Modi’s America: What accounts for the Prime Minister’s popularity among Indian Americans

  • By Bhargavi Kulkarni Sep 17, 2019 Updated
Modi's America: What accounts for the Prime Minister's popularity among Indian Americans
President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump walk to the Oval Office with Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the White House June 26, 2017 in Washington, D.C. (Getty Images)

Indian-American supporters of Prime Minister Narendra Modi are eagerly waiting for his visit, his first after his resounding victory in the May general elections. Modi, who arrives in the U.S. on Sept. 20, is scheduled to address a rally in Houston, the following day. Organizers say that over 50,000 people have already registered for the event and several are still on the waiting list. 

This will be Modi’s third major address to the Indian-American community after he became the prime minister in 2014. The previous two were at the Madison Square Garden in New York in 2014 and in the Silicon Valley in 2015. News reports estimate that both the events were attended by more than 20,000 people.

The Houston event is organized by Texas India Forum in collaboration with several Indian-American organizations. The ‘Howdy Modi!’ event, with the tagline “Shared Dreams, Bright Future,” is the largest for any Indian prime minister and the largest for a democratically elected foreign leader in America. 

Organizers say it is a testament to the community’s passion for India, their success in the United States, the power of the community to come together, and their contribution and hopes for the U.S.-India bond to continue to prosper in future. It is also a testament to Modi’s popularity among the Indian-American community. 

So, what accounts for the enduring popularity of the prime minister among Indian-Americans? Several members of the community India Abroad spoke with said they admire Modi for his honesty and his integrity.

One of the most important things that is appealing about Modi is that he represents the change from the dynastic politics that has plagued India for decades.

Although some believe that Modi may represent a very populist viewpoint, they also believe that he is also completely aware of capitalistic policies that will accelerate India’s growth. 

He is a man who wants nothing for himself or his family and does not make his decision to fill his own pockets and represents the ideal utopia of a corruption free India, some said.

OFBJP President Krishna Reddy Anugula told India Abroad that looking back into the last five years, one can see that Modi has done everything possible to change the face of the nation. “That’s why it’s said: ‘Modi hai toh mumkin hai,’” he said.

Some say that Modi can not only spiral India into the future economically by strengthening ties with the U.S., but he can also create awareness among the young generation about the importance of spirituality, respect towards your heritage, and growth of thought. 

Others hope that Modi can really unite the NRI community to rise above the old divisional partitions and politics as well as the inter-religious partitions and difference and send a message of presenting the community as one.

Here are excerpts from the views of a cross section of Indian-Americans:

Krishna Reddy Anugula, President, OFBJP

It is after many decades that a leader is transforming the country. As Indian-Americans, living here, we have become used to enjoying a good life, with good infrastructure and facilities, etc.; and now in India too, thanks to Modiji, these transformations can be seen with the Swachch Bharat Abhiyan. No one had ever imagined this kind of development which would bring a drastic change in the country, from the bottom up. These are the things that resonate with the Indian-Americans.

Another quality that sets Modiji apart is the fact that he has no selfish agenda. He is 100 percent dedicated to improving the country. Another factor that sets the Modi government apart is how it has been proactively helping Indians around the world; be it the Yemen or the Iran crisis, or some of the unfortunate deaths here in the U.S. The consulates have proactively been working with the families and protecting Indians here.

That is why, looking back into the last five years, one can see that Modi has done everything possible to change the face of the nation. That’s why it’s said: “Modi hai toh mumkin hai.”

Col. Virendra Tavathia (Retd.), president at Amogh Associates LLC., Edison, N.J.

Modi is popular all over the world for the work he has done for India. He has brought stability to the nation. His foreign policies have helped bring India closer to other countries in the world. He has isolated Pakistan and China and given more confidence to the NRIs to invest in India. In the current leadership in India, there is no politician that can come close to Modi, except Amit Shah. Modi has a vision for India which he has to fulfill and along the way he has to fight opposition from outside the party and from within.

Since most of the BJP comes from the Sangh Parivar, a Hindu hardliner group, Modi has had to change a few of his ideologies in order to govern a country as diverse as India. But that said, I do support and root for a Hindu nation as well. One out of every sixth person in the world is a Hindu, yet we don’t have a Hindu nation. On the contrary, one out of every fourth person in the world is a Muslim, and there are 57 nations where the community is a majority. India is blessed to have Modi. Of course he’s not perfect, but there’s no one else who comes close to him. 

Srujal Parikh, FIA past president, Edison, N.J.

