Saturday, 22 November 2014 00:00
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Singh Modi was the pick of the media among the world leaders who turned up in Brisbane for the G20 Summit last weekend. His off-the-summit activities got wide publicity and his charismatic personality won the hearts of everyone judging from TV footage and print media photographs.
Sydney gave him a rousing welcome when he came to address a near 20,000 crowd last Monday. It was a carnival mood in and around the Sydney Olympic Park from where he addressed. Indians resident in Australia came from all over the country to see the ‘event of events’.
Over 200 boarded the ‘Modi Express’ from Melbourne for the 12-hour train journey to Sydney. Four carriages in the train were decorated with the colours of the Indian flag, while mango leaves were hung over doorways – a Hindu ritual.
Waiting for Prime Minister Modi to arrive, the crowds were dancing and singing constantly chanting “Modi, Modi, Modi”. They displayed banners and cut-outs. There was a brisk sale of T-shirts. A restaurant had named itself NAMO – meaning ‘Narendra Modi’. Many in the festive crowd wore outfits traditional to the regions in India from where they had come. Some wore outfits from Gujarat – the Prime Minister’s home state.
A TV channel hailed Modi as “the respected Indian personality after Mahatma Gandhi”. Incidentally, he opened a statue of Gandhi in Brisbane.
In the speech which he delivered in English, he highlighted the need for democracy. “Without democracy do you think I would be here?” he asked.
He touched on the importance of sport too. “Neither India or Australia could live without cricket,” he said.
“Overwhelmed, honoured and humbled. Will never forget this day,” is how Modi reacted to the massive reception he got.
‘India’s political rock star’ was the ‘Sydney Morning Herald’s’ headline to introduce Modi. Calling it “a quick-fire, high-energy visit”, the newspaper asked ‘Are you ready Sydney?’ and said the city will get a ‘dose of Modi-mania’.
In addition to the packed Allphones Arena, those outside could watch on big screens. Millions in India watched it live over television. Over a hundred media-men from India covered Modi’s tour.
Modi addressed a joint session of the House of Representatives and the Senate, the third head of state to do so within a week. Chinese leader Xi Jinping on Monday and Britain’s David Cameron were the other two.
“I do not know how you are doing this. Maybe this is Prime Minister Abbott’s way of shirt-fronting you!” he said in lighter vein. (Prime Minister Abbott made the term “shirtfront” a global concept when he threatened to do it to Russian leader Vladimir Putin at the G20 over the crisis in Ukraine).
He referred to the close ties between India and Australia and referred to Mahatma Gandhi’s statue in Canberra as “the symbol of our shared values.”
“We celebrate the legend of Bradman and the class of Tendulkar. We were embarrassed by the Australian speed as you were charmed by Indian spin – of course, until Shane Warne came along,” he said amidst the laughter of the Parliamentarians.
Speaking of the merits of democracy, he stressed that democracy offers the best opportunity for the human spirit to flourish. “We have the freedom to choose, the right to speak and the power to reject,” he said.
He received a standing ovation at the end of his address.