'A democracy cannot mean the rule of just two people,' said one audience member, who recalled that he too had chanted 'Modi, Modi' when the PM had visited the USA.
Many of those gathered admitted to having been Modi supporters.
What had changed them was the growing concentration of power.
Jyoti Punwani reports from New York.
As Rahul Gandhi ended his paean to NRIs at New York's Javits Convention Center with a "I love all of you", the 2,000-odd audience that had sat through two hours of speeches and songs shouted back "We love you too."
"Do you ever hear anyone say 'I love you' at BJP rallies?" asked Rahul, making everyone laugh.
Making an obvious bid to woo NRIs, Rahul linked the qualities that according to him, had contributed to the success of Indians in the US, with the clash of ideologies in India.
The humility and lack of arrogance of Indians who migrated to the US, he said, and their acceptance of the culture and diversity of their host country, were the reasons for their success. That's what made them ambassadors of India, he added.
In India, the basic conflict currently raging could be summarised as being "between Gandhi and Godse", said Rahul.
"Gandhiji was an NRI like you, humble, simple, one who believed in India, in her future...That's the ideology we follow," said the Congress leader.
Godse on the other hand, he said, was "angry, violent, unable to face reality... he chose to take out his anger on the man who represented the essence of India."
In his humility, simplicity and love of truth, Gandhi had only followed the example of India's greatest leaders said Rahul, and then went on to name leaders from every state: Basavanna from Karnataka, Narayana Guru from Kerala, Guru Nanak from Punjab. Expectedly, each name was greeted with applause by a different section of the audience.
However, his bid to please the NRI audience at the event organised by the Indian Overseas Congress went too far when he not only described Nehru and Patel also as NRIs, but went on to make the astounding assertion that the "Indian independence movement started in South Africa." "I expect future generations of NRIs to be Gandhis," he added, referring to Mahatma Gandhi.
Attacking the BJP and the RSS as being "incapable of looking at the future," Rahul said that their answer to every question was to "look back and blame the Congress. Would you be able to drive if you constantly looked at the rear view mirror?" he asked.
When a rail accident happened under the Congress, the railway minister took responsibility and resigned, he said, adding, "we didn't look back and blame the British."
Expressing a desire to visit other cities rather than just Washington, DC and New York next time, Rahul turned to Sam Pitroda, the chief organiser of his US trip, and said he'd like to visit cities like Chicago, Dallas, Atlanta.
"I want to have a relationship with you," he told the audience, "where you can tell me what your concerns are, what I should be doing. I'm not interested in doing mann ki baat," he said, bringing the house down.
Recounting that a Stanford graduate had told him she didn't want to return to India because of "the atmosphere" there, Rahul said that wasn't the India he wanted.
Violence wasn't an Indian value, he said, but it had become a new fashion to "express Indianness by being hateful, by beating others." But what gave him strength was that thousands still believed in the idea of India. He had seen this among NRIs too, he said.
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Those gathered at the Javits Center on Sunday afternoon were a microcosm of India, belying the allegation by BJP supporters about the event being Muslim-driven. In fact, the largest religious minority present there appeared to be Sikhs. (Sikhs also made up the small bunch of protesters standing across the venue.) And like Indians everywhere, these NRIs also stuck to their own linguistic groups.
What was common across these groups was the belief that Rahul would be the next prime minister, that he belonged to a family that had "shed their blood for India" and that he had the compassion needed to bring communities together and restore India's secular character.
"I was born a Christian in Kerala," said Tom George Kollath, standing with others from his state. "We have to live where we were born and eat what we grew up eating. If someone prevents me from worshipping my god and eating what I like in my own country, I see it as a violation of my fundamental rights."
Some were traditional Congress supporters; Amrik Singh Pehowa, for instance, described himself as a "3rd generation Congressi". Others such as Vijay Reddy pointed out that the Congress had got the country Independence and Rajiv Gandhi had, with the help of Sam Pitroda, encouraged technological development. "That enabled so many Indians to come to the US," he said.
Interestingly, many of those gathered admitted to having been Modi supporters. What had changed them was the growing concentration of power.
"A democracy cannot mean the rule of just two people," said Jagadeeshan from Telangana, who laughingly recalled that he too had chanted "Modi, Modi" when the PM had visited the USA.
Vijay Reddy had supported Modi too. However, being from a rural background, he felt Modi's policies were anti-farmer. He also felt "cheated" at the way "our assets are being sold."
The growing privatisation of PSUs was also mentioned by Anirudh Parupalli from Telangana, a master's student in business analytics and a volunteer at the event. "Debts are mounting under this government; poverty is growing," he said.
His friend Ganesh Gandam, also from Telangana, spoke of unemployment as a major concern which the current government wasn't addressing. Ganesh had flown in from Kansas where he was doing a master's in cyber security, specially for the event.
Interestingly, none of these Hindus were enthused about the growing saffronisation of politics in India.
"The Constitution guarantees equality before the law," said Reddy, adding that Rahul Gandhi's Bharat Jodo Yatra had shown that only he could achieve that.
Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com