Californian Indian Americans attend Modi’s 100th Mann Ki Baat

Ritu Jha-

It was 10 pm on April 29 (PST) and the FalconX Incubator and Accelerator conference hall in Milpitas, California was full of Indian Americans who had gathered to listen to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s monthly radio talk show Mann Ki Baat’s 100th episode on April 30 (IST).

Modi was not visible nor did he interact with the Indian diaspora, but scores of Indian Americans who were invited by the Indian consulate in San Francisco had questions for Consul General Dr. T.V. Nagendra Prasad, who responded on issues such as visas and the recent attack by alleged Khalistani supporters on the consulate. Some attendees had planned to ask Modi questions on SB 403, the California state bill on adding caste to its anti-discrimination laws.

“It was a historic moment,” said Vijaya Asuri, the co-founder of the Association of Indian Americans (AIA) and the producer and host of the Telegu radio show Virijallu for 13 years. “Coming from a radio background, my first thought was a leader choosing radio to connect with 1.3 billion people. It’s amazing, and it feels like we are connected.”

The Indian American community had expected more out of Modi’s 100th episode. Jeevan Zutshi, founder Indo-American Community Federation (IACF-USA), who is also an author, filmmaker, and community leader, said, “It would have been interesting if he had interacted with Indian Americans. But that didn’t happen.” He welcomed the Indian Consul General interacting with those who attended.

“It was interesting when Modiji was talking to people like there was one person in Jammu and Kashmir,” Zutshi said. “Modiji uses Mann Ki Baat effectively to connect with the grassroots.”

Rini Johar, the founder of Disha Darshan, a non-profit supporting South Asian women who are victims of domestic abuse, said the audience was hoping for an interactive session. She said many had gathered to show solidarity at a time when SB 403 bill has been tabled, seeking to ban caste discrimination in California. The bill was recently approved unanimously by the state’s Senate Judiciary Committee, amidst strong opposition from some Hindu-affiliated organizations.

“The bill has scared Hindus in California,” she said, “and we were hoping that Modiji, through the consulate general’s office, will reach out with some assistance. We wanted Modiji to engage with the diaspora who are feeling rattled owing to SB 403. We need guidance from the Prime Minister.”

Community leader Chandru Bhambra said Mann Ki Baat was a radio broadcast, and hence, there is no scope for an interactive session. “It was a nice event and we listened to Modiji outlining what he has been doing,” he said. “There was no scope for an interactive session, but you never know. If he learns about the diaspora’s expectations, Modiji might also come up with the idea of launching Mann Ki Baat on television too.”

In his 100th episode, Modi said: “Friends, October 3, 2014 (the day when the first episode was aired) was the festival of Vijaya Dashami and all of us together started the journey of ‘Mann Ki Baat’ on that day. Vijaya Dashami is the celebration of victory of good over evil. Mann Ki Baat has also become a unique festival of goodness and positivity for our countrymen.”

He added, “Today is the 100th episode of ‘Mann Ki Baat’. I have received thousands of letters from all of you, lakhs of messages and I have tried to read as many letters as possible and understand them.”

The PM said preservation and promotion of education and culture has been an ancient tradition of India. “The work that the country is doing in this direction today is commendable. Be it the National Education Policy or the option of studying in a regional language, or technology integration in education, you will notice many such efforts. Years ago, programs like ‘Gunotsav’ and ‘Shala Praveshotsav’ had become a wonderful example of public participation in Gujarat to providing better education and reducing dropout rates,” he said.

Modi said that through the program, he has tried to highlight the efforts of many such people, who are selflessly working for education. “In strengthening the social fabric of India, ‘Mann Ki Baat’ is like the thread of a rosary, holding each bead together. In every episode, the spirit of service and capability of the countrymen have inspired others, he added. “In this program, every countryman becomes an inspiration to other countrymen. ‘Mann Ki Baat’ has always moved ahead with goodwill, the spirit of service-spirit, and the sense of duty,” said Modi.

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