Industrialists and preachers rubbed shoulders with singers and poets, as 10,000 Gujaratis came together here to flex their cultural and economic muscles during a three-day extravaganza described as one of the biggest of its kind.
Despite the blustery weather with heavy rains brought on by the dying hurricane Ernesto, the community came out in full force at the city's Raritan Convention Center to cheer their own in what several speakers described as a "history- making event."
It was a measure of the success of the event that the city's fire marshals had to close down the main gates of the center to prevent any more paid guests because of safety concerns.
Close to 3,000 people had to be turned away on day 2 of the event today even as over 7,000 sat inside patiently for hours on metal chairs and applauded a series of performances and speeches.
Drawing on the strong presence of the Gujarati expatriate population in New Jersey state, especially in Edison and surrounding towns, the Association of Indian Americans of North America (AIANA) unveiled what it hoped would become a diasporic platform for the community worldwide.
The highlight of the second day today was touted to be an "inspirational" speech by Sam Pitroda, a technology guru and chairman of India's National Knowledge Commission, who is also Gujarati. However so intense was the pressure on the speaking time during the main session that Pitroda had to cut short his address to just three minutes.
Pitroda, while applauding Gujarat's many successes over the decades, said, "I am worried that Gujarat may have missed the IT bus" unlike other states such as Karnataka, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh. However, he said Gujarat with its entrepreneurial people could be the leader of the impending knowledge economy.
His comments set the stage for a "surprise" address via video from Gandhinagar by Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi who was apparently prompted by Pitroda's remarks to defend his state's IT record. He said although the state was somewhat late in joining the IT boom, it had more than made up through its follow work in terms of technology parks and initiatives in e-governance.
Modi, who would have been far happier to have addressed such a large and responsive gathering personally, could not make it because of the continuing denial of the US visa by the Bush administration for his failure in handling the 2002 Hindu-Muslim riots in his state. Many noted the irony of Modi, once a critic of Pitroda's IT and telecom initiatives in the 1980s, using the telecom technology to bypass the US visa ban against him.
Unlike many community events in the US, the AIANA leadership under Dr. Navin C, Mehta and Sunil Nayak took care to keep the event strictly non-partisan and focused on just being Gujaratis.
Himanshu Vyas, an influential Congress party leader from Gujarat who coordinated the visits by well known names from the state, told IANS: "We all wanted to make it sure that we did not get embroiled in partisan bickering. This is about being Gujarati and what Gujaratis bring to the rest of the world. Doing an even of this scale in the US proves how consequential the community has become."
Interestingly, even Modi, otherwise known to be unabashedly partisan, kept up the amiable tone saying the success of Gujarat was a result of work done by many people and many parties.
The guest list included many illustrious Gujarati names from diverse fields such as popular preacher and raconteur Morari Bapu, Nirma founder Karsan Patel, ghazal singer Pankaj Udhas, Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad director Bakul Dholakia apart from Pitroda who was described by Dr, Mehta as a "jewel of Gujarat."
The extraordinarily patient and indulgent 10,000 plus audience was treated to folk performances, humorous skits, Gujarati songs and a series of seminars on business, medicine and technology.
Naik said AIANA planned to make the event an annual affair "so that the Gujaratis worldwide can express themselves in many different ways." "This is the first step in what we hope will become a powerful bridge between the diaspora and Gujarat," Naik told IANS.
Dr. Mehta said the community had signalled that it was capable of rising over differences and work as one in the interest of Gujarat. "We believe we accomplished something significant with this conference-a feeling of being Gujarati beyond any political partisanship."