Newly elected Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke to a huge crowd of Indian expats in New York City on Monday night, outlining his vision of India’s future and making an explicit appeal to the NRI community to support their home country – particularly with their wallets. Modi was also saavy enough to recognize that visas remain a perennial hassle for NRIs seeking to visit the homeland, and proposed a long-overdue simplification – combining OCI and PIO cards into one.
Modi did a fantastic job of making the audience feel that they weren’t ‘that thing’ called a NRI or Not Really Indian, but stakeholders in developing India.
He struck a chord by announcing plans to simplify the immigration bureaucracy for Indians living abroad. He announced life time visas for persons of Indian origin (PIO) cardholders.
And in further good news for NRIs with foreign spouses, he said that PIO and OCI cards would be rolled into one card. He also said his government was working towards giving US nationals long-term visas and a visa on arrival following electronic travel authorization.
Modi reached out to India’s US diaspora, a highly educated population of nearly 3.2 million, to invest and “Make in India.”
“India has three strengths no country in the world has: Democracy, demographic dividend, and demand,” said Modi speaking extempore in Hindi.
The official twitter account for the PM’s office also confirmed the news about PIO cards:
Those who stay in India for long have to go to police stations too. They won't have to do that now: PM on issues of PIO card holders
— PMO India (@PMOIndia) September 28, 2014
In a show of support that was widely noted by the media, 100 members of my own community, the Dawoodi Bohras, were in attendance to show their support for Modi and their pride in India. It may seem odd that muslims, especially a primarily Gujarati muslim community like the Bohras, would support Modi in any fashion after his role in orchestrating the 2002 anti-muslim riots in Gujrat. However, Bohras were not alone in supporting Modi – there was tremendous muslim support for him all across India, with disenchantment with the Congress Party being a major factor. Bohras in general are apolitical and have a strong sense of civic identity; Modi was elected PM by the Indian electorate, so Bohras’ support for him is an expression of the community’s belief in India’s democracy and a genuine desire to move the country as a whole forward. The PM is also keenly aware of the optics of having widespread Muslim support, as an immunization against his human rights record – so in an odd way, supporting him also ensures that he keeps issues affecting Muslims in India on his agenda.
In an odd coincidence – this was the same night as the football game where there was a sajda in the endzone