Home/ Politics / Policy/  Narendra Modi connects with NRIs at Madison Square Garden

New York: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday announced a raft of measures aimed at making it easier for non-residents Indians (NRI) visiting India, as he spoke to a large crowd of cheering people of Indian origin in New York’s Madison Square Garden.

Modi said holders of Persons of Indian Origin (PIO) cards will henceforth get lifetime Indian visas; NRIs who stay in India over a long period of time will no longer have to report regularly to police stations; and the PIO and Overseas Citizens of India (OCI) cards will be merged into one in order to do away with difficulties arising from the differences in these cards.

In addition, US citizens will be granted long-term tourist visas and visas on arrival in India, he added.

Elsewhere, during his over-one-hour-long speech, Modi borrowed a key phrase from Martin Luther King Jr’s “I have a dream" speech.

“I have a dream," said Modi in Hindi. His dream, he said, was that in the 75th year of India’s independence, in 2022, every Indian family will have a house to live in.

He told the crowd of thousands of NRIs that India’s Mars probe—accomplished at a cost of only 7 per km—shows India’s youth and talent pool can scale “many new heights".

The visiting Indian leader said the cost of sending an Indian spacecraft to Mars was even cheaper than what autorickshaw drivers of Ahmedabad charge in his native Gujarat— 10 per km. “If this is not talent, then what is?" said Modi amid frequent applause from the audience. “Such a country can scale many new heights."

People had begun assembling hours in advance to hear Modi at the venue—a huge indoor stadium generally used for music concerts and sporting events. They were greeted with huge screens sporting names of “welcoming partners". While the list of welcoming partners mostly included names of various Indian-American associations and organizations, Adani group, Essar group, Amul and Sun Pharmaceuticals Industries Ltd were listed as “Diamond Patrons". The organizers of the event have not disclosed the cost of hosting the event. The rental of the venue itself is estimated at about $500,000.

Modi said his party’s big win in the Lok Sabha elections had come with a big responsibility. Listing out India’s advantages, the Prime Minister said the nation’s three strengths are democracy, a young population and that it is a huge market.

Modi said there was a great need to develop skills in India, adding he planned to invite other countries to contribute to India’s skills development.

“My government will be 100% successful in fulfilling the aspirations of the people," Modi added.

Exhibiting unusual glitz for a visiting leader, Narendra Modi was taking a star turn at the famous New York auditorium as he courted the Indian-American community on his first US visit since sweeping to power in May.

Modi is no stranger to a big stage. Madison Square Garden, however, takes it up a notch. It is home to the New York Knicks basketball team, and was where John Lennon played his last concert. Muhammad Ali fought his first bout against Joe Frazier there.

The organizers expected about 18,500 Indian-Americans to attend.

They are among the more than 30,000 across the US who had registered for free tickets. The speech was broadcast on a big screen in Times Square.

However, 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!"

They accuse the Indian leader of failing to stop the anti-Muslim rioting as chief minister of Gujarat in 2002.

Signs read “Modi, the fascist" and “Stop spreading hate in the name of Hinduism."

Inside the Garden, the audience was quite sympathetic to Modi.

US lawmakers, Indian celebrities and prominent Indian-American business people attended.

Modi spoke from a rotating platform measuring 15 meters (yards) across.

AP contributed to this story.

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Updated: 29 Sep 2014, 08:18 AM IST
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