Prime Minister Narendra Modi is scheduled to address a huge rally, “Howdy Modi!” with President Donald Trump in toe, at the NRG Stadium in Houston on Sept. 22. This may be the biggest rally of Indians to date; about 50,000 are expected to attend. The organizers claim that another 300 million would watch the event on TV and social media. What made a chai wallah (Modi used to sell tea as a street vendor) so popular?
Prime Minister Modi’s visit to the U.S. creates unprecedented excitement in the Indian diaspora. Here is a man who rose from poverty to the highest position in India because of his clean image, hard work and emphasis on development.
During the five years of his coming to power, there has been no scandal, which is a great achievement in itself. His recent actions such as the air strike in Balkot, Pakistan, and abrogation of Article 370 has added to his image of being a decisive and strong leader. When he talks at a public function, he talks from his heart and touches everyone’s hearts. A well-known Pakistani who listened to Modi’s speech at the Madison Square Garden during his first visit to the U.S. in 2014, told me that “even though I could not understand a number of Hindi words, this man is a great orator.”
In 2014, after Modi was successful in having the United Nations declare June 21 as the International Day of Yoga, it has become obvious that Modi has again made India a Vishwaguru (a world teacher).
I have known Narendra Bhai since he joined politics and used to meet him in Gujarat regularly when he was the chief minister. Although he is controversial, undoubtedly he is the most popular leader in India as well as with the Indian diaspora.
Besides being a great orator, he connects well with the audience. During his visits to U.S. prior to becoming the prime minister, he had visited a few cities and connected well with Indians here. When Modi was Gujarat’s chief minister, he wanted to visit U.S. again but his visa was denied. I happen to have a copy of the letter from the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi denying Modi’s visa. After that Modi came to the U.S. only when he became the prime minister.
It would be interesting to learn about his rise from a chai wallah to the position of prime minister.
He has an excellent memory, a highly analytical mind, and he is a great organizer. He was a pracharak (full time worker) of the RSS. Pracharakas do not get paid, cannot marry and live in RSS offices.
He was first assigned to housekeeping jobs at a RSS office in Gujarat. Then, he was transferred to BJP. From an ordinary worker, he became BJP’s general secretary in Gujarat and was responsible in getting BJP to power there. Then he was transferred to Punjab where he established BJP offices in every district with at least one Sikh office holder. Prior to that, most of the Sikhs were very averse to BJP. Then, he was transferred to Delhi as BJP’s general secretary.
Once I was in Delhi before the 1999 Parliament elections. Every morning Modi, Arun Jaitley and Pramod Mahajan, three young leaders, would meet at the BJP’s central office and discuss BJP’s strategy. The result was the first BJP Central government in 1999.
In 2014, when Parliament elections were to be held, BJP was pondering about who should be the candidate for prime minister. Earlier in 2009, BJP lost the election when L.K. Advani was projected as the BJP candidate. Finally, due to his clean image and good and efficient administration in Gujarat, Modi was declared BJP’s candidate for prime minister.
During his campaign, Modi did not emphasize Hinduism much, he primarily stressed upon providing honest and efficient government with an emphasis on development which attracted the people, especially youths across caste lines.
He had organized a young team with expertise in high technology and social media to work for BJP candidates. A number of Indians from the U.S. also went to India and worked with his team.
When in September 2014 he came to the U.S. as the prime minister for the first time, besides his image as a devout Hindu, a youthful image and his stand on development and free market attracted the India diaspora. His declaration of June 21 as International Yoga Day, not only enhanced his international image, but also his standing with Indian diaspora reached a historic level.
His address to the huge crowd at Madison Square Garden earned respect not only from the audience, but from Indians all over the U.S. Even Indians, who were critical of him, praised his inspirational speech.
The enthusiasm and response at the “Howdy Modi!” rally in Houston will, undoubtedly be unprecedented. I am sure like Indians in India who gave him an unprecedented victory in the last elections, Indians in Houston as well as in other places would be thrilled to hear him. Modi’s visit will further strengthen the bond between Indians in the U.S. and India and also the relationship between India and the United States.
Jitendra K. Tuli was an advisor to former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee.