• 07 Feb, 2023

Indo-Caribbeans, Modi, Irfaan, Trinidad, Guyana

Indo-Caribbeans, Modi, Irfaan, Trinidad, Guyana

Indo-Caribbeans, Modi, Irfaan, Trinidad, Guyana

President Irfaan Ali is in India being hosted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi for various engagements including strengthening economic and cultural relations and to be honored by the Indian government. Indo-Caribbeans, Irfaan, Guyana and Trinidad are not unknown to Modi and I am confident that the PM and Irfaan would engage in a productive partnership to boost bilateral ties. President Santokie of Suriname is also visiting India and will be honored at two separate events.

Modi has had a long history of engaging Guyanese (and Trinidadians) in the USA long before he became an elected politician. This engagement continued after he became Chief Minister of Gujarat and PM in 2001 and 2014 respectively. Modi interacted with Guyanese and Trinidadians in America, Trinidad, Guyana and India before he served briefly as General Secretary of the BJP in late 2000 and went on to become Chief Minister (CM) of Gujarat State in 2001, and long before he became Prime Minister in May 2015. Several Guyanese and Trinis rooted and lobbied for him to become CM and PM. They saw leadership potential in him as related by Ravi Dev and others. As an example, after an engagement with Modi in 1993 in Washington DC, heart surgeon Dr Vijaynarayan Singh of Trinidad related to others that “Modi was Prime Ministerial material of India and that the diaspora should promote him”.

Long before he visited USA, Modi engaged Guyanese and Trinis in India. He was first exposed to them when he was a student and several Guyanese and Trjnis were studying in India. He learned about the girmityas struggle from them and his readings; modi studied political science. He was with the ABVP youth wing of the BJP.  In Varanasi, he interacted with Swami Aksharananda and Pandit Ravi-ji Maharaj and Pandita Indranee Rampersaud.

In NY, Modi had several engagements with Guyanese and Trinidadians at seminars and lectures. His engagements in his several trips to the Big Apple were facilitated by Dr Mukund Modi who himself had a fondness for Guyanese and Trinis and who provided moral support for the struggle against the Guyanese dictatorship. Modi participated with Guyanese in shaka physical drills in New Jersey at a mandir where several Guyanese (Dharamdatt Durjan, Patanjali Rambrich, Andrew Satyanand, this writer and others) were in attendance.

Modi also visited several diaspora countries during his tenure as Chief Minister. And he also visited many countries during his tenure as PM interacting with Guyanese and Trinidadians. As CM, he engaged the diaspora at PBDs in Delhi, Mumbai, Cochin, Hyderabad, and elsewhere. As PM, he engaged them at PBDs in Gandhinagar, Bangalore, Varanasi.  As PM, he (his government) has been very generous in doling out development aid to Guyana. He was to visit Trinidad and Guyana in 2018 following a G20 trip to Argentina, but it was cancelled at the last minute because of a pressing issue in India. It would have been an opportunity to renew relations with Ravi Dev, Swami, Navi, this writer and other Guyanese but it was not to be.

Modi met then Housing Minister Irfaan Ali in Gandhinagar, Gujarat in January 2015 when the PM hosted President Donald Ramotar as Chief Guest for PBD. Irfaan, Dr Bobby Ramroop, BK Tiwari, Ashook Ramsaran, Deo Gosine, and other business folks were part of the delegation that attended the PBD from the Caribbean diaspora. When Irfaan became President in August 2020, Modi sent a congratulatory message. President Ali sent out greetings to the Indian PM on the occasion of his 70th birthday in September 2020. They met as leaders at the Climate Summit in Glasgow in 2022.

Modi interacted with several Guyanese (including this writer) countless times in New York and New Jersey in the early 1990s. He engaged Guyanese and Trinis in Washington at a Hindu Conference that was attended by political activist Ravi Dev. Modi attended a Ramayana Conference around 1999 in Trinidad hosted by the Maha Sabha at its headquarters. There he interacted with several Guyanese who came as delegates. He also attended a Hindu Conference in Trinidad in August (17-20) 2000. There, he interacted with several Guyanese that included Swami Aksharananda, Ravi Dev, Pandit Vikash, Pandit Reepudaman Persaud, myself, among others. In Trinidad, Modi decided on the final day of his stay to extend his travel date for a brief visit to Guyana where he stayed at the Pegasus. In Guyana, he separately engaged a few prominent Guyanese including Swami Aksharananada, Ravi Devi, and Navi of DDL Bank, among others. Navi took him around Georgetown to meet prominent Guyanese. He visited Swami premises (now SVN) on the West Coast. He requested Ravi Dev to take him to a historic place related to slaves and indentured laborers. Ravi took him to the Enmore monument. Swami related that with hands folded behind him, Modi appeared in deep thought. When asked what was troubling him, Modi stated he was thinking about India.  Swami was in tears relating the encounter.

After he became PM in May 2014, Modi hosted Donald Ramotar in Delhi and in Gandhinagar in January 2015. He hosted several Guyanese MPs, including Bharrat Jagdeo, Irfaan, Anil Mohabir, Zulfi Mustapha, Charandass Persaud, among others in January 2018. He also hosted President David Granger, Ivelaw Griffith, and others in Delhi in February 2018 for the International Solar Summit.

Modi’s engagements with Guyanese over three decades and his visit to Guyana in 2000 have helped to cement ties with India. Those who interacted with him said he was warm, friendly, cordial, and engaging. He was worrying and humorous. He praised Guyanese for retaining their identity and for having India in their heart. He has always been friendly with Guyanese and other diasporans. This was also the conclusion drawn by this writer in his several encounters with Modi at several PBDs in India before he became PM.

Guyanese who met Modi in America, Guyana, Trinidad, and India have lobbied for developmental aid. Modi has responded with generous aid (technology transfer, education scholarships, soft loans, etc.) to help transform an emerging Guyana. Thank you Modi!

Dr Vishnu Bisram

Dr. Vishnu Bisram is Guyanese born who received his primary and secondary education in Guyana and tertiary education in the US and India. He is a holder of multiple degrees in the natural sciences, social sciences, and education. He taught for over forty years in the US. He is a specialist on the Indian diaspora traveling globally to research and write about Indian communities.