New York, NY: Tens of thousands of people from the New York Tristate region converged on Madison Avenue in New York City, waving the Indian flags and chanting Bharat Mata ki jai marking the 36th annual India Day Parade, considered the largest parade outside of India, on Sunday, August 21, 2016. The parade was organized by the Federation of Indian Associations of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.
Bollywood star Abhishek Bachchan, the Grand Marshall, led the parade from Madison Avenue from 38th Street to 25th Street, cheering the marchers and the floats, as they passed through the salute stage, as the dozens of colorfully decorated floats with loud music showcased the diverse culture of India. Baba Ramdev, who popularized yoga all over the world, was the guest of honor.
South Indian superstar Chiyaan Vikram and Priyanka Kothari, Consul General Riva Ganguly Das and leaders of the Federation of Indian Associations, New York (FIA-NY), were among others who led the parade and greeted the people. Baba Ramdev pointed out that the world recognizes India’s strength and its contributions in various fields. He noted that India is moving forward with spirituality and modernism to greater glory. As for yoga, he said it was not mere physical exercise but a way of living which promotes non-violence and harmony.
Bachchan said he was amazed at the turnout and the enthusiasm of the people for India. He also thanked the community in the US for the support it gave artists like him. He noted that he had attended the parade 19 years ago in 1997 when his father Amitabh Bachchan, was the Grand Marshal celebrating the 50th anniversary of India’s Independence. ‘It is a great honor to be here and represent the beautiful nation of ours,’ he said. Amitabh tweeted, “And this Abhishek in New York a short while ago… Grand Marshall for the India Day Parade in Manhattan NYC, USA. A proud moment… I was appointed the same years ago… now son follows.”
Amid chanting of full-throated slogans of Vande Mataram and Bharat Mata Ki Jai, people held banners, buntings and flags of both India and the U.S., waiving their hands and cheering at colorfully decorated floats that rolled down the parade route one after the other in a moving show of the country’s quintessential unity in diversity. Groups representing various states and regions, their diverse dress, dance and music, merged into one monumental display of Indian culture and identity on American soil, and yet dazzled like jewels in the crown throughout the cultural jamboree
American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (AAPI) TV Asia, Parikh Worldwide Media, and Royal Albert’s Broadcasting Network along with Air India and others came out with colorful floats. Manning the Air-India float were people dressed as crew members, including a pilot, all in official outfits. Brahma Kumaries, dressed in white, marched in large numbers, carrying billboards and calling for peace and respect for all. Christians carried the statue of Velankanni Matha while Jains marched advocating ahimsa and noting that Gandhiji was inspired by it.
Shalli Kumar from Chicago came out with a float under the banner of the Republican Hindu Coalition supporting Donald Trump. It carried the photos of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and several Hindu leaders, too. Police officers belonging to the Indian Officers Association at the NYPD joined the event in sizable numbers. It is a new organization after officers of Indian origin lost control of the original desi organization. A larger number of young men in police uniforms showed that there has been a welcome change in our community as well as in the police.
The Overseas Friends of BJP marched in the parade but the opposition Indian National Overseas Congress was not on view this time. Marchers from Telangana did carry a photo of Congress president Sonia Gandhi, thanking her for the formation of Telangana, a state carved out of Andhra Pradesh. It played a role in the party losing both states in the Lok Sabha elections!
The Keralite and Sikh communities appeared to have kept away. Usually, Kerala organizations such as Fokana and Fomaa march in the parade. Last week, most of them participated in the first ever parade in Queens, a borough of New York City. It was the first time, New York City had two parades to celebrate India’s Independence Day.
Sunderlal Gandhi came dressed as Mahatma Gandhi for the eighth year. The 83-year-old Gandhi, a retired Central Government official who moved to the US about 15 years ago, had met his better-known namesake twice and become a lifelong Gandhian. Many people crowded around the American Gandhi and took photos with him. He said he came dressed as Gandhi to create awareness about that icon of the non-violent movement. And yet, he said he does not want to say anything about problems endemic in India, such as corruption, and that his words have no relevance.
George Abraham, chairman of the Indian National Overseas Congress, said, “The INOC salutes India on its 70th anniversary of independence and also pays tribute those who sacrificed so much for the freedom and the dignity the people of India now enjoy. We are especially grateful to Indian National Congress which has led the way and secured the freedom and the individual liberty for all of us.”
The celebrities were hosted by FIA at a gala dinner reception in Royal Alberts Palace in Ford, New Jersey on August 22. It was attended by about 900 people, most of them associated with the FIA, including its board members and many of its past office bearers.
“We do not have the final estimate as of now, but our guess is that close to 200,000 people were present, including people who were present only during the cultural program at Madison Square Park,” FIA President Anand Patel said. The parade ended with the cultural event at Madison Square Park attended by the celebrities, including Bachchan, Vikram and Kothari.