ÂIwill visit the US only when they spread the red carpet.’ This is what then Gujarat chief minis- ter Narendra Modi told his friends Suresh Jani and Rasik
Patel in early 2013.
When they asked about Modi’s visa status, he sternly told them not to lobby for
it. Instead, they say, his confidence suggested that a time would come when the
US government would invite him honorably to Washington.
Modi must have the last laugh today.
Patel and Jani belong to Mehsana, a city
located in the same area of Gujarat from
where Modi hails. Patel runs the Real
Coconut Water Company that procures
coconut water from his company in Sao
Paolo, Brazil, and imports it to the US.
Jani is a founder member of the
Overseas Friends of Bharatiya Janata
Party in the US – along with Dr Mukund
The OFBJP has flourished and now has
22 chapters across the country. Dr Modi is
no more, but Atal Bihari Vajpayee inspired
them to work for the BJP in America. The
saffron network has created a frenzy
around Modi amongst his followers since
he become prime minister.
Jani and Modi met at one of the
Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh shakhas in
Gujarat when Modi was studying and
cycling to work, Jani remembers.
He is an old-style Rashtriya
Swayamsevak Sangh grassroots level
worker who owned a convenience store
in midtown Manhattan. Jani is thrilled
that the man who once stayed at his
humble home in Jersey City is today
India’s prime minister.
Humbly showing pictures of Modi and
him at New York’s John F Kennedy air-
port in 1993, he tells India Abroad, “Our
story is like Krishna and Sudama. I have
remained where I was and Modi has
moved on to become the prime minister
“I went to the airport to receive Modi
when he arrived in the US for the first
time in 1993. Then he came in 1997 and
once more in 2000.”
“Modi,” says Jani, “always wanted to do
something for India. He had ideas. He
always wanted to make it big in life. Even
in 1993, he had an inner desire that he
should become something great. (Ene
andarni ichcha hati ke hun kai banu)”
America is not new for Modi, says Jani.
He knows America well, particularly
When he first came in 1993 he travelled
to the East and West Coast and also to
Chicago and Boston. Then for four days
he stayed at Jani’s home in Jersey City.
He had come with two jholas (bags) and
another small bag. He was wearing simple cotton clothes and an HMT watch,
“Over the years there is not much difference in him. I find his clothes have
improved a lot though now,” he adds.
“What I remember distinctly is that after
arriving in the US he behaved differently
from other Indian politicians. He had
migrated from the RSS to the BJP and was
already an office bearer, but he was simple.
He is quite a religious man. On arrival
when asked he requested my mother to
cook Khichdi. He told my mother to cook
a little more.”
“At breakfast, he likes to consume
Khichdi that is kept overnight and
warmed up with oil and chilies or garlic.
On the day of his arrival he slept early
and got up around 5 am. He does puja
every day. He did it in my home too,
wearing pitambar (a saffron-yellow
dhoti) and kurta.”
“My mother liked Modi so much that
when he was leaving, she blessed him and
predicted that one day he would become
a great man. She gifted Modi $51 as a
shagun (an auspicious symbolic gift).
Around eight years later, when he was
about to be sworn in as chief minister,
Modi called and asked me to connect him
with my mother. He said he still remembers the shagun and her blessings. Then
my mother told him ‘You will become
bigger’,” he says.
Once, Jani remembers, they went to
Lexington Avenue where many Indian
restaurants are located. Modi preferred a
North Indian restaurant. The waiter told
them that the meal would cost $13 for 13
When Jani was paying the bill, Modi
went to the cash counter and said they
were served three items less, so how could
the restaurant charge the full amount
without serving what was promised. So he
got a discount of $6 on the bill. That
amount Modi asked Jani to give the waiters as a tip.
Then Modi advised Jani, ‘Never pay
money in haste.’
Modi, Jani says, had come to America
prepared. He had read all about the
sightseeing and historic places. He want-
ed to see the Empire State Building and
the Statue of Liberty. When Jani and
Modi visited the Statue of Liberty, he
asked Jani, ‘Why can’t we make such
statutes in India?’
Modi and other BJP leaders in those
days were actively involved with Mahesh
Mehta in promoting the Vishwa Hindu
Parishad in America. Arvind Patel, anoth-
er fellow Gujarati from Mehsana, is also a
Modi bhakt. Hundreds of Indian
Americans like Rasik Patel and Arvind
Patel have contributed time and money to
make the VHP and OFBJP hyperactive.
When Modi and the BJP won the gener-
al election on May 16, these Gujaratis cele-
brated at midnight at New York’s Times
Modi’s visit to the 9/11 memorial
September 27 was to be his second visit to
the World Trade Center area. During a
previous visit he had been to the World
Trade Center where Rasik Patel’s family
owned a store. They were, then, the
biggest sellers of Lotto lottery tickets in
“We just want that the Modi magic must
work,” says Rasik Patel.
Modi has unusually loyal friends in the
BJP chapter here. One is Rupesh Trivedi
who owns the Duraport Rail and Marine
Terminal. He is the first Indian American
who owns a private port handling 4 million tons of cargo annually near New York
and exports metal to India. He is now
expanding into the green energy business.
Trivedi works for the VHP. People like
Trivedi, Jani and Patel are the backbone of
Modi’s support base in America. America
is their adopted country, but India lives in
“We want to see India progress. Modi
is our dream merchant,” Rasik and
‘Modi is our
Sheela Bhatt tracks down the Indian prime minister’s ardent fans, who knew since his first visit to the US in 1993 that he was destined for bigger things
Narendra Modi with Suresh Jani in 1993.
Modi supporters celebrate at Times Square, May 16.
KIND COUR TES Y: SURESH JANI