India's new PM Narendra Modi has received a rapturous welcome in New York. He pledged to unleash India's economic potential. Washington has hastened to court the Indian premier, who was once shunned by the US.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was treated like a rock star at New York's Madison Square Garden Sunday, as he vowed to make India a major power before a crowd of some 18,500 people.
"There was a time when people thought that we were a country of snake-charmers," Modi said.
"Our people used to play with snakes, but now they play with the mouse – and that mouse makes the whole world run," Modi said, referring to the computer mouse used on desks.
Modi spoke for an hour in Hindi from a revolving stage as he renewed his pledge to unleash India's economic potential. He also praised the achievements of Indian-Americans and spoke of his humble beginnings.
"People ask for a big vision? Well, I got here by selling tea," he said to thunderous applause. "I'm a modest man, and that's why I plan to do big things for modest people," he said.
Modi won India's premiership by the widest electoral margin in over three decades in elections that were held in April and May of this year.
A rock star reception
New York's Madison Square Garden is better-known for hosting marquee sporting events and sold-out concerts than politicians. But Modi was greeted with rapturous applause as he took the stage.
More than 30 members of the US Congress were present at the event, which was complete with a Bollywood-style warm up act and traditional Indian dances. A reception of this scale for a foreign leader in the United States is almost unprecedented.
"This kind of love has not been given to any Indian leader ever," Modi said. "I will repay that loan by building the India of your dreams."
Once held at arm's length by US
Despite Sunday's tumultuous welcome, Modi was once shunned by the United States. In 2005, he was refused an entry visa to the US on human rights grounds because he had failed to stop anti-Muslim rioting as chief minister of the state of Gujarat in western India in 2002.
The violence claimed over 1,000 lives, the majority of which were Muslim.
Several hundred protesters gathered across from the arena where Modi was speaking, chanting "Modi, Modi, you can't hide, you committed genocide," the Associated Press reported. Modi has denied any wrongdoing and was never charged.
Meanwhile, the United States has reversed course and decided to court Modi when it became clear he would become India's next prime minister. He is scheduled to meet President Obama at the White House on Monday and Tuesday.
bw/ipj (AFP, AP, Reuters)