Indian diaspora brave London cold to welcome Modi

Indian diaspora brave London cold to welcome Modi

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi\'s political problems in New Delhi seemed a long way away on Friday as he addressed an adoring crowd in a stadium daubed in the saffron, white and green of his country\'s flag. They were 4,168 miles away, to be exact.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's political problems in New Delhi seemed a long way away on Friday as he addressed an adoring crowd in a stadium daubed in the saffron, white and green of his country's flag. They were 4,168 miles away, to be exact.

The stadium was England's national football ground, Wembley, and the dancing, cheering, flag-waving crowd was made up of 62,000 members of the Indian diaspora. They had braved a cold London evening to witness the first official visit by an Indian Prime Minister to Britain in nearly a decade.

Speaking at the political rally, the high point of a three-day visit to Britain that has seen 9 billion pounds worth of trade deals signed and revived wilting bilateral relations, Modi praised India's diversity and said the country was working hard to tackle poverty.

"I am investing all my efforts and, my dear countrymen, I would like to assure you that the dreams that you have dreamt, the dreams that every Indian has dreamt, India has the capacity to fulfil those dreams and we are witnessing that," he said.

The show of political strength, three times the size of a similar event held in New York last year, masks growing dissent in India, where an internal rebellion has punctured Modi's aura of invincibility.

Elected last year on a wave of optimism over economic reforms, Modi's visit comes after a damaging local election defeat and at a time when his leadership style is under fire from members of his nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party.

But, for the crowd in London who filled out a stadium more often used for football matches and pop concerts than political speakers, Modi remained a huge draw.

"After the last 60-plus years of independence, finally we've got a leader who has a mass mandate, and is saying something the people have waited a long time to hear," said Arindam Ghosh, a nationalised Briton attending the rally with friends.

"We never celebrated India until today, we just felt so bogged down with all the corruption we had ... today is really the first time we are seeing the actual power of India being shown to the world."


Modi's visit, which included lunch with Queen Elizabeth and an audience with British counterpart David Cameron, has been dogged by protests over his party's perceived aggressive Hindu nationalist agenda.

But outside the stadium, supporters drowned out the pockets of demonstrators with chants of "Modi, Modi" as they queued to buy "We Love Modi" scarves, 10 pounds each, and paper Indian flags, two for 5 pounds.

Organisers said the four-hour rally, estimated to have cost 2.5 million pounds, had been entirely financed by corporate sponsors and donations from the 75,000 people who had applied for the free-to-attend show. Many more had turned up to the stadium in vain hope of a ticket, they said

Modi, introduced on stage by Cameron, spoke for 90 minutes, providing the climax to a three-hour cultural show that ranged from traditional yoga exhibitions and Bollywood-style dancing to a human beatbox and an Indian kilt-wearing bagpipe band.

"Despite this cold weather you have all come here in large numbers... you have shown a lot of love and affection for me. I am truly grateful to you all," Modi said.

"To our mother country, India!" he said, drawing a reply of "Victory!" from the stadium before he walked a celebratory lap around the pitch to meet the crowd.

Billed by organisers as a community celebration rather than a political rally, the event was pulled together in less than six months and on a relatively meagre 2.5 million pound budget.

The dramatic saffron, white and green stadium backdrop was created by covering seats with more than 20,000 coloured plastic shopping bags, and the event was almost entirely staffed by volunteers.

"As a community we saw what happened when he went to America and, you know, America may be bigger but Britain can do it better," said Janhavi Dadarkar, a director of the Europe India Forum non-for-profit organisation which helped set up the event.
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