Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s first post-Covid visit to the United States is awaited eagerly by the Indian-Americans anxious to show their support for their ancestral homeland during these trying times. The visit also includes Modi’s first face-to-face meeting with President Joe Biden.
On the sidelines of attending the United Nations General Assembly meetings, Modi is expected to meet members of the community, and on Sept. 22, will be at the White House along with several other leaders to discuss strategic security and concerns about a rising China in the Indo-Pacific. But many other serious issues accompany Modi’s visit to the UN, among them the recent ascent of the Taliban in Afghanistan, Pakistan’s posturing as a mediator with the regime, China’s efforts to befriend the new government – all of it impacting India to a high degree. Add that to climate change and the pandemic and it’s a perfect storm for Prime Minister Modi to tackle during his few days here.
The Indian leader’s past last triumphant visits to the U.S. evoke memories of a different world before the global pandemic hit – a world where Prime Minister Modi was feted not just by massive crowds of supporters here, but also commanded the clout that brought the then U.S. President Donald Trump to his side at a massive event. While those mass meeting are not possible this time because of pandemic restrictions, his base in the U.S. diaspora is feeling the same excitement that existed in 2019 and in 2014.
The signature moments from the past that remain in the memory of supporters include the 2014 trip to the U.S., when Modi addressed a 19,000-strong crowd at Madison Square Garden Sept. 28, and “Chants, Cheers and Roars for Modi” filled the stadium as the New York Times described it. Particularly, Modi’s speech where he acknowledged the community’s importance.
“You have given me a lot of love. This kind of love has never been given to any leader, ever. I’m very grateful to you. And I will repay that loan by forming the India of your dreams,” Modi said. He promised a clean administration, a clean Ganga, uplifting the poor, and economic growth.
Modi’s memorable exchange with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg at the SAP Center in San Jose also in 2014, combined with foreign visits to Davos, the United Nations and other multilateral forums, shone his foreign policy chops, and highlighted his progressive views on climate change, and information technology, catapulting him to a global leadership platform, as a man who envisioned a Modern India, but with deep roots in its ancient past, a perfect combination for many of the Indians living abroad.
Then again in 2019, after being re-elected with a resounding majority, Modi arrived to an even more adoring crowd, witnessed in the “Howdy, Modi!” event in Houston Sept. 22, 2019. That drew some 50,000 people by some estimates. For those living abroad, his speech was undergirded with expectations of a “New India” which Modi supporters ardently believed in.
Notwithstanding the hiccup of the Covid pandemic, the pitfalls of rising case numbers, vaccine production issues, lower ratings in some polls, and most recently, a re-emergence of India’s ability to export vaccines, gives assurance to those abroad that their Motherland is still on the same path, albeit somewhat bruised and battered.
Indian-Americans are immensely proud of the collective efforts they mustered around the country to help India in its time of need and also lobby the White House and Capitol Hill to do the same.
Some of the major organizations Desi Talk spoke to, wanted to meet the Prime Minister more than anything, to exchange ideas with him on what more could be done for their India in these trying times, and to outline concerns about ease of doing grassroots work there for healthcare and economic and social development.
Millions of dollars worth of medical equipment were sent to India by organizations like the Federation of Indian Associations, FIA, American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (AAPI); support to on-the-ground projects in India by non-profits like Share and Care, Life Global USA, Sewa International, Akshay Patra, American India Foundation, IndiaSpora, to name just a few.
Add to that, the media organizations in the U.S. like Parikh Worldwide Media which publishes Desi Talk, and ITV Gold, giving a lot of their print and airtime to raising awareness about the crisis in India and ways to send help; education seminars, global Zoom conferences, etc.
While many of these philanthropic activities continue, Indians abroad also believe they have played an important role in strengthening U.S.-India relations – without a break in continuity – from one administration to another.
“The Indian-American community welcomes Shri Narendra Modi to the United States and is eager to listen to his message on what we can do for India,” said Padma Shri Dr. Sudhir Parikh, chairman of Parikh Worldwide Media which publishes Desi Talk and other publications, and ITV Gold television station.
