New York: Anti-graft crusader Anna Hazare and Bollywood actress Vidya Balan led the largest Indian Independence Day celebrations overseas today, with over two lakh people carrying the tricolour witnessing an impressive parade here which displayed the country's vibrant culture.
Colourful floats, marching bands and convertibles made their way down Madison Avenue in Manhattan with revellers cheering Hazare and Balan.
"Anna Hazare zindabad" "corruption down down" rent the air of Manhattan as the veteran Gandhian rode past over two lakh people, most of them Indian-Americans, in the annual India Day Parade organised by Federation of Indian Associations (FIA).
The 76-year-old Hazare was cheered loudly at every intersection by large number of people while the fragile khadi-clad Gandhian waving from his vehicle that had to be stopped at several intersections, with people rushing to shake hands with him.
"I've never seen something as wonderful and heartwarming," said Balan, the parade's grand marshal.
The Indian-Americans waved the tricolour at Hazare and shouted that they stood by him in his crusade against corruption.
Hundreds of parade goers wore orange, green and white dress with a Gandhi caps "I am for Anna" to demonstrate their support to Hazare, whose anti-corruption crusade has inspired thousands at home and abroad.
Anna was an instant hit among Americans too who had come in large numbers to see the man who took the government head on single handedly following the teachings of ahimsa propounded by his mentor Mahatma Gandhi.
The New York Police Department (NYPD) had a tough time in controlling the surging unprecedented crowd.
Balan drew huge crowds as people on both sides of the Madison Avenue cheered her when she travelled in the FIA float along with FIA President Sanjay Amin, New York Consul General Dnyaneshwar Mulay and Gen V K Singh, former Indian Army Chief and leaders of the Indian-American community.
Balan gave flying kiss to her thronging fans that went berserk on seeing her and the fans had to be cleared by mild force near the review stand where the guests of honors assembled to deliver their speech.
South Indian actors – R Sarath Kumar, Radikaa Sarath Kumar and Jaishree Chandrasekhar – travelled in the American Tamil Sangam float that had a huge banner of Statue of Liberty draped in a sari.
Sarath Kumar wore a traditional South Indian dress of dothi and a khadi shirt while Radikaa came in a Kanjivaram silk sari.
The couple was loudly cheered by a large number of South Indians. There were non-stop shouts of 'Supreme Star' (referring to Sarath Kumar) and 'Chitti' (a character played by Radikaa in a TV serial), making the couple pleasantly surprised with the fan following in America.
The Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda Winston Baldwin Spencer, who rode in a Lamborghini car, wore a kurta and a pyjama and instantly connected with the Indian-Americans with his namste.
The Speaker of the New York City Council and a Mayoral candidate Christine Quinn and other elected officials marched in the parade.
According to Ramesh Patel, chairman of FIA the crowd was unprecedented in the history of FIA that started 43 years ago. This is the 33rd India Day Parade in New York City.
Sanjay Amin, FIA President said the police had estimated the crowd to be in the range of two lakhs which was double than last year possibly due to the presence of Anna Hazare and other dignitaries.
There were more than 40 floats representing institutions such as State Bank of India, Bank of Baroda, India Tourism and Arvind Kejriwal's Aam Aadmi Party.
The organisers had ensured that the central government officials and diplomats stationed in New York are insulated from Anna Hazare and his slogan-shouting brigade to avoid any possible embarrassment to them.
The crowd thronged to the cultural programs arena and the booth area where a replica of Red Fort was built in 80 feet x 10 feet.