Dr Vijay Chauthaiwale
That PM Modiji would attend London Commonwealth Summit in April was clear to Manoj Ladwa and me several months back and as usual, we started picking up each other's brains on what can be done. Almost three months back, when I was preparing for Dubai and Muscat events, I went to London for a short trip. Our Wembley team was ready and as enthusiastic as in past to create another historical event. In fact, some of them even inquired if Wembley stadium was available on those dates. They were very disappointed when they got negative reply. Few others even explored other venues outside London like Birmingham.
As soon as I landed in London, I got this news (non-availability of Wembley stadium). I sarcastically asked the informer, “Who asked you to explore Wembley?” I and Manoj, at that time point of time, were clear that we need to do something different. But we were not clear what's that “different” is. We visited few tentative venues, from a capacity of 3000 to 10000 people but the plan was not conclusive.
Next day, along with our third friend from USA, Anand, we spent significant part of the day in London in brainstorming and challenging each other’s ideas.
Afterwords in Delhi, one late evening, myself and Manoj were picking up a brain of one of senior non-political person on this issue (unfortunately, I can’t name him) and Anand arrived. He just had a meeting with PM and he had a message for us. “Don’t book venue unless you discuss with me the format of event”.
We went back to drawing board. I, Manoj, Anand and our senior mentor created a WhatsApp group to discuss it further. After several phone calls and debates, finally this idea of “In conversation with PM Modi” emerged. We presented it PM who endorsed it and work begun.
There were three essential components of our concept. One, the audience in front of him should be small, in close vicinity of PM so that both people and he himself can connect with each other, two, it will not be an “interview” by a journalist but a conversation and three, we will connect globally to everyone who wants to listen to him.
The immediate challenge was to get an appropriate moderator who is equally fluent in both Hindi and English and is not journalist. After little brainstorming over couple of names, we couldn’t find anyone better than Prasoon Joshi. Manoj met him late night before catching a return flight to London, followed by a detailed meeting with him attended by myself and a leader of creative team, Manish Bardia.
Second challenge was to get appropriate venue which is not far from Central London (so as to keep commuting time for PM to minimum). We were fortunate to get Central Hall, Westminster, a venue close to British Parliament. It’s an iconic venue where Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr delivered talks and the first convention of United Nations General Assembly was convened. It’s actually a prayer hall of Methodist Church. Behind the giant projection screen everyone saw at the time of program is the place for priest to preach.
Our Wembley team was enthusiastic as ever. Sanjay Kara took a charge of bringing together all the agencies needed for production, Keerti Mathur and Niravta Mathur teamed up with Manish in Ahmedabad for creatives, Nilesh Solanki and Heena took care of event management, budget, contracts and Janhavi Dadarkar took responsibility of registration. Additionally, there was a team of 50 plus volunteers working round the clock behind the scene. Many of them are young couples, with small kids and both husband-wives spared 18 hours a day for many days for preparation of this event. Their contribution and dedication has no match.
This time Shashibhai had different challenge. We designed giant screens for projection. The central circular screen was of 3 meter (10 ft) diameter and side tall screens were of 10 meters (30 ft) height. But he also had a limit of 1 ton of total weight. Hanger on the top had only that much load bearing capacity. Shashibhai crafted all screens within 900 kg.
Same thing applies to production, registration, creatives in every aspect of managing such a complex event. It’s not that we didn’t recruit paid professionals. We did it only where it was absolutely essential. Everything else was managed by volunteers who were not only dedicated but also equally technically competent. That’s the secret of managing such a technologically advanced event with a frugal budget.
There were some minor hick ups too. Fire alarm suddenly started ringing after arrival of PM, thanks to pressing of wrong button by someone. And when PM was about to enter the stage, suddenly TV transmission went off, which required rebooting the system, causing delay of few minutes. But once PM entered the stage, everything went flawless.
Let me reveal a small secret here. One official asked me on a previous day how long program will go. I told him, “We plan to cover 15 to 18 questions. Now if PM gives short answers of 1 min per question, then we finish the program in less than one hour”. He just smiled at me. Pragmatically, we thought program would continue for one and half hours. But it exceeded much further.
PM was undoubtedly as his best of communication and even mood. He had a very hectic previous day in Stockholm and equally hectic day in London starting from 9 am. But he is people’s leader and I always think that he draws his energy by interacting with people. In Stockholm, we planned only three group pics as Swedish PM was waiting for him. But at the end, he asked us to bring all volunteers together and said “they have done all the hard work and I must meet them”.
In London, we were given time limit of 6.45 pm local time with max extension of 10 min more. Event started at around 5.15 pm. By 6.15 we were just half way through. We all were quite anxious. But PM continued well beyond it till 7.45 pm or so. We still had to delete 3-4 very imp question on climate change, Yoga and few personal question due to lack of time.
Prasoon Joshi played his role of facilitator, moderator and conversing partner flawlessly. Once started, technical, audio-visual aspects run as scripted, we could also take few questions that came from live audience.
No such event can be successful without great team and equally capable team leader. Manoj is a cool headed team leader with a very focused and step by step approach, a typical British one. He documents every small detail. For last two months, there was hardly a day when I didn't talk with him at least twice a day. In addition, innumerable Whatsapp messages and group chats. At the same time, hardly a conversation concluded without cracking a joke on each other or on any third person.
London has set a new benchmark both the time. Wembley was enormous due to its size and Central Hall was unique in its format. Both were equally effective. It’s for everyone to decide which one was better. For me, every event is equally unique, equally engaging and equally enriching.
(Dr Vijay Chauthaiwale is the Convener of Overseas Friends of BJP. The above report and pics are shared from his face book post)