“We are very proud of his accomplishments in making a ‘New India’ – from Swachh Bharat Abhiyan to Atma Nirbhar Bharat Abhiyan, he made India self sufficient, and the 3rd largest economy in the world,” said.
“In the next 10 years, India will be a top global leader. And now he is having The Quad meeting with President Biden, and Japan and Australian leaders when he is here to counter Chinese dominance in the Indo-Pacific. And he is a leader on Climate Change,” Parikh added.
“As the largest Indian-American media conglomerate Parikh Worldwide Media and ITV Gold are ready to do whatever is necessary to make the ‘New India’ stronger,” Dr. Parikh said.
“While we don’t know much details, the FIA feels very positive about the PM’s visit becase it will result in some travel impacts being eased somewhat. Every time he comes, Mr. Modi likes to unveil something positive for us,” Ankur Vaidya, chairman of FIA told Desi Talk. “We are very excited to discuss and hear from him about the huge cargo we sent – $50 million worth, of medical equipment, the largest that an non-profit anywhere in the world has done. And all of North America our people may have sent some $500 million,” Vaidya added.
Vaidya also credited media organizations like Parikh Worldwide, for publicizing Covid relief efforts. “We hare a very intimate relations with Parikh Worldwide Media, the largest Indian-American publishing house,” he said, referring to Padma Shri Dr. Sudhir Parikh, chairman of Parikh Worldwide Media and ITV Gold, who is a senior advisor to FIA. “They have helped us to be spotlighted on aid going to India.”
Dr. Anupama Gotimukula, president of AAPI told Desi Talk, the organization hopes it will be able to meet the Prime Minister despite his busy schedule. “As the largest ethnic physicians’ organization in this country where every seventh patient is served by an Indian-American physician, we have taken no breaks since Covid broke. And that includes working for helping India, with raising almost $5 million, and sending ventilators, concentrators, and if we could, we would have sent vaccines,” she said.
“We want to discuss with the Prime Minister our plans to help more, to reach even more into rural India with preventive health, do telemedicine to help ICUs in hospitals remotely, and continue our rural health initiative to celebrate India’s 75th Independence Day, in 75 areas. We also want to invite Mr. Modi to our June 2022 annual convention in San Antonio, TX,” she added.
She thanked Indian-American media, especially Dr. Parikh, senior advisor to AAPI, and Parikh Worldwide Media for its constant support. “Dr. Parikh is a really big supporter of AAPI. We always work with him to promote good works, and to interact with the community, Gotimukula said.
“We are very excited about Mr. Modi’s visit. The things we are looking forward to are related to Share and Care’s work in Covid relief –what Mr. Modi needs for India — because we get conflicting reports saying India needs help, and then that India can do it on its own,” said Sharad Shah, president of Share and Care USA, a non-profit which works at the grassroots in India and which pivoted to Covid relief as the pandemic hit.
“We also see India is joining with U.S., Japan and Australia for Indo-Pacific region. That will have an economic impact on our work as well. We want guidance on long term projects from the Prime Minister,” Shah said. He credited Indian-American media for bringing awareness about India’s plight, and the work on the community to help India. “Dr. Parikh has been associated with Share and Care for 35 years. And Parikh Worldwide Media brings our supporters to us and takes our messages out to the public. We do the grassroots project work. So our roles are different but the journey is the same,” Shah said.
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Parikh Worldwide Media is the largest Indian-American publishing group in the United States. The group publishes five periodicals – “News India Times,” a national weekly newspaper; “Desi Talk in New York,” a weekly newspaper serving the New York-New Jersey-Connecticut region; and “Desi Talk in Chicago,” a weekly newspaper serving the Greater Chicago area and the Midwestern states; and “The Indian American,” a national online quarterly feature magazine, and the Gujarat Times, a Gujarati language weekly. The combined circulation and readership of these publications make the media group the most influential in the ethnic Indian market.