Snubbed by the Wharton India Economic Forum, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi nevertheless spoke to the Indian diaspora in North America on Sunday and asked them to put 'India First' wherever they may be and whatever they do.
"My definition of secularism is simple: 'India First'. Whatever you do, wherever you work, India should be the top priority for all its citizens," Modi said in a live video address from Ahmedabad to Indians living in America and Canada.
Organised by the Overseas Friends of the BJP under the Bharatiya Janata Party's global community outreach programme, Modi's speech was telecast through US-based TV Asia channel and was watched live by several hundred people at two centres in New Jersey and Chicago.
"Country is above all religions and ideologies," said Modi, whose invitation to speak via video at Wharton's annual student-run India-centric conference in Philadelphia on March 23 was cancelled following a protest from a segment of professors and students.
"Nothing less than India's wellbeing should be our goal," he said in the 51-minute speech in Hindi.
"And if this happens, secularism will automatically run in our blood."
"I agree, friends, that as an Indian, as a citizen who loves India, you will also agree with my definition ... We might do any work or take any decision, India should be supreme," said Modi.
The Gujarat chief minister, who has been denied a US visa over his alleged role in the 2002 Gujarat riots, made no reference to either the riots or the Wharton controversy.
"Development is the only road which will lead our nation out of the era of darkness and Gujarat has shown a ray of hope to the country through its development," said the third-term chief minister, highlighting the development model of his government.
Selling brand Gujarat and India as a tourism destination, he asked the Indian diaspora and also the hotel and motel industry, dominated by Gujaratis, to promote their native land.
"This would be your big service to India. It is not always necessary to invest in India or send dollars, motivating people to travel to India is also another way of service," he said.