Paris: Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed the Indian community in the heart of Paris on Saturday at the Carrousel du Louvre.
The convention centre is located at the hub of the cultural and historical centre of the capital of France. Though not in the league of Madison Square Garden in New York or the Allphones Arena meet in Sydney where PM Modi has addressed Indian expats, this convention centre has a unique charm of its own.
Paris is not about size. It is about history. And the Carrousel du Louvre is bang in the midst of the historical district. It faces the La Pyramide Inversee (The Inverted Pyramid) made immortal by Dan Brown in his international bestseller The Da Vinci Code. The Inverted Pyramid is perceived as a Chalice, a feminine symbol, while the stone pyramid below is the Blade, a masculine symbol. Under the floor is supposed to be a secret chamber that encloses the body of Mary Magdalene, the "Apostle to the Apostles".
The venue also faces what used to be the Tuileries Palace that was burned by the Paris commune in 1871. What remains is the restored Tuileries surrounded by the Louvre (to the east), the Seine (to the south), the Place de la Concorde (to the west) and the Rue de Rivoli (to the north). The site has been made famous by several Hollywood films like Star Trek and Devil Wears Prada.
Even before Prime Minister Modi entered the auditorium, chants of Modi Modi resounded for several minutes. In his speech to the small Indian community, Prime Minister Modi did not mention the debt India owes France for not sanctioning it after India`s nuclear tests. In a Facebook post he had once written, "France is one of our most important strategic partners, which has stood with us at difficult moments. We remember the understanding and support extended by France in 1998 after the Pokhran Tests." However, he spoke about shared democratic traditions and respect for egalitarian societies.
The Indian community in France is not very big. There are about 80,000 people of Indian origin living in France and about 3,00,000 in the French overseas departments of Reunion and Mayotte in the Indian Ocean, French Guiana in South America, Guadeloupe and Martinique in the Caribbean. The locations were linked to the event on Saturday evening.
There was simultaneous translation into French as the Prime Minister spoke to expat Indians in the overseas departments and those in Paris. Mr. Modi gently ribbed the audience for not having kept with the link of language as say the expats in Mauritius who he said went with Hanuman Chalisa and the Tulsi Ramayan and thereby kept the link of language and culture.
But the size of the crowd doesn`t matter to the public speaker that Mr. Modi is. He has now made it a sure-in in his itinerary to address the Indian community wherever he goes. This is a departure from his predecessor. At the most, Dr. Manmohan Singh used to meet with the Indian community at small events hosted by the ambassador of the country he was visiting. Dr. Singh was more comfortable in smaller settings of academics or heads of governments.
Prime Minister Vajpayee on the other hand enjoyed addressing larger gatherings of people of Indian origin in London or New York. He would regale the audiences with his wit and poetry.
But of course none of the gatherings were of the size and pomp as Madison Square Garden or Allphones in Sydney. Even in Seychelles last month, Prime Minister Modi addressed a largish audience and had them chanting Modi Modi, very much like back home.
In Paris, the crowd clapped enthusiastically at all the jokes and puns that the Prime Minister cracked, some of which had sharp political undertones. Yet, they got the joke. To the people of France he said, "You would have left long back, your passport colour might be different now, but your DNA matches my DNA, just that much is enough to bind us together."
Telling young and old alike to link with him via the internet, the Indian Prime Minister said, "I am easily accessible, I am on twitter and Facebook. Write to me on my website, I will try and respond."
It sounded incredible that an Indian Prime Minister would reply to mails sent by expats, but somehow the Modi fans in the audience totally believed that he would.
He touched an emotional chord in the audience when he said that the time had come for India to demand its place in the sun. "Duniya hamey jaaney, duniya hamey maaney".
We are the land of the Buddha and Gandhi, he said and it is ridiculous that we have to ask for a place at the UN Security Council. There was thunderous applause in the auditorium. With every round of applause, Prime Minister Modi had more to say.