A close moment with Modi can be overwhelming

Bhikhu Bhana – 

Prime Minister John Key and his delegation arrived in New Delhi on the evening of October 25, 2016, with just enough time for a short gathering to prepare for the big day ahead.

On the first day of our visit (October 26), there were various group sessions and people were allocated accordingly.

Mr Key was accorded a Red-Carpet welcome by India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the forecourt of Rashtrapati Bhavan, followed by a colourful Guard of Honour.

Being a part of the community sector, I was one of the few invited to join the event.

This military welcome comprised officers from the Indian Army, Navy, Air force and Cavalry dressed in their regalia.

There was a quick wreath-laying at Raj Ghat, which houses the Memorial for Mahatma Gandhi. Everything went like clockwork although some of us were running late to various venues. Seeing our MPs and dignitaries run to reach their vehicles was exhilarating.

Enterprise NZ and New Zealand Trade and Enterprise had organised a series of sessions on Food& Beverage, Manufacturing and Education at which speakers from India and New Zealand outlined their objectives.

I managed to hear from a prominent Indian economist about the world economy and implications for India.

Modi’s luncheon

I was fortunate to be invited to the state luncheon hosted by Mr Modi.

Among the others who attend the event were officials of the New Zealand government, Asia New Zealand Foundation Executive Director Simon Draper and two Maori businesspersons involved in tourism. In New Zealand, we live in a multicultural society; however, we should respect the pioneering people. Having lived in Australia for many years, I know very well how the Aborigines were treated.

Prior to entering the dining hall, a few of us were allowed to greet Mr Modi. He spoke to me briefly in Gujarati and when I extended an invitation to visit New Zealand, his immediate reply was in Hindi. “Zaroor” (definitely), he said.

To me that was the highlight of the trip!

The lunch was a formal, 10-course event, with no photographs allowed.

After that was a business meeting between the two sides organised by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and industry (FICCI). I listened attentively to the speeches and almost all of them emphasised the people-to-people approach.

One speaker emphasised the ‘4 Cs’: Cricket, Culture, connectivity and Commerce.

I see a very important role here for the Indian community in New Zealand. People do business and trade with persons they can trust. Any organisation that has a creditable history enhances New Zealand’s image overseas.

High Commission Reception

New Zealand’s High Commissioner to India Graham Morton hosted a reception in honour of Mr Key and his visiting delegation at the High Commission grounds on October 26. It was an event for networking and witnessing a number of businesses honoured by Mr Key for their success in business.

The next morning was a 6 am start with a visit to Masjid-i-Jahan Juma, popularly known as Jama Masjid in Chandni Chowk, Old Delhi. This was followed by a visit to Sis Ganj Sahib Gurdwara nearby.

During this this time others from the business delegation did their visits and planned meetings.

A small group went with Mr Bakshi to a meeting of the New Zealand-India Parliament Friendship Group in Parliament Buildings. This group was formed to enhance good relations between the two countries.

There were five persons from each of the groups.

Information exchange

I spoke of the history of the Indian Diaspora in New Zealand, how more than 100 years ago, people got together to fight for the betterment and welfare of all Indians.

They were very impressed by the way we operate in New Zealand.

I presented a copy of the pioneering book ‘Indian Settlers’ to the group.

The final event in Delhi was a Tourism meeting held at Hyatt Regency Hotel.

Mr Key and McCullum spoke about New Zealand.

I saw a lot of young people gathering around the stage taking photographs.

I was told that the New Zealand Brand Ambassador for the current year is a Hindi film star called, Siddharth. Had there been the stars of yesteryears, I too would have lined up for photographs.

Our final stop was at the new Kochi International Airport about which Indian Newslink has reported (November 1).

Some Reflections

I was impressed with the business that Indians are doing in India about which many others in New Zealand are not aware.

Sport plays an important aspect of relationships.

Even though I have been there many times, the sheer enormity of this country with so many issues and opportunities in many areas always overwhelms me.

The pride at hearing the Indian Cavalry bugle sound, and the rush of blood as the horsemen entered the arena to accord a guard of honour to Mr Key.

The pride at singing the national anthem

Even though I am a third-generation New Zealander, we will always have our roots in the mother country.

The Townsville detour may have caused a lot of re-planning, and caused a lot of discussion in New Zealand but I was awed at how well the organisation performed in getting the trip on track again.

In years to come, it makes a good story, to say that I went with the Prime Minister on the delegation to India and the comment, “That plane broke down in Townsville.’

I don’t think people will forget that in a hurry.

We are very critical of our Parliamentarians. However, it was amazing to observe their tight schedule. They are always under public scrutiny and do not have much time to relax.

How flexible the media should be; one minute they are relaxing, then the next they have changed out of their casual gear into formal attire and have to carry heavy gear and set up whenever the need is there.

They cannot always plan. Then some frantic work to get the news out to their respective organisations.

Bhikhu Bhana is President of New Zealand Indian Central Association. He was a part of the business delegation that accompanied Prime Minister John Key to India from October 24 to October 28, 2016. Please read related reports in this Anniversary Special.

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