growing power and profile in the minds of Americans, represented at the unprecedented Indian political rally by more than two dozen US lawmakers and governors.

Chants of "Bharat Mata ki Jai: and "Modi, Modi, Modi" rocked the iconic and gladiatorial arena that has witnessed many a great sporting battle and entertainment show, but nothing like this event, even though it has hosted political convention. As Prime Minister Modi walked in slowly, his Navratri fast now past 100 hours, the 18,000-plus audience erupted in joy and pride in a show of strength that will almost certainly be factored into US perception of India, now and forever.

The Prime Minister hit all the right buttons in a speech that received a rock-star ovation. He brought the roof down with crowd pleasing jokes about how a country that was once regarded as a land of snake-charmers was now spinning the world around its finger with a (computer) mouse and how India had sent a spacecraft to Mars for seven rupees a kilometre when it cost 10 rupees a kilometre in Ahmedabad ("Spoken like a true Gujarati," quipped someone). But at the heart of his speech talking up India was an appeal to the wealthy and skilled NRI/PIO constituency to give back their talent and experience to a country that nurtured them.

For nearly an hour, the man who once trawled New York and much of USA in the 1990s before he was banned from visiting till recently held his overseas constituency spellbound, telling them about the pride, problems, and promise of India. India, he said, had three strengths no country in the world has: Democracy, demographic dividend, and demand. The country was not just a back office to the world, but also had the capacity to be the world force of the world considering Indians had migrated to every corner of the world. As a country that was home to people from every corner of the world, the United States, he suggested, was a natural partner.

Prime Minister Modi speaks at Madison Square Garden in New York ( Reuters Photo)
The programme at Madison Square Garden was overwhelming. It was very special to interact with members of the diaspora. A big thank you.
Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) September 29, 2014
Fervent applause and cheers interspersed his nearly hour long address during which he took a swig of water only at the start and kept up a strong voice as the podium rotated 360 degrees. Dressed in a saffron jacket, he spoke extempore in Hindi, his speech relayed and translated by more than a dozen networks across the world. "God bless you!" someone shouted out in the middle of his speech. "When I have the blessings of 1.25 billion people, it feels like God has indeed blessed me," he told a worshipful live audience of 18,000 people that no Indian leader has ever attracted outside India.

In a soaring finale redolent of Martin Luther King's I have a dream address, Modi said he felt indebted for the boundless love and affection Indians in India and abroad had showered on him. ''I will clear this debt, I will make an India of his dreams,'' he promised as a confetti of tri color and red-white-and-blue balloons rained down the arena.

Supporters wave an Indian flag as Prime Minister Narendra Modi prepares to give a speech during a reception by the Indian community in honour of his visit to the United States at Madison Square Garden (AP Photo)

Regardless of one's political leanings or affiliations, it was a matchless, unprecedented show that bespoke the power and reach of the Indian diaspora. To paraphrase the poet Rupert Brooke, "There is some corner of a foreign field that will forever be India." This afternoon, it was the Madison Square Garden, New York.

Some announcements that PM Modi made during his speech

* Life time visas for persons of Indian origin (PIO) cardholders
* PIO and OCI cards to be merged to arrive at a common card
* Those who come to India for longstay will not have to report periodically at police stations as is the present requirement
* US nationals to get long term visas and visa on arrival following electronic travel authorization

No time frame was announced for the implementation of these reforms.
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