Modi takes on New York
NEW YORK (AP) – India’s new prime minister, once shunned by Washington, appeared before an enthusiastic crowd in a famed New York sports arena today where he appealed for help from Indian-Americans to help develop his country’s economy, vowing that under his leadership, the South Asian nation wouldn’t look back.
A day after addressing a hushed United Nations General Assembly, where headphone-wearing delegates rarely break into a smile, Narendra Modi received a tumultuous welcome from upward of 18 000 people.
He struck a chord by announcing plans to simplify the immigration bureaucracy for Indians living abroad, and called on them to “join hands to serve our mother India”.
A dazzling, Bollywood-style show with dancers warmed up the crowd before Modi appeared.
About 30 U.S. lawmakers attended – ringing the stage as the Indian leader came into the auditorium under a spotlight like a boxing champion. The event had the feel of a political rally, and the audience periodically broke out into chants of “Modi! Modi!”
Tomorrow, Modi will meet with President Barack Obama at the White House, a meeting that both sides hope can improve strained relations between the world’s two largest democracies.
Being courted by Washington marks a major change since 2005, when the U.S. denied Modi a visa for his alleged complicity in sectarian violence in his home state of Gujarat.
Several hundred anti-Modi protesters, mostly Americans of Indian descent, both Hindu and Muslim, gathered across the street from Madison Square Garden, chanting behind police barricades, “Modi, Modi, you can’t hide, you committed genocide!”
Inside, Modi spoke in Hindi from a dais at the centre of the stage that occasionally rotated so he could face a different section of the audience. He vowed to fight corruption and champion India’s legions of poor whom he said wanted to participate in the nation’s progress.
He also touted India’s promise as a tech giant, joking that it’s no longer known as a nation of “snake charmers”.
“Our country used to play with a snake, now we play with the mouse,” Modi said, drawing laughs and applause.