New Delhi, Jan. 9: Obstetrician Jayant Shah has performed over 100 surgeries, some of them on patients in life-threatening conditions, but BJP prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi is his pick for the surgery he argues is “most critical”.
“India stands at the edge of a precipice, and it needs someone with a strong mind and steady hands like Modi to pull it back,” the 62-year-old from Fremont, California, said, sipping coffee at the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas that ended today. “India needs a surgery badly.”
Four months before the Lok Sabha elections where he will lead the BJP’s charge to return to power, Modi remains a divisive personality not just in India but within the 25-million-strong Indian expatriate community. But at India’s annual extravaganza for this community, Modi was the undisputed rock star, attracting teenager-style cheers, chants and claps from a mostly middle-aged audience.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had spoken at the meet yesterday, and two other chief ministers — Kerala’s Oomen Chandy and Haryana’s Bhupinder Singh Hooda, both from the Congress — addressed the expatriates today before the Gujarat chief minister.
But the only man who could have competed with Modi for the guests’ attention didn’t turn up. Overseas Indian affairs minister Vayalar Ravi had invited Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal to the meet.
The chief ministers spoke in alphabetical order of their last names — so Kejriwal, had he attended, would have spoken just before Modi, officials said. But Kejriwal, busy with the introduction of anti-corruption measures, chose to skip the gathering.
Although officially the reason was his busy schedule, the no-show by Kejriwal — not known for shunning propaganda opportunities — also triggered murmurs about whether the fledgling Aam Aadmi Party was attempting to blunt suggestions that foreign funding is the backbone of its finances.
In Kejriwal’s absence, Modi had a free run in targeting Prime Minister Singh.
“We are heading into better times ahead and I would urge you to remain engaged in the future of this country with confidence and optimism,” Singh had said yesterday.
Today, Modi first read a prepared English text accusing Singh’s government of pushing India to its current economic crisis.
Then, he mocked the Prime Minister on his statement, refreshing a theme reminiscent of “Happy Days are Here Again”, the successful presidential campaign song of the ultimate political master of economic turnarounds — Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who beat Republican Herbert Hoover at the height of the Great Depression, and built the foundations that cemented America’s economic clout over the rest of the 20th century.
“The Prime Minister was right yesterday. He said good days are coming very soon,” Modi said, a smirk on his face, as the packed hall burst into mocking laughter. “I don’t want to say anything more. But you may need to wait four-five months (till the April-May Lok Sabha elections).”
Successful Indian-origin doctors, lawyers, engineers and entrepreneurs living overseas — who form the majority of guests each year at the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas — have traditionally been a key support base for the BJP.
But unlike Roosevelt, Modi does not enjoy a grand coalition cutting across segments traditionally at loggerheads, and remains divisive not just at home but also overseas.
It was under pressure from sections of the Indian-American community that the George W. Bush government denied Modi a visa in 2005, while many other groups in the community have lobbied hard to overturn that travel ban.
In 2013, the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton Business School had invited Modi to address an India-focused conference in Philadelphia by video-conferencing, prodded by heavy support for the leader from the school’s Indian student body.
But three Indian-origin faculty members at the university publicly sought support to press the business school to withdraw the invitation to Modi. The university eventually nudged the business school into withdrawing that invitation.