Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the Global Citizen Festival, 2014 in New York
My presence at the Global Citizen Festival in Central Park yesterday was an anomaly; an incongruity, really. It was my life’s first rock/music concert. I am happy to admit I enjoyed the 45 minutes or so that I spent there. Everyone at a rock concert is young irrespective of how old they really are. It is as if age has been suspended for the duration of the concert.
I was there because India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi was also to be there—he onstage and I in the media enclosure, he as a guest of honor and I , well, just there. Jay Z was there, so was Beyoncé. The Roots were there, so was No Doubt. Carrie Underwood was there, so was Fun. Alicia Keys was there, so was Sting. With actor Hugh Jackman as the MC, the concert was the place to be. When I reached the venue along with a media contingent The Roots were playing some pretty captivating stuff. I realized at that point why people go to live concerts. Life stands utterly amplified at such concerts.
Speaking of amplification, the one Indian politician who loves it more than any is Narendra Modi. His presence there may have seemed a bit odd to some but when you consider the objective of Global Citizen to end poverty by 2030 by involving global citizens, you get the reason why Modi would not have missed it. In the morning, he had addressed a somnambulant United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in a sweeping but still specific speech. The Global Citizen concert was like the UNGA with bling and hipness. It was an audience he could not have bought at any cost. It was delivered to him on the glistening backs of global celebrities and he made the most of it.
Modi’s seven-minute speech began with “How are you doing, New York? and ended with “May the force be with you.” In between, he said things like “I salute you” and “I believe in you”. He was there to harness the youthful energy and vigor and he did manage to do it. In the process, he also got himself an entrée into a world that is often out of bounds for politicians. When he concluded with the cult-like wish from ‘Star Wars’ , I could hear the audience lap it up with loud cheer. They did not expect a 64-year-old politician to attend in the first place. They did not expect him to connect with them in the second place. And they certainly did not expect him to say “May the force be with you.”
The audience seemed to love it and Jackman made sure by reiterating “What a speech!”
As I continue my Modiwatching through his maiden US tour as prime minister, it strikes me again and again how he has been on a roll for the past six months. I half expect him to say what Jim Carrey said in ‘The Mask’, “Somebody, stop me.” The winning streak is expected to continue as the prime minister travels to Washington tomorrow to meet President Barack Obama.
Incidentally, this is how Global Citizen describes itself: “Global Citizen is a tool to amplify and unite a generation’s call for justice. It’s a place for you to learn and act, to bring an end to extreme poverty.
Global Citizens know that a world that deprives 1.2 billion people of their basic rights and opportunities is unjust and unacceptable. We celebrate the efforts made to cut extreme poverty by half, but recognise more still needs to be done. We know that people living in extreme poverty are working hard themselves, and that we need to learn and take action to change the rules that trap them in broken systems.
We use Global Citizen to learn more about issues, so we can take effective action for change and find opportunities to support campaigns and organisations creating sustainable change. Right now Global Citizen is in launch phase, but in coming weeks and months it will feature new issues, with the latest information and action opportunities, so you can take effective action for change.
There are more than 250,000 Global Citizens already taking action around the world – we hope that you join us.”