SAN JOSE, Calif. – In a history-making moment, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi stated his vision for India’s future at the SAP Center here Sept. 27, noting that the country has progressed rapidly in the 16 months since he took office.
The SAP Center speech was the culmination of the prime minister’s two-day visit to the Silicon Valley. Modi is the first Indian premier to visit the area in its present form as the world’s hub of technology and innovation.
The prime minister earlier visited the campuses of Tesla, Google and Facebook, and also had a private discussion with Apple CEO Tim Cook, and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella (see separate stories).
“Until last year, people looked at India somewhat condescendingly; we were known only for our scriptures. But today, India is the point of focus in the international community. Today, the world is coming to us,” Modi said.
“We have moved from scriptures to satellites. Our Mars mission was completed on the first attempt. Many countries have tried, but only we have succeeded,” said Modi to a packed audience of 18,000 Indian Americans inside the cavernous arena, who continuously cheered on his remarks. The prime minister received several standing ovations during his hour-long speech, which was punctuated with cries of “Modi, Modi, Modi” from the audience.
Several thousand more watched the speech from the Arena Green park across the street from the stadium, and news channels around the world live-streamed Modi’s speech. Outside the stadium, several organizations protested his visit here.
Many U.S. politicians attended the event, emceed by comedian Rajiv Satyal, actress Ashwini Bhave and NBC anchor Raj Mathai who introduced Modi and the politicians in attendance.
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco; Rep Jim McDermott, a member of the House India Caucus; Rep. Ed Royce, who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee; Rep. John Garamendi, chair of the House Sikh American Caucus, joined Reps. Loretta Sanchez, Mike Honda, Jerry McNerney and Eric Swalwell on stage.
Also in attendance was Rep. Ami Bera, a Democrat from Sacramento, Calif., who is the only Indian American in the House; and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, who is a Hindu American.
The prime minister referred to the countries collectively known as the BRICS – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – which formerly had the fastest-growing economic growth rates amongst emerging economies. Collectively, the BRICS growth rate has dramatically slowed down from double digit annual growth, according to the International Monetary Fund.
But Modi noted that India’s GDP has remained stable. IMF statistics note that the country has remained at a 7 to 8 percent growth rate over the past two years.
“Will BRICS continue to move ahead? I don’t know. But I can say with confidence that my country will succeed,” said India’s premier, again drawing loud cheers and stomping of feet.
Earlier in the day, during a community town hall meeting at Facebook, Modi said his dream was to grow the country’s economic output from its current $8 trillion to $20 trillion.
“The World Bank, the IMF and Moody’s are all saying in unison for the past six months that India has the fastest growth rate out of all major economies,” he said. “The 21st century will belong to India,” he emphatically stated to the SAP Center audience.
Addressing India’s huge population of low-income people, Modi said he has developed three initiatives known collectively as JAM to address poverty.
‘J’ stands for the Jan Dhan bank account scheme, which aims to let all residents of India have access to banks. Modi noted that the nationalization of banks 50 years ago had not helped people who live in poverty.
“If you were poor, you couldn’t even have looked at a bank door,” said Modi, adding that the Jan Dhan initiative allows people to open a bank account with no initial deposit. More than 180 million bank accounts have been opened in the past year, adding Rs. 32 crore to bank coffers.
‘A’ stands for the Aadhar identity card, while ‘M’ stands for mobile governance. Modi said the Aadhar card could be used to identify fraud in subsidies of gas cylinders and agricultural needs such as urea. Identity cards could be used to determine whether the person actually needed a subsidy, he said, noting that currently, both the rich and the poor receive government-subsidized gas cylinders.
Modi said he was also working on developing a health access card for rural dwellers.
Giving a nod to Sikh American activists who have protested his visit to the region, Modi began his remarks with a reference to Indian American freedom fighter Bhagat Singh, a farm laborer who founded the Gadar party, a Northern California organization founded in 1914 in San Francisco, which fought for India’s independence.
Modi noted that Bhagat Singh’s birthday was Sept. 28 and led the crowd in cheers of “Long live Bhagat Singh. Let him live forever.”
“In the 19th century, my Sikh brothers came here from India to practice agriculture. People working in the fields were so concerned about India’s freedom,” said Modi, adding: “The lamp of freedom for India was lit in San Francisco.”
Modi met with Sikh American activists during his two-day visit, including San Joaquin, Calif., Mayor Amarpreet Dhaliwal, who presented the prime minister with a letter from the Sikh community.
Modi said he did not see the large numbers of Indians working in the U.S. and other foreign countries as a brain drain, but as a "brain deposit.”
Modi also addressed the issue of terrorism, saying the United Nations must define terrorism. He scoffed the notion of “good” versus “bad” terrorism. “India has been suffering from terrorism for 40 years. All human forces should come together against terrorism. There is need for a unity against terrorism. Only then there can be peace in the world.”
“India is a peace-loving country. It is the land of Mahatma Gandhi and Gautam Buddha. It is the land of peace and ahimsa,” he said.
The prime minister noted the rampant corruption of Indian politicians and stated there were no allegations of corruption against him. He asked his idolizing fans for a confidence vote.
“After 16 months, I want a certificate from you. Have I kept my promises?” The crowd stood as they applauded and shouted “yes.” “Have I achieved my promises?” he asked, as the crowd gave a resounding “yes.”
“Have I lived up to the responsibilities you have given me?” he asked, as the audience burst into thunderous applause.
“I’m going to leave no stone unturned. I’m going to work so hard, so that 1.2 billion people in my country prosper,” said the prime minister, pledging his life to support his country.
As Modi was leaving the podium, he quickly returned to make another announcement: a thrice weekly Air India flight from New Delhi to San Francisco from Dec. 2.
Prior to Modi’s speech, the event was kicked off by the singing of the U.S. and Indian national anthems by students of Bay Area-based Indian classical vocalist Mahesh Kale, dance presentations by the Nrityodaya Kathak Academy and the Mona Khan Dance Company, as well as a performance by Kailash Kher.