Source: News Bharati English06 Jul 2017 16:19:17

Prime Minister Narendra Modi happens to be the first Indian head of the State to visit Israel. His visit has created quite a uphoria in the international and diplomatic circles. But his meeting with the Indian-orgin Jews and Indian diaspora in Tel Aviv on July 5 evening was quite an event. Here is the first person account of that historic event from a person who played a key role in this event. -Editor

The author with PM Modi at Tel Aviv on July 5

Dr. Vijay Chauthaiwale

It's 5.40 am in Tel Aviv. When I finally collapsed in bed post-midnight last night, I was very firm that I won't get up before 8 am. But the shot of adrenaline received yesterday evening didn’t allow my brain to go to the state of tranquillity (even transient one). I was half awake whole night, remembering excitements and anxious moments of last few hours.

Since my new role in the BJP in Nov 2014, one visit of PM Modiji I was eagerly looking for was that of Israel. I was sure it would happen but still I must have asked Dr Jaishankar at least 3-4 times about it. He would always answer “sometime in 2017”.

In February this year, I received a call from the office of ambassador of Israel to India, Daniel Carmon. He wanted to meet me. During our first meeting, he spoke slowly, with every word measured, asking about my role, community receptions at other places etc. He didn’t give any indication of PM’s visit to Israel. And then a question came, “when are you going to visit Israel?”

“Whenever you invite me” I responded.

“9th March”... and he gave me formal invitation to attend a conclave on Diasporas in Jerusalem.

I quickly contacted our ambassador in Tel Aviv, Pavan Kapur (whom I never met before) and some Gujarati diamond traders through a common friend, Harsh Sanghvi. Harsh is the youngest and most dynamic MLA in Gujarat assembly.

In the conclave on Diasporas, I was an odd man out in a sense that all other invitees from 30 odd countries were from foreign offices of respective countries. But at the same time, it was quite a learning experience to understand what Israel does for its global diaspora.

After the conclave, I came to Tel Aviv and had a series of small meetings with embassy officials and community leaders. Fortunately, Ambassador Pavan Kapur (IIM-Ahmedabad graduate) and DCM Dr Anju Kumar are some of the finest diplomats of our country.

Indian Jews in Israel are scattered all across the country, most of them are either in small businesses or in jobs. Ambassador Kapur has successfully connected them and brought them together in last couple of years.

As I always do in my first meeting with community leaders in any country, I asked them their pragmatic estimated attendance if we were to organize PM Modi's community program. I had to trade a tight rope walk as I couldn’t reveal the dates. Nevertheless, I got estimate of anything between 2500 and 4000. (When I told this number to PM Modi, he said that the number would be far more).

In my first meeting, I met a young second generation social media activist, Aylet. I asked her to open Facebook page for PM visit, without specifying date/s. She did it in next 24 hrs and within a day, it received 500 plus likes.

Since then, I visited Israel twice, in April and May and every time I found growing enthusiasm. We even started online registration for the event, without specifying date. We just wrote “Early July in Tel Aviv”. Finally we got permission to announce date and things started moving.

Everywhere Indian Diaspora is different and Israel is no exception. Most of the Indian origin Jews who migrated to Israel in last 40-50 years, have still preserved their language and Indian heritage. Most of them speak Hebrew but understand Hindi better than English.

Our online registration site was in English. So after registration of around 1500 people in initial few days, the speed suddenly dropped. Ambassador Kapur continuously talked to community leaders and encouraged them to work harder. We quickly realized that the main constraint was lack of internet connectivity and language. So we asked people to provide details on paper and a group of volunteers like Aylet and Jacqueline Daniel Solomon, spent hours together after their office hours to enter them online. Several whatsapp groups were formed to monitor the progress. Finally count reached close to 7000, of which 2000 were added in last 10 days.

Capacity of hall was 7400. Initially we planned a central stage with revolving platform and people sitting on all four sides. I feel people are able to connect closely with PM in this format. We even released the work order. By then, we received tentative confirmation that Israel PM too would attend the program. And it has changed the dynamics of the program completely.

Security is always a big concern in any such program and more so in a country like Israel. Presence of heads of two governments added new complications. Security agencies asked us to leave so much distance between the central stage and first row of people that it consumed 30% of the space which would defeat the whole purpose of central stage. Therefore, just 10 days back or so we decided to go to conventional format (of stage at one side of the hall and large LED screens). Dealing with two security agencies was quite a circus to say the least.

We estimated around 15-20% dropout as it was a working day. We, therefore, expected a turnout of 5500 people. But we were wrong. People started pouring in several hours in advance. It was a bright sunny and humid day in Tel Aviv. Gates were planned to open at 5 pm but people were in queue since 3 pm. Finally we had to arrange water bottles outside.

Security and frisking was tighter than airport, especially for those in VIP sitting area as those people are likely to be in proximity of VVIPs. And those were the most prominent leaders of the community. It gave lot of anxious moments to all of us.

Arrangements inside were perfect. There was a bottle of water and a packet of snacks (with PM Modi’s picture on it) on every seat. But then another crisis situation emerged. The hall was already full and still more than 1000 people were waiting outside.

Initially police refused their entry but finally our people could convince them when we quickly made arrangements for additional chairs. We even interrupted Sukhwinder's musical program to appeal people to remain at their seats.

My role ends when the national anthem begins. There was a crowd of more than 8000 people. Many more than anyone imagined. Many of them came travelling in buses for several hours. But the enthusiasm was unparalleled. History was being scripted in front of my eyes.

Two announcements by the PM in his speech are noteworthy. First is the cultural centre in Israel. I am aware many of my friends in Delhi were eagerly waiting for the same. Second and equally important is on OCI card. Military training is mandatory in Israel. On the other hand, one can’t get OCI card if he/she served in foreign military. If this continues, there won’t be any OCI card holder in Israel after few decades. Therefore, this announcement was crucial.

No such program can be successful without efforts and hard work of many people. Our embassy in Tel Aviv has played an exemplary role at every stage but without unnecessary interference. In addition to Ambassador Kapur and DCM Dr Anju Kumar, one fellow who really worked hard was Eldos Mathews. He is in charge of community affairs in embassy. Manoj Mohapatra was specially deputed from Delhi as he had experience of previous events like MSG.

Twenty-five Gujarati families in Israel were backbone of this event. As always they were perfect hosts. They ensured that my room is stuffed with dry fruits and dates, didn’t allow me to spend even one dollar for food. At any given time, I used to have 5 invitations for dinner. Finally I would tell them to decide among themselves and tell me.

One person who played a significant role in the success of this event is Harsh Sanghvi. He is young, dynamic, master planner and cool headed. On 4th July, just a day before the event, I was a part of panel discussion. I was extremely reluctant to go there but Harsh told me that I must do so.

As soon as the program was over, I called him anxiously. He told me several issues and last minute firefighting but at the end said coolly “Vijayji, you go to hotel and take a nap for an hour. We have long night tonight. I will resolve them, if needed, I would call you.” And I followed his advice. Needless to say he did not call me. When I reached venue at 4 pm, most of the issues were resolved.

{The author is head of the Overseas Friends of BJP (OFBJP) and also heads the foreign policy cell of the party. The above account is shared from his facebook wall}