Prime Minister Narendra Modi invited overseas Indians to help fulfill the dream of a clean and strong India during his public address at the Allphones Arena on Monday, reprising an appeal made in the US where he sold out New York’s Madison Square Garden in September.
Some 16,000 people, mostly from the Indian diaspora in Australia, jammed the stadium and many turned up in bespoke “Modi in Australia” T-shirts printed with his face in the style of Barack Obama’s “Yes We Can” 2008 election posters. Others chanted “Modi, Modi, Modi!” as they jumped for joy, sang and danced, with drums and music playing in the background.
Scores of supporters arrived on a chartered train from Melbourne decked out in colours of the Indian flag and dubbed the “Modi Express”.
“This welcome, this respect, this enthusiasm … I dedicate it to the people of India,” Modi said.
Modi’s appearance at the 21,000-seat arena, which hosted the Rolling Stones last week, underscored the rock star status he enjoys among many Indians at home and abroad.
“Modi’s a rock star!” screamed a supporter as he took the stage in a white kurta-pyjama, a Dodger blue waistcoat and slip-on sandals.
“I know that behind this affection lie expectations,” Modi told the clapping crowd. “We want to create the India you are dreaming of.”
He promised visa on arrival to Australian tourists and announced a two-month deadline for the pending merger of Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) and Persons of Indian Origin (PIO) status, repeating an offer he made to expatriates in the US.
He drew cheers from the crowd when he referenced the two nations’ shared passion, saying neither “Australia nor India can live without cricket”.
His speech also covered topics such as economic reforms unveiled by his government and hoped that Australian companies would invest in creating rail infrastructure in the country since FDI in the railways has been hiked to 100%.
Modi invited the diaspora to join his Swachch Bharat or Clean India campaign and build at least one toilet in the village of their origin in India.
“Dirt attracts illness and the poor man suffers, because of which work days are lost and monetarily too ... I invite your participation in the drive,” he said, emphasising his pledge to “give Mahatma Gandhi a clean India” on his 150th birth anniversary in 2019.
He also referred to his government’s efforts to weed out obsolete laws. “Let’s open the windows, let fresh air come in,” Modi said.
He said he felt fortunate to be the first Prime Minister born in independent India and, hence, felt a greater responsibility. “We did not get the opportunity to die for the nation or spend our youth in jail. But we can surely live for the nation.”
Modi reached Canberra in the evening, where he will meet Australian premier Tony Abbot on Tuesday and discuss, among other issues on the table, ways to get past hurdles on import of thermal coal and uranium. He is also set to meet industry leaders and sign several agreements on narcotics control, social security, tourism and cultural cooperation.