November 16 2015
Our correspondent provides a first-hand account of a remarkable event whatever your politics or thoughts on India’s current prime minister…
By Suman Bhuchar
THEY came from near and far and went a little gaga when he did finally appear.
The organisers of the UK Welcomes Modi committee (www.ukwelcomesModi.org) put on a good show for Indian Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi’s visit to Wembley to address the Indian community in the UK.
However you feel about the man and his politics, this was an event, a historic occasion and unparalleled in relations between the UK and India, as 60,000 people gathered at what is the national football stadium to hear a politician.
As soon as you emerged from Wembley Park tube station, crowds of revellers as though on their way to a rock concert, with some donning Modi Masks were chanting “Bharata Mata ki Jai”and “Modi Ki Jai” as they wended their way to the Wembley Stadium a short distance away.
An English market stall trader – picking up some Indian business acumen from the local Wembley wallahs – was selling scarves of ‘We love Modi,’ at £10 a pop and doing brisk business.
It was a cold crisp winter’s day with a gust of wind, but nothing could dampen the good nature of the crowds walking down Olympic Way lead on by the slogan: ‘Two Nations One Glorious Future’, beckoning them onwards from the neon light strips outside the venue.
People had begun to come from around noon –although the man himself would not be making an appearance till much later in the evening – his estimated time of arrival was 5pm UK time but there was lot going on to keep the crowd entertained.
First up was a cultural event – kicking off with the Bharitya Choir, and were followed by the Saraswati Academy of Dance all in green, orange and white colours – this section being a mixture of community and participative performances highlighting different aspects of cultural traditions alive in the UK and performed by a range of community and professional performers focussing on the patriotic nature of the occasion.
Actor Bhasker Patel, a star of the soap “Emmerdale“, provided the commentary over the tannoy and helped to introduce acts.
Two presenters – the redoubtable Ameet Chana dressed in a beige kurta and a waistcoat taking a break from his role as being dad in Anita and Me at the Theatre Royal Stratford East – and Sheena Bhattessa were warming up the audience as though we were preparing for a rock concert!
“Wembley Stadium how do you feel?” they shouted, in between introducing the local and regional talent on stage.
It was followed by Maher Raas Group from Leicester dressed in traditional Gujarati clothes (with a flared skirt and churidar) doing a traditional folk sword and shield dance number swirling around with gusto! The next act performed some highly energetic ‘bale bale’, and was by a Bhangra group, dressed in gold yellow and pink.
Then came everyone’s favourite Hindi-English crooner, London-based Navin Kundra, who indulged in a bit of audience participation by dividing the crowd into Team Ameet and Team Sheena, asking them to respond to the lyrics “Tum Kahan?” (‘Where you?’) from the 1972 Bollywood film, “Jawani Diwani” and insisting they respond with the word: “Mai Yaha” (‘Me Here’)!
“Make some noise,” Kundra kept imploring, as he sang. His signature number was “Bachna Eh Hasino” (‘Mind, out beauties’) followed by “Mere desh ki dhartyi” (‘My country’s soil’).
The Wembley stadium pitch was covered up with a big white cloth decorated with two rangolis (flower style arrangements) one in the colour of the Indian flag and the other in the Union Jack. These are believed to have been the largest rangolis ever created in Britain.
Kundra was patriotic and ended his set with another perennial favourite, “Jai Ho!” by AR Rahman from the film, “Slumdog Millionaire”.
There was a performance by Kathak dancer Vidya Patel, who was a finalist on the BBC 4 Young Dancer 2015 series, while the crawlers going around the stadium pitch kept informing us there were over 600 performers, and many more volunteers for the event.
Then we had the Indian playback singer, Kanika Kapoor singing her very popular Bollywood number, “Chittiyan Kalaiyaan” (white – read ‘delicate’ wrist) from the 2015 film, “Roy“.
The second section of the cultural programme was hosted by popular radio presenter, Ravi Sharma and co-presenter, Keerthi Mathur, and this began with the very energetic Shaimak Dance group, while crawlers with hashtags #MODIVATION going round and round the stadium pitch almost as though they were encouraging the spectators to keep motivated!
