Organisers of the Madison Square Garden reception for Prime Minister Narendra Modi later this week have been stunned by the speed with which Indian Americans contributed for it.
The Indian American Community Foundation, formed to organise the event — fund and produce it, were able to raise over a million — $1.6 million precisely — within just days.
“We were completely taken aback by the speed with which people donated for the event,” said one of the organisers, requesting to be not identified. “And touched.”
The prime minister is scheduled to address, and interact with, Indian Americans at MSG, as Madison Square Garden is popularly known, on September 28.
The brief to the organisers from the prime minister’s office, and stated with this government’s trademark clarity, was to keep the event completely free for whoever wanted to attend.
The organisers were also told that the Indian government, which had hosted public receptions for visiting Indian prime ministers before, was not going to pay for it this time.
The organisers were on their own, and MSG does not come cheap, being accustomed to hosting blockbusting rock shows, boxing matches, political events and, even, a pope.
Initial estimates put the cost in the range of $400,000 and $700,000. Organisers were actually flying blind here, having never hosted an event of this scale at the MSG before.
With nothing on the account books at the time, when a decision was taken to hold the event, some of the organisers put up their own money to book the venue.
But once the whole effort got organised, with a website where contributions could be made, money flowed in — and in sizes varying from $5 and 10 to $5,000.
Around 85% of the money, said on of the organisers, came from middle class Indian Americans — “the common guys”, a third of them doctors, according to one estimate.
Though chuffed by the response, the organisers also felt relieved they didn’t have to approach “big money” — “Narendra Bhai won’t have liked that” — such as Pepsi and Microsoft.
Both Pepsi and Microsoft, for perspective, are headed by CEOs of Indian descent, Indra Nooyi and Satya Nadella, respectively. And no one knows if they would have helped, if asked.In the end, the organisers did fine.