Narendra Modi, then an RSS karyakarta, seen above on a visit to New York in the early 1990s. When he arrives in New York in late September, he will be the prime minister of India and a very different reception awaits him.
The Prime Minister's Office has made clear Modi's wishes that the reception planned for him at New York's famed Madison Square Garden should not carry the imprimatur of any community organisation, but be under the auspices of a 'Reception Committee for the Prime Minister of India.' Aziz Haniffa/Rediff.com reports.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made it clear that the Indian-American community reception in his honour slated for September 28, during his visit to the United States for the United Nations General Assembly session and his summit with US President Barack Obama, has to be a broad-based, all-inclusive, national event.
Dr Bharat Barai, a Chicago area physician and Modi's longtime friend and confidante, has been designated the point person and 'lead volunteer' for organizing the reception that is estimated to cost about $1.2 million.
The Overseas Friends of the BJP, which organised the community reception for then Indian prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee when he visited New York; the Global Indians for Bharat Vikas, a Boston-based Vishwa Hindu Parishad front organisation, and even the Federation of Indian Organisations in New York, which organises the annual India Independence Day Parade in New York, had been jockeying to organise the reception which will be held in New York, most likely at the Madison Square Garden.
The Prime Minister's Office vetoed these efforts and made clear Modi's wishes to Dr Barai, the Indian embassy, and the New York consul general's office: That it should not carry the imprimatur of any particular community organisation, but be under the auspices of a 'Reception Committee for the Prime Minister of India.'
Mumbai-born Dr Barai, 66, has been a longtime friend of Modi from the days the prime minister was a karyakarta (worker), and their friendship has blossomed over the years.
For the past seven years, he has organised Modi's video interaction with Indian Americans during Gujarat Day; the last one, May 12, beamed live in 20 cities in the US. He and his physician wife Panna were in the front-row -- ahead of Supreme Court justices, senior MPs and the like -- at Modi's swearing-in on May 26, in seats reserved for prime minister's friends.
Dr Barai told Rediff.com that Prime Minister Modi and his office had given strict instructions "to make sure that this is not a BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) event or that kind of event, but a broad-based programme incorporating a cross-section of the community from all across the US. The prime minister and the PMO have emphasised that this is a national event -- this is not a New Jersey or New York event, even though it is being held in New York."
He acknowledged that the MetLife Stadium and the Yankees stadium in New York, which can seat 82,500 and 50,291 people respectively, had been considered, but were found not available because the Jets were playing the Lions on that day, and as The Washington Post reported, the Yankees although are away, has an 'event block' that weekend 'to protect the grass leading into postseason.'
An application, Dr Barai said, had already been submitted to the Madison Square Garden, which can seat about 20,000, and that Elise Daniledes, manager, special events, MSG, had submitted it to the MSG board and the contract was expected to be signed this week.
Once the contract is signed, within 24 hours, an initial non-refundable deposit of $165,000 has to be made and bank guarantees for the remaining approximately $400,000 have to be provided. Besides the more than $550,000 for the MSG, Dr Barai said all of the other expenses would propel the total cost of the Modi reception to in excess of $1.2 million.
The community reception for Vajpayee, hosted by the OFBJP -- led at the time by its founder and president the late Dr Mukund Mody -- and the reception for then prime minister Dr Manmohan Singh, organised by the Indian National Overseas Congress, both with the cooperation of the Indian consulate, did not attract more than 1,000 guests.
Those events, Dr Barai said, would be no match for the scope and scale of the gargantuan reception being planned for Modi at the MSG.
The PMO has designated Piyush Goyal, India's minister of state for power, coal, new and renewable energy, to be the liaison with Dr Barai, the Indian embassy and the New York consulate for the event, which will be wholly an Indian-American community event even though the embassy and the consulate will assist if asked by the reception committee.
Sources told Rediff.com that it was on the strength of a letter provided by India's Consul General in New York Dnyaneshwar Mulay -- that Dr Barai and his tentative committee of volunteers would be the contracting party -- that Daniledes had accepted the application and submitted it to the board.
"All of this has meant mobilising a lot of money, a lot of people," Dr Barai said. "As soon the contract is signed, we will have to nail down the various committees, and also decide how the invitations for the 20,000 people will have to be distributed. We will have to come up with a fair and equitable formula of how to invite people so that the most genuine people get a ticket -- because we don't want any unruly elements to get in."
Some leading community organisations in New York and New Jersey, with well-established infrastructure and networks of volunteers, had asked him to give them the project and that they would easily raise the $1 million and distribute the 20,000 tickets and fill up the stadium. Dr Barai said he had refused, because "We have to keep the formula fair and transparent."
The programme, he said, was "yet to be worked out, because right now we are still in the process of confirming the facility, raising the finances, and also brainstorming on how to come up with an equitable and fair distribution of the tickets. No formal committees have been formed and we are now operating on an ad hoc basis; but time is certainly of the essence because we only have about 10 weeks to go."
Photograph: India Abroad archives