It was just five years ago when I had the opportunity to play a key role during Prime Minister Modi’s visit and the restless nights and the uncounted hours of preparations being NYPD MOS Security was a challenging task. I can understand what the Howdy Modi organizers must be going through, preparing for a leader who everyone respects and admires. Modi has brought about a change not only in the people of India, but in the country as well, which we witnessed during our visit at the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas in Varanasi in January this year.

I cannot feel proud enough to be an Indian since he took over the office of the prime minister. With his great leadership of bringing India to next level, we Indian-Americans always look back to our motherland and its progress and I truly believe it wouldn’t have been possible without Modi. I admire his vision and commitment for India. As an NRI, I really feel safer to visit India with his great work, of not just changing the infrastructure but the clean India movement and true women empowerment.

Abhijit Kulkarni, Cybersecurity Analyst, Dallas, Texas

I think this visit by Prime Minister Modi is another fantastic event that not only strengthens Indo-American diplomatic relations, but spurs further love, patriotism, and connections with their country of origin for Indian-Americans. It provides further impetus into giving future generations of Indian-American children insight into the unique opportunity that United States as a country offers — that even though you are an American, you live here and work here, your roots are deeply entwined with Bharat and its glorious heritage and you have multiple avenues to learn and live in your culture. Modiji’s amazing capability not only spirals Bharat into the future economically by strengthening ties with the U.S., but also creates awareness among the young generation about the importance of spirituality, respect towards your heritage, and growth of thought.

Indian-Americans now feel more connected than ever to their motherland due to the amazing work by Modi in the areas of economic and cultural development, crackdown on corruption, and increasing security not only on the border but within the nation itself. He has created and re-kindled patriotism, social awareness, and the importance of giving back to the nation through his tremendous work and motivational speeches.

Sudesh Rao, Engineer, Skillman, N.J.

Modi is a bonafide elected (by largest mandate in recent history) prime minster of the largest democracy in the planet (electorate count). Questioning his legitimacy adds to his aura.

There are always two sides to a coin, his decisions though not popular among a few have been long awaited by the general population (be it the question on demonetization, triple talaq, traffic fines or Article 370/35 abolition). He is popular here for the same reason he is popular back in India. The most vocal Indian-American segment in this country has been brought up in an India where the population was never empowered. We were always the problem so we were always asked to compromise. Be it reservation or common civil law or not able to call Kashmir our own. Folks see in Modi what is a popular term these days — a nationalist. 

Rashi Bhatnagar, homemaker, Atlanta

Being an Indian staying on a dependent visa in the U.S., I am really looking forward for Modiji’s U.S. visit, because, he is my prime minister. Every time I visit India I see so many positive changes under his regime. His administration is working so hard for the development in India.

One of my expectations is that he should bring more programs so that NRIs like me who are stuck in a 150 year long green card backlog can easily invest in India and go back. We need more start-up avenues. More awareness should be voiced back home so that ambitious Indian brothers and sisters shouldn’t get trapped by the companies through the H-1B visa. Indian students should not become victims of fake international universities. We should Make India Great Again.

Gaurang Vaishnav, executive vice president, Global Indians for Bharat Vikas, Tampa, Florida

I think it is a very good sign, probably first time in the history of Bharat that a prime minister can command so much respect and admiration of the people all over the world. People just wait to see him and listen to him. And that’s just wonderful. Modiji inspires people to trust in a better future. Over the years, many, many leaders have come and gone, but none have got the level of support and adulation that Modi commands.

Take for example the Houston gathering. With over 50,000 people registered, it is something unheard of. It tells a lot of Modiji’s stature, his popularity. Until Modiji came to New York and addressed that rally in Madison Square Garden in 2014, people did not have any hope. But once they heard him, they were in awe of him. Modiji has proven in five years that things can be done and that he can change the country. There is now a “I can” attitude among people, instead of the “chalta hai” attitude. 

Rahul Chakke, IT professional, Iselin, N.J.

I believe Mr. Modi’s visit this time is to gain more support from the Indian community in Texas. Focus has always been on the east and west coasts. This seems to be a well thought of plan to ensure Indians all over the U.S. are engaged. The overall expectation this time around is for the government to now progressively deliver on the agenda that was proposed during the 1st tenure. They should not lose the momentum and ensure that they do not lose the faith the nation has shown in BJP by giving them a full majority. So, it’s very important to take this forward. They should also exploit the opportunity created by the trade war between U.S. and China.

There is a lot of opportunity there. Not only the Indian-Americans, but majority of Indians like Modi’s no nonsense approach. The best part is his outreach. There seems to be no personal agenda unlike the Gandhis, when it comes to serving the country. And I believe the most striking feature is the way we deal with issues with Pakistan.

