Skip to content
Subscriber Only
Pankaj Mishra

Narendra Modi Is a Dangerous Cliche

To dismiss Narendra Modi's Madison Square Garden event as tasteless is to miss the point.
Care for a cup of tea?
Care for a cup of tea?

In 2005, Narendra Modi, then the chief minister of the Indian state of Gujarat, was prevented by a State Department visa ban from attending a rally at Madison Square Garden. On Sunday night, Modi finally made it there with a Bollywood-style extravaganza. All had been apparently forgiven as he stood against flickering videos of Indian robots and mansions and reminded his audience in Hindi of his humble origins as a "tea vendor." Here was a "small man," who can "do big things," nevertheless, such as building houses for all Indians by 2022, and restore a sense of self-esteem among Indian-Americans battered by years of shameful identification with a country known for "snake charmers."

His audience -- more than 18,000 Indian-Americans, according to a controversial blog in the Economist, and "as prosperous and upstanding a diaspora as you will find from the Redwood forests to the Gulf Stream waters" -- shouted "Modi, Modi, Modi" while "wearing T-Shirts bearing his face."