India’s economy is set to progress “very fast” and the nation will take steps to aid that growth, including easing visa rules and changing outdated laws, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said.
India “is going to move at a very fast speed,” Modi said to a gathering of 20,000 mostly Indian Americans at Madison Square Garden in New York yesterday. “No stone will be left unturned” in the government’s attempts to revamp procedures and cut transaction times. Travel-rule changes for non-resident Indians and visitors from the U.S. “will be implemented very soon,” he said.
Modi’s announcement of plans to issue a “visa on arrival” for U.S. tourists and merge identification documents for non-resident Indians into a single category rounded out a speech in which he praised Indian Americans, especially their achievements in information technology.
India will build on its three unique strengths of democracy, a young population and demand reflected by a market of 1.2 billion people, he said, reiterating his ‘Make in India’ initiative.
Under the new rules being considered, a person of Indian origin will get a lifelong visa for India, Modi said. The so-called PIO card will eventually be combined with the Overseas Citizen of India or OCI document, removing differences between the way groups of non-resident Indians were categorized and issued visas, he said.
Modi also said he intends to streamline the system of regulations and make it easier for ordinary people to do business in India. Referring to bureaucracy in all types of transactions, “those days are over,” he said. “If I could destroy at least one of those laws each day, then that would be a happy day for me.”
The contributions of the diaspora have helped India create a “positive identity” in the U.S. and the rest of the world, Modi said in the speech delivered in Hindi. The address was also carried live via webcast on big screens in New York’s Times Square and other venues along with an English translation. The government will avoid doing anything that would disappoint the overseas community, he said.
Modi’s remarks marked a high point in his visit to New York before he heads to Washington for meetings with U.S. President Barack Obama and senior administration officials on Monday and Tuesday.
Indian Prime Miniser Narendra Modi, center, launches the "Make In India" project as Minister for Commerce and Industry Nirmala Sitaraman looks on in New Delhi on Sept. 25, 2014.
Indian Americans from a spectrum of religious, cultural and professional groups and more than two dozen U.S. lawmakers attended the gathering, which was organized by the Indian American Community Foundation.
“It very much plays to Modi’s strengths,” Tanvi Madan, director of the India Project at the Brookings Institution in Washington, said before the speech. “He’s coming here when he’s already on a high wave, so it’s less about building support than to highlight the support he does have. Modi realizes there are multiple audiences around the world and it doesn’t hurt to show he can do this kind of an event and pull it off.”
South Asia economy
In addition to conveying to Indians in the U.S. and in India the importance of the diaspora, Modi seeks to encourage them to engage in the South Asian economy and society, Madan said. He’ll simultaneously stay focused on the political and business aspects of his U.S. visit, including meeting with company executives from both countries, she said.
Indian Americans, numbering about 2.8 million in the U.S., or almost 1 percent of its population, are one of the fastest-growing ethnic groups in the nation, according to Census Bureau data. The median household income of Indian Americans is $88,000, compared with $66,000 for other Asians, and they include a larger share of people with higher education than other Asian ethnic groups, the organizer IACF said in a statement.
The community reception drew people from more than 40 U.S. states and Canada who “represent the diversity of India and the diversity of the Indian American community here,” said Bharat Barai, president of IACF, the organization in charge of the event. There was an “exceptional” response from younger, second-generation Indian Americans, he said. “They really want to see the U.S.-India relationship go forward.”
Modi will need to convince U.S. investors about the stability of policies under his government and also his reform intentions to boost long-term growth in the economy by tackling deep-rooted structural problems” -- Eswar Prasad, former International Monetary Fund economist
U.S. lawmakers on the confirmed list for the gathering included Senator Robert Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce, a California Republican who was formerly chairman of the House India Caucus. South Carolina’s Republican Governor Nikki Haley also was present.
While in New York, Modi also addressed the United Nations General Assembly on Sept. 27. In Washington, Modi will meet with senior U.S. government officials to explore ways the U.S. and India can work together in areas from trade and investment to defense, energy, science and technology.
“Mr. Modi will need to convince U.S. investors about the stability of policies under his government and also his reform intentions to boost long-term growth in the economy by tackling deep-rooted structural problems,” Eswar Prasad, a former International Monetary Fund economist who teaches economics at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, said in an e-mail.
Some Indian Americans attending the Madison Square Garden event needed less persuasion. Among them was Gokul Ramachandran and six of his friends, alumni of the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.
Ramachandran said he took Monday off and bought a $420 round-trip ticket to New York so he could see and hear Modi in person for the first time. That would make up somewhat for having missed India’s elections, he said.
“We are living in exciting times, and this is at least something I can participate in while I am here,” said the 32-year old software engineer from Sunnyvale, California. He said he wants to return to India in a few years to start his own company.
“Modi is hardworking and it looks like he’s headed in the right direction. My hopes are high.”