Anju Bhargava, founder, Hindu American Seva Communities

People are fond of Modi because they feel that he is an honest man, that he is not corrupt. And that I think is a welcome change from previous administrations. They know that Modi is not trying to accumulate any wealth for himself, and has only the interest of the country at heart. People know that his intentions are the best, although they may disagree with the execution. However, that said, I feel that people are agreeing to give him the benefit of doubt. Another reason for Modi’s popularity here is that prior to becoming the country’s prime minister, Modi has visited the U.S. as an ordinary man.

Many have seen him as a normal human being, doing social work for the good of the humanity. And that I think has stuck with the people. And that is what inspires people to do what they can for the country of their residence and the country of their birth. As an American of Indian heritage, I would hope that Modi further understands the needs of the NRI community and find ways for them to make it easier to connect with the country of their origin. Another positive thing about Modi is his efforts in the ownership of yoga and the pluralism it brings. 

Santosh Papagari, ETL Architect, Dublin, California 

No prime minister has ever maintained a connect with the Indian diaspora like Modiji has. We look forward for this to be a ongoing connect keeping us well informed of the changes in governance in my motherland. Modiji has already shown the trailer and his mark in the first 100 days of governance. We would like to know what’s in store in the next 4.5 years, like his ideas and thoughts on national security, uniform civil code, Ram maunder, population control measures, economic offenders and support for farmers and soldiers. His work is what makes him popular.

He is a man with a great intent to bring in change in a huge republic like India. Every step, no matter big or small is with the intent to take the country forward. The inertia in a country with 1.3 billion people is high and to bring even a a small change is a big achievement and I think he has been successful with all his moves like abolition of triple talaq and the abolition of Article 370A. Also think about it like this, he is man with no family interests, his only interest is India’s interest. The call ‘Bharat maata ki jai’ resonates for long in every Indian’s heart every time he is here in U.S. It motivates us to go extra mile to do something for motherland.

Viraj Sardesai, engineer, Clifton Park, N.Y.

We heartily welcome Honorable Prime Minister Modi to the U.S. I expect Modiji to continue transforming India, by changing the thoughts and perceptions of Indians themselves as well as the world. Modiji is a rare once-in-a-generation leader. He gives his 100 percent for India.

He is totally free of corruption. Not one of his relatives benefited by his being in power as the chief minister of Gujarat for 12 years and prime minister for 5 years. He has the vision and the courage. He is an able administrator. He has already taken the challenges by grabbing the bull by the horns, be it abrogation of Article 370, financial empowerment of masses, direct payment of benefits through Aadhar, and so on. As an Indian-American, I feel Modiji is the best hope for future on Indo American relations.

Sridhar Talanki, entrepreneur, Denver, Colorado

As an entrepreneur, I feel one of the most important initiatives that Modiji has launched is the Made in India campaign, which is a movement covering 25 sectors of the economy, to encourage companies to manufacture their products in India. Not only has that benefitted me, but several like me have seen the potential for their business expand and grow.

And through the implementation of his various plans and initiatives, Modiji has shown that he is not just all talk, but does what he says. His vision and his leadership is what appeals to all Indians. To show our support to Modiji around 300 of us are going to Houston to hear him and get inspired by him. 

Girish Gandhi, vice president, Global Outreach, Global Indians for Bharat Vikas, West Palm Beach, Florida 

There are several reasons why the NRI community is in tune with Narendrabhai Modi. For those of us who left India in the late 60s and early 70s, India has changed drastically, more so in the past five years, under Narendrabhai Modi’s leadership. What he has accomplished — to bring India at par with powerful nations on the global map is commendable. He has achieved this with his vision, leadership quality and integrity. He is also honest and very dedicated. He is trying to do everything that is humanely possible for the development of the country. He is a true leader, someone who is completely for the people. Another plus is that he is totally uncorrupt and very honest. He is trying to build the global image of India by keeping its culture, its values and its integrity intact. With his charming persona and his leadership skills, he has been accepted by leaders around the world.

Dr. Jamin Brambhatt, physician, Orlando, Florida 

I am born and brought up here in the U.S. And over the years I have seen the image of our community evolve. And during my regular trips to India, I began noticing changes in the country and its people. In my opinion, Modi took all this stuff and brought it together and changed the perception of India. That India is so much more than “Slumdog Millionaire.” To me the biggest change is that now I feel that I could live in India, that it’s not a mere vacation.

And I attribute that to the changes and the investments that have been implemented — both in the infrastructure and the attitude of the people. I can see people change, and wanting to make India into a united front. I am headed to Houston to show my support to Modi. 