“India gave the world, Vedas, maths, zero, gravity, it’s the home of Yoga and democracy,” intoned Sharma and this section showcased a synchronised yoga display followed by a classical and traditional dance medley of many classical Indian styles including Bharatanatyam, Kathakali and featuring performers from different groups such as from the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Arunima Kumar dance company, Ankh Dance, Encee Arts and many more.
Then came a section with the Gujarat Hindu Association, and the joke was asked about “How Many Gujaratis in the House?”
Possibly the whole crowd roared assent and although no one was counting, it seemed to be virtually the whole gathering.
They did a garba, and it has to be said that the cultural performance segment was really like the X factor displaying the talents of a range of arts and cultural producers — from traditional cultural and community performances, to the more modern diverse and interpretative range of artistic talent.
For example, there was the really spectacular, Shree Mukhajeevan Pipe Band, from London who did “Mera Juta Hai” as well as the anthem all in Scottish Bagpipes; followed by the pop singer, Alisha Chinai, who performed her famous 1995 “Made In India” number, and some bright sparks did suggest it ought to be redone as #MakeinIndia! (A common phrase Modi himself has trumpeted).
Then we had two young children running – Mia Hobbs and Amar Sangrajka running the length of the stadium and emerging on either side of the stage carrying the flags of the two nations before being joined by Kanika Kapoor singing a specially composed anthem to the “Hindustani English log”.
This was followed by the rapper, singer, Jay Sean, (once of West London, now New York) – who told the audience that his real name is Kamaljeet Singh Jhooti. He performed four songs including “Tears in the Ocean” alongside the Sapnay Dancers and beat boxer MC Zani. His latest track, “Freak“with Rishi Rich and Juggy D (a reunion of the Rishi Rich collective after 10 years) is doing well around the world.
Then, came the local Wembley girl, Sonna Rele – currently signed to Motown Records and based in Los Angeles, singing, “Pursuit of Happiness” along with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. “Jai Shri Krishna, I am so excited to be here,” she confessed.
More music was provided by Shammi Pithia on flute with Jyotsna Srikanth on her violin, with 180 young children singing the Indian national anthem, with opera diva Patricia Rozario, resplendent in a red sari; while Bharatanatyam dancer, Seeta Patel along with the ballet dancer, Nicol Edmonds, performed a duo.
And all the while the crowd in the stadium continued to wait, and as dusk fell, the anticipation was palpable.
On one side of the stadium was the stage while on the other side there was a huge screen erected above the crowd and then suddenly, the audience saw that the British Prime Minister, David Cameron along with his wife, Samantha, and other dignitaries and Shri Narendra Modi were making their way into the venue as displayed by the TV screens.
“Are you feeling patriotic?” asked a presenter, when the wait was over.
David Cameron said: “Namaste Wembley,” and the crowd cheered, and then he asked the crowd to repeat their welcome so that “people in Mumbai can hear us”.
“British Indians are putting the great into Great Britain,” he continued. “We can be the most successful multi-cultural democracy on earth.” And, adding in Hindi: “Aache din aane wale hai.” (‘Good times are coming’). This was a campaigning slogan of the BJP in its highly successful General Election campaign in 2014 (winning an outright majority against all expectations), and then Cameron stressed that, “Aache din zaroor aayenge,” (‘Good days are DEFINITELY coming’), before the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi greeted the crowd in Hindi and wished them a good ‘Bahi Dooj’ – the Brother-Sister, ritual ‘celebrated after Diwali to symbolise a bond between the siblings.
Modi then began his speech in English highlighting the relationship between “two great nations, two vibrant democracies”.
“I was told that London would be cold,” he continued, “your wonderful warm welcome, makes me feel at home,” he told the crowd, and then proceeded to deliver the rest of his speech in Hindi.
The evening was rounded off by a firework display and the Wembley Arch was lit up in the colour of the Indian flag.
*Unfortunately, we do not have a complete list of all the acts and entertainment that appeared on stage at Wembley.