BY: VISHNU BISRAM
In early August, Prime Minister Narendra Modi sent a congratulatory message to Dr Irfaan Ali on his ascension to the Presidency.
President Ali sent out birthday greetings to the Indian PM on the occasion of his 70th birthday last Thursday.
Modi is no stranger to Guyana, and he has been very fond of Guyanese, doling out large amounts of financial aid to Guyana since he became PM in May 2014. I am very familiar with Modi’s interaction with Guyanese and his visit to Guyana. I wrote a political biography of the role the diaspora, including Guyanese, played in Modi becoming PM.
Modi interacted with Guyanese in America, Trinidad, Guyana and India before he became General Secretary of the BJP and Chief Minister (CM) of Gujarat State in 2001, and long before he became Prime Minister in 2015. He visited diaspora countries before he became Chief Minister, and during his tenure as the CM. He attended conferences and programmes in the US, where he interacted with Guyanese. He visited Guyana in 2000, and when he became CM, he interacted with several Guyanese in New Jersey as well as in Delhi.
After he became PM in May 2014, he hosted Donald Ramotar in Delhi and in Gandhinagar in January 2015, and David Granger in Delhi in 2018 for the Solar Summit.
Before he entered politics in the 1990s, Modi was familiar with Indian diaspora affairs, a concept promoted by Ravi Dev and myself since the 1980s.
Modi travelled abroad to present papers at conferences, where he met with Guyanese. In Washington, at a conference in 1993, Modi and Dev were on the same panel, presenting papers and exchanging views about issues pertaining to the diaspora.
In the following years before he became CM, Modi visited New York and New Jersey several times for seminars, festivities and other activities hosted by Gujaratis and the BJP New York branch, at which Guyanese were invited.
Patanjali Rambrich, Dharamdatt Sukhai Durjan, Andrew Satyanand and I were invited to these events, allowing for interaction with Modi at a time when he was not in government. These programmes, including shaka exercise, made it possible for Modi and other Indian nationals to learn about Indo-Caribbeans and their experience. (Several of us were founding members of the Overseas Friends of BJP that was initiated by Dr. Mukund Mody of Staten Island before the BJP came to power in 1998).
Modi is a very pleasant character, warm and friendly towards Guyanese. Even after he became CM, he retained that personality, as I found out in my encounters with him in Delhi at PBDs.
Modi visited Trinidad for the Hindu conference in 2000. At that conference, several prominent Guyanese, including Ravi Dev, Swami Aksharananda, Pandit Vikash (now PS in Agriculture), Pt. Reepu Daman Persaud, Pt. Radharaman Upadhyay, Pt. Rambhajan of UG Hindu Society, and I, among others, were present. Several of us met Modi, although there was not much interaction with him. Guyanese delegates, including me, were more interested in interacting with the other politicians from India and heads of the major Hindu organizations like RSS and VHP.
Modi was invited to visit Guyana, and he undertook the trip. In Guyana, he was hosted by Ravi Dev, who took him around a few historic sites related to resistance of Indians against indentureship and sugar exploitation wherein Indians were massacred. He requested to visit historic sites, and Ravi Dev accommodated his request.
Modi stayed at the Pegasus. He was also hosted by Mr. Davi of Demerara Bank and the Indian High Commission. His trip was very short, not allowing for interaction with leaders of organisations, or enjoying the warm hospitality of descendants of girmityas.
Modi became General Secretary of the ruling BJP, and shortly thereafter was appointed CM of Gujarat by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Deputy PM Lal Kishan Advani (the two were a brotherly team making joint decisions in governing between 1998 and 2004. Atal was sworn in three times as PM, and in every trip to NY, he met Guyanese).
After Modi became CM, interactions with Guyanese continued. He regularly visited New York and New Jersey, where there is a very large Gujarati diaspora. The Overseas Friends of BJP, of which several Guyanese were supporters and or members, were invited to his events. He visited the US several times thru 2005, to address the large prosperous Gujarati community in NJ and NY. He used the opportunity of his American visits to meet and interact with other communities, like Indo-Caribbeans and Indo-Fijians of the diaspora, who were charmed by his presence.
During his tenure as CM, from 2001 till 2014, Modi attended every Pravasi Bharatiya Divas (that began in January 2003 and were held annually) promoting investment in Gujarat. I interacted with him at PBDs in Delhi in 2003 and 2004, and in Mumbai in 2005 and at other PBDs. Anyone who visited the Gujarati booth at PBD would have met him. He was very engaging and hospitable. After he became PM in May 2014, he continued his interaction with Guyanese, hosting Ramotar and a Guyanese delegation at the PBD in Gujarat in January 2015 and doling out large amounts of financial aid. The next year September, he met David Granger at the sidelines of the UN. The interaction with Guyanese continued unabated, hosting the PBD in Bangalore in January 2017.
Ravi Dev and I and other activist scholars were his guests in 2017, to discuss issues pertaining to the diaspora. He hosted David Granger and other world leaders for an Energy Summit in March 2018 when I and several other Guyanese were in Delhi. And in January 2019, he hosted the PBD in Varanasi, at which I and several other Guyanese were guests.
In all my encounters with Modi, at PBDs and in the US and Trinidad, he was very warm, friendly, jovial and engaging. He was confident about himself, and spoke like a statesman and brilliant scholar. (He is a political scientist like me). He is very charismatic, and charms his audience. People I interviewed for my research on a book on Modi describe him as a statesman.
Guyanese owe him a debt of gratitude for his generosity.