Ankur Vaidya, member, FIA Board of Trustees, South Brunswick, N.J.

I am very intrigued and impressed with what a simple individual who is now a global icon can do. In my opinion, what Modi has done in terms of corralling fervor of motherland and patriotism in the diaspora here and across the globe is truly breathtaking, apart from being historic and unprecedented.  I think it truly unearths the embedded ‘Bharatiya’ feeling that somehow was lost and buried all these years. Of course previous prime ministers have also visited the U.S., and met with the community, but they haven’t been so engaging like Modi’s visits.

With his tag line of ‘Modi hai toh mumkin hai’ the prime minister can really unite the NRI community to rise above the old divisional partitions and politics as well as the inter-religious partitions and difference and send a message of presenting the community as one. This will make the diaspora very strong and solid here in America as well as globally. I hope and pray that his advisors point his attention to this much-needed task of unifying the overseas community to set an example for the community back home to follow.

Modi has awakened that subconsciousness among expats. I believe that a wide majority feels that he is an unprecedented leader of India, the oldest and largest democracy a country which he has placed on the world stage as a force to reckon with and has significantly empowered and elevated the value of India and Indians across the globe.   

Hetal Shah, entrepreneur, North Brunswick, N.J.

As an Indian-American, and born and raised in India in the 80’s & 90’s, I feel Prime Minister Narendra Modi represents a change in the traditional path the country has charted since Independence; a change of guard from the old Nehruvian and Gandhian politics and policies. What makes me feel positive about Modi can be summarized as below:

1. His stance and focus towards national security and defense creates a feeling of safety and security and sends a strong message to the international community. This is especially true given the constant battle we Indians have faced with terrorism in India.

2. His economic policies and the vision of a prosperous and connected and healthy rural India resonates with my vision of the India of the future. The changes and the services provided under his leadership have already started the change at the grassroots level. Even if the transformation takes decades, a positive start has been made.

3. Modi also represents the change from the dynastic politics that have plagued India for decades due to the bend towards a socialist thought process. Modi may represent a very populist viewpoint but is also completely aware of capitalistic policies that will accelerate India’s growth. He at least represents the ideal utopia of a corruption free India.

Rakesh Jangda, chemical engineer, Houston, Texas

I think it is good that Modi organizes such events. The purpose is twofold:

1) To show the U.S. government the power of the Indian diaspora and influence policy. 

2) For his audience back home as a visual show of strength of his popularity. 

This is Modi’s first visit since getting re-elected with a decisive mandate. He is the most popular political figure in Indian politics since independence. His popularity stems from:

1) His image and perception as a an incorruptible political leader.

2) His record of transforming how government machinery works.

3) His ability to communicate complex issues in simple language and build consensus.

4) He has taken some major reforms both economically and politically like GST, 370, Balakot strikes etc.

The fact that he is decisive leader is incontestable and adds to his aura.

M.R. Rangaswami, MD, Sandhill Group and founder, Indiaspora, San Francisco Bay Area 

I think the biggest plus point I see about Modi is that he really values the diaspora like no other prime minister has done before. And it is a long-term commitment. He began it with the 2014 event at the Madison Square Garden, followed it up in 2015 in San Jose, and now in 2019, it’s Houston. What this shows that he is consistently investing in the diaspora, which is quite different from how it was done earlier.

And these are not just fly-by visits; it’s not just checking the box. It’s about making these visits again and again and consistently engaging the community here. Along with that he is also making an effort to engage all the disapora and hence he picks different cities; it’s not always New York, or California. He wants to hear everyone, talk to them and be seen by them. And the community acknowledges that he is investing his time, his resources and energy. That doesn’t go unnoticed. Modi realizes the role the Indian-American play in both the countries and also that it is the most successful diaspora which is evident by the high income levels, the education and quality of people. And when you see results from the community, you start strategically allocating resources, and that’s why the Modi government is doing. And that’s why the community here supports him. He has acknowledged them in a very high-profile manner and the community also reciprocate by going to India and campaigning for him. That adds another angle — as these volunteers feed the support into their community. Another factor is that when people visit India now they see how Modi’s initiatives, especially the Swachch Bharat Abhiyaan and brining electricity and mobile phones to villages, are gradually changing the country. There is a visible improvement and people see that.  

Jignasha Joyce Mehta, member South Brunswick Board of Education, Dayton, N.J.

Modi has proved to be an effective leader showing drive and determination. There have been very few prime minister’s who have engaged the diaspora in a way never done in the past- he instills pride, and enthusiasm while energizing the Indian community abroad with his vision of 21st Century India.