NEW YORK- Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi basked in a rock star US welcome as he vowed to build a strong, confident country ahead of his first White House summit Monday.
In a massive show of support for a right-wing leader once shunned by Washington, some 18,500 people of Indian origin from across the United States and Canada packed Sunday into New York’s Madison Square Garden, where they chanted his name and wore T-shirts bearing his picture.
Modi, who Monday will enjoy a red carpet welcome at the White House, renewed campaign pledges to unlock India’s economic potential by streamlining bureaucracy.
He hailed Indian Americans for showing an example through their professional successes.
“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 promised to start lifetime visas for foreigners of Indian origin and, endorsing a proposal of the previous government without setting a date, to issue visas on arrival for US citizens.
“This kind of love has not been given to any Indian leader ever,” he said of the Indian-American reception.
“I will repay that loan by building the India of your dreams.”
Modi, who won India’s widest electoral victory in three decades in April-May elections, fired back at critics who have urged him to launch quicker reforms as he recalled his humble background running a tea stall as a teenager.
“People ask for a big vision? Well, I got here by selling tea,” Modi, speaking for an hour in Hindi without notes, said to thunderous applause.
“I’m a very modest man, and that’s why I plan to do big things for modest people,” he said, listing promises that include building more toilets and cleaning the Ganges holy river.
Pointing to US leaders’ statements that Asia will dominate the 21st century, Modi said: “And some say it will be India’s century. India has the capacity to achieve that potential.”