New Jersey – This article is not about how well I know Shri Narendra Modi, the Prime Minster of India because knowing him does not make me anything special. I am and should be what I am because of my own upbringing and my own worldview shaped by lifelong experiences, not because of reflected glory of a great man like Modiji. This is more about how I have seen Modiji evolve and how it has impacted my own journey.
During 1975-1977, several of us here in the USA were fully engaged in fighting the draconian emergency rule imposed by Mrs. Indira Gandhi. We all had come together under the umbrella of Indians for Democracy (IFD). We provided platform and shelter to all those who had escaped Mrs. Gandhi’s clutches- Dr. Subramanian Swamy, Ram Jethmalani, N. G. Gore, Mrs. George Fernandez and many others. During those 19 months, we were in touch with Indian underground resistance. We had heard name of Narendra Modi as one of the RSS men who had managed to evade the police and provide support to top RSS leaders.
First time I met Narendrabhai (as we call him) was the year after emergency was lifted and Indira Gandhi and her party were defeated. He was a RSS Pracharak and staying in RSS office in Maninagar, Amdavad. As I was involved with Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America (VHPA) and was editor of its monthly magazine, Hindu Vishwa, it was my desire to meet those who had stood up to the dictatorship of Mrs. Gandhi and managed to divest her of political power.
It was a room, may be 12×12 with one sleeping cot, a chair and a table. I saw a well-built man in kurta-drawstring pants with a big black beard. His eyes were penetrating. We exchanged thoughts and then I invited him for dinner as I was told that Pracharaks live a very frugal life. He readily accepted and that is where our association began.
In late eighties and early nineties, Modiji came to USA several times, sometimes under UNO’s young leadership program. Steeped in RSS tradition we all were at home with each other and there was always a feeling of a family member visiting. In 1993, VHPA held a massive Hindu conference in Washington, DC which was named Global Vision 2000 to welcome new millennium and bring together top minds for drawing a blueprint of a better world. The occasion was the commemoration of 100 years since Swami Vivekananda uttered those famous words- Sisters and Brothers of America at Chicago’s World Parliament of Religions on September 11, 1893. The conference drew 8000 people from across the world and a parallel youth conference for college students brought another 2000 youth.
The conference was preceded by hard work of a team of about 20 volunteers for more than 18 months. Month before the conference, we had rented an apartment in Maryland where many of us stayed to work out all the details. Narendrabhai stayed with us there for two weeks. He was very helpful and he had keen sense of management but he did not speak much.
Then came his sudden elevation as the Chief Minister of Gujarat in October 2001. Those of us, who had seen him at close quarters, had no doubt that he would succeed; but none of us in our wildest dreams had anticipated the resoluteness that Modiji has exhibited all along.
Then Godhra happened. Gujarat has seen many riots and quite a few were more horrendous than what happened in early 2002 and Muslims had suffered heavier losses in the past. But then, that was under Congress government, so all was forgiven. But how could a BJP led government at the Center and a BJP government in the state of Gujarat be allowed to have a riot where unlike dozens of past riots, Muslims were at the receiving end? So the Congress, which soon came to power at the Center and the motivated media, liberal pseudo-seculars and their cousins let loose a campaign of calumny, hatred and outright lies, which lasted for a good dozen years. All along they conveniently forgot the genesis of the riots- burning down of a railway coach at Godhra in a premeditated attack by Muslims which took lives of 59 innocent Hindus, mostly women and children.
On March 20, 2005, all Indian organizations in New York and New Jersey area came together under AINA for a program at Madison Square Garden to listen to Narendra Modi via satellite after US government cancelled his visa on flimsy grounds. It is a sweet irony that same Narendra Modi will address 20,000 strong audiences, with many a top elected American officials in tow, on September 28, 2014, exactly after nine years, six months and eight days.
This is what I wrote on March 17, 2005 in my invitation email: “This is not a support to a politician; neither is VHPA involved because Shree Modi is a Chief Minister. We are asking you to come participate and listen to the dynamic visionary Rashtra Purush in the company of 6000 capacity crowd of likeminded community members because we value Narendrabhai’s contribution to work ethos, steadfastness, vision, drive for excellence strong stand against corruption and bringing accountability in public life, that are conspicuously absent from today’s political scene in Bharat. As you will see from the attached letter he has raised the bar of performance in all spheres of governance and proved that there is indeed hope for Bharat. There is no doubt, that as the awareness spreads throughout the length and breadth of Bharat, eventually political leaders in other states will be compelled to follow the high standards that he has set.”
I can only smile with satisfaction that my words have come true today in less than a decade. In early 2006, I had met Narendrabhai. At that time, like for many years afterward, he was a target of extremists and terrorists. I had asked him, if he were afraid. Pat came the answer – “Are bhai, goli to ek hi bar lagegi na,” that is, why worry; I would be shot only once. So, here was a fearless leader.
Last time I met him in 2008. Unlike in past, when we met at his office, this time we had a leisurely meeting at his home. I found him extremely focused and determined. He talked animatedly about several projects he was envisaging. There was no bitterness against those who had made his life a living hell. He just wanted to achieve so much for Gujarat. He reminded me of Arjun in Mahabharat who in his archery class could see nothing but the eye of the decoy bird. I asked him about all pervading corruption.
While conceding that it was a very difficult issue, he gave insight into his method. When a credible complaint came against one of his officers for taking bribe, both the accused and accuser would be called and the accused would be confronted with the evidence. He would be asked to return the bribe, sign a paper admitting his guilt with a promise not to repeat the mistake and then he would be transferred, not fired. According to Narendrabhai, if the person were fired, his family would suffer and he would become a burden on the society but having signed the damning paper, he would be always on his toes. The person, who go this money back, became an admirer of the government and carried the news to others, thus increasing credibility of his government.
Later that day I had visited Anandibahen Patel, current Chief Minister of Gujarat and then a revenue minister. She described in detail how Modiji was a task master and how he made all his ministers work hard by having one on one review meetings every six months where he would ask penetrating questions, as he would always have done his homework.
I have always believed that Modiji derives strength from his spiritual sadhana. An avid yoga practitioner (who asks his ministers to brief him while he is doing postures), he observes Navaratri fast twice a year. It is this inner strength that has stood him in good stead during most difficult times where an ordinary politician would have either resigned or committed suicide.
Modiji has inspired millions to think out of box and do something for the country. It was this spirit that led some of us to establish Global Indians for Bharat Vikas (GIBV) in September 2013 after pondering over the idea for a couple of years. Modiji gave blessing to the idea of having this platform to bring together NRIs who have genuine desire to transform India into a developed nation.
Inspired by Modiji, more than 1000 volunteers of GIBV reached out to two million voters by phone and hundreds of them went to India for campaigning defying intense heat, grime and dust. I was fortunate to have this opportunity where besides other places, I could go to villages of Varanasi and Amethi to campaign for a person, who I knew would change India inside out. Now that Mission-2014 has been achieved, GIBV has changed gears to engage the best NRI minds to help the government in achieving its ambitious goals (www.gibv.org) and brining the common man in focus.
Like me, there are hundreds who have come in close contact with Modiji and are inspired by him. Their only regret is that now he is no more easily accessible. His time is so valuable that one has to think twice- do I really need to call him or meet him even for a minute and take away his precious time?
History is a witness that leaders like Narendra Modi, who are ahead of their times and have an all-encompassing vision are rare but when they come on the world stage, they write their own rules and they make a lasting, positive change.
Welcome to the USA, Narendrabhai; no, Hon. Prime Minster!