The rapturous response of Indian Americans to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the United States will be long remembered.
The breathless enthusiasm was on full view at the Madison Square Garden in New York on Sunday where 20,000 fans — and numerous others who couldn’t get tickets — lavished praise on Mr Modi, hung on to his every word and frequently interrupted him with applause.
Convened by an umbrella body that brought together 400 groups, the reception at the iconic venue — featuring a PM with ‘rock star’ status, accompanied by wall-to-wall coverage on television and social networks — created a rare unified experience for the geographically-disparate three million-strong Indian American community.
Mr Modi, in turn, indulged the fawning crowds and brilliantly played an audience, located far away from its ‘homeland’, with a speech laden with themes of nostalgia, tradition, hope, and change.
The speech was significant for other reasons. It acknowledged the role played by the diaspora in Mr Modi’s long march to power. A range of Indian American businessmen, professionals and homemakers contributed to Mr Modi’s campaign — either monetarily or through different forms of campaign work.
Mr Modi’s impressive online campaign helped reach urban voters, and the diaspora played a not inconsiderable role in drumming up support for candidate Modi.
The Madison Square Garden event was also a recognition of Indian American lobby groups which mobilise support in Washington for causes that are important to New Delhi.
This sphere of activism has been an understated asset for Indian diplomacy since the mid-1980s, when NRIs started pushing back against US weapons exports to Pakistan.
Indian American lobby groups have, more recently, succeeded in strengthening the anti-Pakistan narrative in Washington, partly in league with pro-Israeli organisations that also have an interest in representing Pakistan as the epicentre of terror.
Indian American activists also lobbied Congress in favour of the India-US nuclear deal during 2007-08.
Mr Modi clearly sees the utility of these groups as he seeks to refresh Washington’s interest in India and tackle thorny issues like immigration, nuclear liability legislation and trade disputes, which are taken seriously on Capitol Hill.
Mr Modi also hopes to recruit the diaspora for India’s development story. Mr Modi presented himself as the agent of change that Indian Americans have been looking for and invited them to be a part of the transformation he is aiming to bring about. He will hope that many do in fact vote with their feet.