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Beyond The ‘Modi-fied’ NRI: A Look At Two Conflicting Sides Of The Indian PM’s US Visit

Posted on October 6, 2014 in Politics

By Shreya Sharma:

Describing the mixed reactions from Indian-Americans over Narendra Modi’s U.S. visit, Sonia Paul from Aljazeera America writes: “The new Indian Leader is as controversial as he is popular, and many still remember his inaction during 2002 riots.”


The Indian media succeeded in creating a positive hype over Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the U.S. with hashtags like #ModiinAmerica, #NaMosteAmerica, #ModiatMadison and #Namorica. There has been non-stop coverage of Modi’s visit. We were shown how the Modi-fied Americans opened their hearts to receive NaMo, who is no less than a ‘rockstar’ to them. The Madison Square Garden in New York City reverberated with an electrifying “Modi, Modi” chant, with supporters wearing t-shirts bearing Modi’s face along with the slogan “Unity, Action, Progress” printed on them. On the other hand, eminent American newspapers like Washington Post and New York Times provided a rather hushed coverage. What we were not shown, however, is the side of America which protested against Modi and his U.S. visit.

The Glorious Side

IBNlive’s recently published study reports that the Indian American Community surpasses the 38.1 million foreign-born Americans to become the highest-paid and best-educated in the US Census Charts. For a community with an economic influence like this, Modi’s visit comes as a ray of optimism. It does more than just strengthening the ties between US and India. It gives them an opportunity to be proud of their origins and acknowledges their presence in the US. It gives them a hope that India will finally be able to have its mark on the world map. It gives them a promise that India will rise above ill-treatment of women and religious minorities. Describing the hysterical crowd at the Madison square, Pankaj Mishra, the author of “From the Ruins of Empire: The Intellectuals Who Remade Asia” writes: “Having escaped the humiliation of poverty and austerity, they bump up against the glass ceilings of the white man’s world, and seem to be seeking dignity and status on their own terms.”

Priya Arora, an Indian who has found a home in New York, explains how her experience at Madison Square was: “I was in a room full of Indians from all over the diaspora, who had gathered here because they love their country, in some way or other.” Caution and ambiguity lurk over their optimism for change. However, post- speech, these people were surprisingly forced to leave behind their apprehensions and carry Modi’s vision of India in their minds.

The Veiled Side

While Modi was emotionally enchanting the people with his speech, there were two groups which protested outside Madison Square Garden. The first, Alliance for Justice and Accountability, had its members alleging Modi to be responsible for the dreadful 2002 Gujarat riots. The second group of protesters included members of the North American Sikh Alliance. They were seen protesting against the policies of the Indian government with respect to the minority communities between 1984 and 2002. The people feel that justice has not been served yet. Simran Jeet Singh, Board Member of the Sikh Coalition said, “There is an overarching narrative of India being secular, pluralistic. Because of that narrative, religious violence and nationalism isn’t really taken seriously.”

The protests also brought to light the agitation of the NRIs against the imposed concept of every Indian being a ‘Hindu’, as portrayed by the Bhartiya Janata Party. However, there seems to be hardly any relief for the protestors. Nowhere during his visit has the PM given any importance to issues of religious minorities or women empowerment.

The Real Picture

The Prime Minister’s visit, thus, brings to light two things. First, it makes us question the accountability of the Indian media. By putting forth just the bright side of Modi’s visit, has the media been fair in journalism? Second, it shows us the larger picture, behind all articulated hype and hysteria. Not everyone is Modi-fied yet. What the people really want is a man whose work speaks louder than his words.

Look beyond the glorification;
Beyond all the Modi-fication.
The scars of the past still remain;
Veiled by praise, there still is pain.