WASHINGTON: In its 46-year history, New York City’s Madison Square Garden (MSG) has hosted everything from political conventions (both Democratic and Republican) to legendary music concerts (from Beatles to Lady Gaga). It has also hosted epic boxing bouts (Ali v Frazier), exhibition tennis matches (Agassi v Sampras), great circuses (Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey), and monster WWF knock-downs.
Come September, the storied indoor stadium in Midtown Manhattan is likely to see a political spectacle unlike anything before: Some 20,000 NRIs may troop in to see Prime Minister Narendra Modi address overseas Indians during his US visit in the biggest such NRI gathering.
Modi’s US supporters and principal event organizers led by Indiana physician Bharat Barai are in talks with MSG executives to rent the stadium for an event that is expected to cost more than $1 million. The tab for MSG alone will come to over $550,000, including an initial non-refundable deposit of $165,000 they have to plonk down when they sign the contract once the application is approved.
If the deal comes through later this week as expected, it will lead to the biggest Indian political spectacle in the United States, easily surpassing several community receptions held for previous visiting Prime Ministers, including for Dr Manmohan Singh and Atal Behari Vajpayee, which were usually held in the ball room large-five star hotels with a capacity of only around 1000. The biggest reception so far for a visiting Indian Prime Minister took place in 2003 when Atal Behari Vajpayee addressed some 3000 NRIs at the Jacob Javits Convention Center in New York.
Even the MSG event, should it come to fruition, will be a scaled down version of what his supporters — still smarting at the way Washington denied him a visa for nearly a decade — wanted to have. They initially looked at renting the New York MetLife Stadium (capacity 82500) or the Yankee Stadium (50,000) to celebrate their leader’s return to the US., but both venues were unavailable because of clashing sports events.
The Indian-American population in the US is now over 3 million.
Although they could have looked at large venues in other cities, it appears the Prime Minister’s travel program was restricted to New York City and Washington DC and they have had to work within the confines of this corridor. Besides, the NY-NJ region not only has some of the heaviest concentration of Indian (particularly Gujarati) population, but it is also easily accessible from any part of the country.
However, if for any reason, the MSG venue does not work out, the organizers have lined up Plan B, although they are reluctant to disclose it because, it appears, there are other NRI party factotums who are also trying to book venues in the hope that they can have their moment in the sun. In any event, the reception will be livestreamed across the world.
The organisers, mostly from the Overseas BJP unit, have also been instructed to make the event an all-inclusive, non-partisan show rather than the partisan show such receptions often turns out to be. In fact, even within the major political dispensations, including the BJP, factions of their overseas wing frequently squabble to take charge of the honors.
This time is no exception, but party sources said this time the PMO has stepped in to stem all factionalism and directed a committee led by Dr Bharat Barai to take charge.
Barai, a medical oncologist in Indiana, is a long-time friend of the Prime Minister since his days in the RSS. He and his wife Panna were personal front-row guests of the Prime Minister at his swearing in New Delhi in May. Their friendship goes back to 1993, when Modi stayed with the Barais in Munster, Indiana, during his visit to Chicago for the Swami Vivekananda Centenary.