Prime Minister Narendra Modi – the first Indian premier to visit Silicon Valley in more than three decades — received a mixed reception at a gathering in San Jose Sunday that drew an estimated 18,000 people, primarily diaspora Indians but also an array of top politicians.
While some screamed ‘Modi, Modi’ as he made his way to the SAP Center auditorium, hundreds of protesters outside the venue urged Modi to ensure human rights and minority rights are respected in India and that development is inclusive – one group even going to the extent of demanding separation from India, accusing the government of not caring for their needs.
House Democratic Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi and at least five other congressmen attended the last stop on Modi’s Silicon Valley tour, which included meetings with CEOs of Apple, Google and Facebook, as well as with some Indian and American startups.
Hours before his arrival, supporters were already outside the venue, shouting slogans and wielding banners. As shouts in Hindi of ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’ (Victory to Mother India) and ‘Modiji Zindabad’ (Long live, Modi) rang in the background, Ashish Mehrotra, a Cupertino resident and a tech worker, said he was eager to meet Modi.
“He has a vision for my country,’’ Mehrotra said. “He is working on getting investments for India.’’ Mehrotra cited Modi’s ‘Make in India’ initiative, which the premier launched on Sept. 25 last year seeking to make India a global manufacturing destination for both local and multinational companies, thereby creating jobs for Indian citizens.
Modi’s supporters distributed T-shirts bearing his image, provided free WiFi and even posed with cardboard cutouts of him. Anand Agarwal, another engineer from the Bay Area, sporting a Modi T-shirt, said he was pleased with Modi’s performance “and there was no reason to oppose him at all.”
The other side
Many, however, seemed to think otherwise. Activists were seen displaying banners calling for Modi to end discrimination of several forms in India. Sabiha Basrai, from the Alliance for Justice and Accountability, described Modi’s agenda as “success for some and oppression for others.”
“If there has to be development, it has to be for all,” she told Peninsula Press.
Another group of protesters included the Sikhs for Justice, who alleged that there was no religious freedom in Modi’s government.
Sangam Gill, a Sikh nurse, said the Indian government was “letting Sikh political prisoners rot in jail despite them having served their sentences.”
Gill also she was fighting for the rights of Muslims, who bore the brunt of the communal riots of 2002 in the state of Gujarat, whose chief minister (CM) then was Modi. More than 1,000 people were killed in the tragedy, most of them Muslims and Modi has been accused of not doing enough to stop the violence.
The group also demanded a separate Sikh nation, accusing the Indian government of not paying attention to their community’s needs.
In his speech, Modi congratulated the Indian-American community for their success in the technological arena. But he encouraged them to return to India, stressing that the 21st century belonged to India and that technology – and therefore their technical prowess – would be a major enabler in its economic growth. He also underscored how the 800-million-strong youth workforce of the country was a huge asset.
Modi also touched upon an array of programs that he said were helping the poor in India. These included the Jan Dhan initiative, which is the Indian government initiative to provide affordable financial services to the poor. Modi said 180 million zero-balance bank accounts had been opened as part of the program. He also cited his government’s push for the Aadhar program, which seeks to give each Indian citizen a unique ID and a card that she can use to avail of government services. He then said his government was pushing for mobile governance to enable each citizen to get information on their fingertips.
Modi also highlighted India’s successful mission to Mars on its first attempt, claimed his current administration had a clean record, and called on the world to address terrorism and global warming.