Vanakkam ! is how Prime Minister Narendra Modi greeted the Indian diaspora in Kuala Lumpur as he set the tone for an address that was steeped in Tamil flavour for the majority Tamil-Malaysians in the audience.
Prime Minister Modi walked up to the stage and hailed the 15,000-strong crowd, a majority of them Tamil-Malaysians, with “ Vanakkam ” (hello in Tamil) amid chants of Modi, Modi.
After greeting the crowd, Mr. Modi spoke a few sentences in Tamil saying, “Many of you are from Tamil Nadu...Tamil Nadu’s role in India’s growth is important.”
Switching to English, Mr. Modi said, “India is not confined to territory. India exists in every Indian in every part of the world, India is in you.”
Among the cheering audience, a majority were third generation Tamil-Malaysians.
Ethnic Indians form 8 per cent of Malaysia’s population and are mostly Tamils. Their ancestors came to Malaysia more than 100 years ago and many were brought by the British to work at rubber plantations here.
Many of those people did not return to India after independence preferring to live in Malaysia.
In his 45-minute address at the Malaysia International Exhibition and Convention Centre here, Mr. Modi went on to talk about Tamil philosopher-poet Thiruvalluvar whose most famous work is Thirukkural.
“As I stand before you, I am reminded of the words of the great Tamil saint Thiruvalluvar: ‘Friendship is not just a smile on the face. It is what is felt deep within a smiling heart’,” Mr. Modi said.
“Mahatma Gandhi had once said that he wanted to learn Tamil to study Thiruvalluvar’s Thirukurral in its original form as there was no one who had given such treasures of wisdom as he had,” he said.
The Prime Minister said the saint’s words on friendship capture the feeling that he gets each time he comes to Malaysia whether without office or as Prime Minister.
“I have felt the same embrace of friendship and welcome. The love and friendship of the Malaya-Indians has always had a special place in my heart,” Mr. Modi said.
“Generations ago, many of your ancestors came to an unknown land. Many of you came here more recently in the mobility of our globalised world. Whenever you came here, whatever be the circumstance in which you came, time or distance has not reduced your love for India,” he said.
Mr. Modi also paid tribute to Tamil-origin Capt Janaky Athi Nahappan, who served as a deputy to Capt Lakshmi Sehgal. “That was in the regiment named after yet another icon of India’s war of Independence, Rani of Jhansi.”
Mr. Modi invoked another Tamilian — former President APJ Abdul Kalam — to conclude his address. He ended with Kalam’s words — “have the courage to think differently, and to discover the impossible!”