It was only this past February when Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (still a candidate for the position) had his visa ban lifted to be able to visit the United States. And now, less than a year later, Modi has traveled to New York and Washington D.C. in a grand spectacle that included speeches at the UN General Assembly in New York, the Global Citizen Festival in Grant Park, and a gathering of 18,000 Indian-American immigrants at Madison Square Garden.
The original visa ban came in 2005 following Modi’s controversial handling of the Gujarat riots of 2002. The protests, which were set off when Muslims had burned a train filled with Hindu pilgrims in Gujarat, led to thousands of Hindus to riot against the Muslim community and burn many shops and communal buildings to the ground. Following the conclusion of the riots, Modi, who was then the chief minister of Gujarat, was heavily criticized and even accused of allowing the riots to happen. According to a senior official in Modi’s administration during the time of the demonstrations, Modi had said, “The Muslim community needed to be taught a lesson,” following the burning of the train filled with Indian pilgrims.
However, after much debate and controversy, the U.S. government had made the decision to grant Modi permission to visit the United States following his candidacy for Prime Minister.
According to Nancy J. Powell, who was the U.S. Ambassador who met with Modi about lifting the ban on his visa, the move is part of the “concentrated outreach to senior political and economic leaders” of the US.
Now, in an effort to further tighten relations between the US and India, Modi’s five-day visit not only includes public rallies but also organized efforts with top-tier global CEO’s in an effort to increase investment in India. In addition, Modi’s private meeting with US President Barack Obama is expected to boost ties between the two countries after facing rocky relations and troubled economic ties in the past year.
While Modi’s visit comes with a heavy political agenda, his wide popularity throughout the Indian-American community has led to massive gatherings of thousands of Indians and Americans alike during his visit to New York. So far, Modi’s most noteworthy speech has been at Madison Square Garden. Speaking of Indian patriotism and a time to revitalize the job industry to accommodate younger workers, including strengthening ties between the two countries, Modi’s speech flooded Twitter with praise and support from the Indian-American community.
Here is a video of Modi's full speech:
Druva Trivedi, a teenage girl from India, felt that Modi’s speech drew a connection between both the Indian and the American crowd:
There is an indian alive in every american Proved by the crowd #modiatmadison
— Durva Trivedi (@Ddurva_17) September 28, 2014
Overrated Outcast, an account geared towards humor on political issues that gave Modi’s visit much coverage, poked fun at the energy that Modi’s speech had brought to the crowd:
Modi could read the yellow pages and the crowd at MSG would applaud like crazy. #ModiConcert
— Overrated Outcast (@over_rated) September 28, 2014
Kartik Srinivasan, CEO of Vannam Painting Contractors, tweeted that Modi’s speech was powerful enough to even cause him to rethink his views on politicians:
I always believed politicians can only get the uneducated excited with their words…Today I eat my words.#modiatmadison
— Kartik Srinivasan (@kartik111087) September 28, 2014
However, there were some who took their passion for Modi too far. Rajdeep Sardesai, a popular Indian journalist now working for the India Today group, who had sparked wide controversy after his reports on the 2002 Gujarat riots, was assaulted by pro-Modi supporters outside of Madison Square Garden in New York. Sardesai, who had been at the event early in order to cover Modi’s speech, later said he was provoked by the hecklers and that he did not start the altercation.
A 41-second video clip of the assault has surfaced on YouTube, reaching over 100,000 views in less than 24 hours. However, a more detailed clip of the attack was later released by YouTube channel “The Fearsome Indian,” which appeared to show that Sardesai was in fact the one who had started the altercation:
Modi’s visit has not come without its fair share of controversy. A federal court in New York issued a summons against Narendra Modi for his handling of the Gujarat riots, following a lawsuit filed by the non-profit human rights organization American Justice Center. The group has even offered a $10,000 reward to anyone who would be able to serve the summons to Modi in person and provide video proof that it had been delivered.
Following the release of the summons, Modi’s Minister of External Affairs Syed Akbaruddin called the court order a mere distraction:
— Syed Akbaruddin (@MEAIndia) September 26, 2014
While Modi's visit to the US has been very eventful and lively, all eyes are now focused towards his meeting with President Obama. The two are expected to talk about strengthening relations along with increasing trade between the two countries, which could lead to a more elaborate relationship in the coming years. For now though, the world eagerly awaits to see if Modi will make the most out of his opportunity with Obama.