India’s Man of the People meets Madison Square Garden

Article by Carlos Po

The date is September 30, 2014. US and Indian officials sit down for dinner at the White House as they prepare for discussion on strengthening the alliance between the two nations later in the week.

Idly chatting away, they feast on gastronomic delights such as compressed avocado served with goat cheese and crisped halibut with ginger-carrot sauce… all except for one man who has nothing in front of him but a glass of warm water. This is all he will allow himself to consume for the next five days. “Please don’t feel embarrassed and please continue with your food,” he says. The man will be fasting for nine days, in accordance with the Hindu celebration Navratri. His name is Narendra Modi, the official prime minister of India and unofficial man of the people.

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Born on September 30, 1950 to Heeraben and Damodardas Mulchand Modi as the third of six children, young Narendra would sell tea with his father at the railway station and his brother at a bus stop to help keep food on the table. Despite earning only average grades in school, his true passion early on lay in debate. Modi had already kickstarted his political career by his teenage years upon joining the youth wing of Hindu nationalist party, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

September 28 of this year marked Modi’s big debut to the international community at Madison Square Garden, as he opened to a roaring crowd of over 18,000 people who showed their support with posters and shirts of Modi’s face. To the Indian community, Modi is a legendary figure and on the international stage too, Modi is fast reaching rock star status.

But not all celebrated his visit, as few protesters recited anti-Modi slogans outside the garden.

Modi’s alleged role in the Gujarat riots of 2002 may be to blame. The Gujarat riots were a series of riots in response to an attack on a public train thought to have been orchestrated by Modi in order to start a pogrom: a type of ethnic cleansing. Over 750 Muslims and 250 Hindus were killed in the resulting turmoil, with 2,500 injured and multiple reports of gang rape and looting. While Modi received summons for human rights abuses and crimes against humanity, he had been granted immunity as a head of government, which continues to incite much backlash. Nevertheless, it is clear that Modi, as any successful political figure, has his fair share of enemies.

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As he sips from his glass, Modi converses with U.S. president Barack Obama. The topic switches to something all too familiar to him: terrorism. With the goal of fostering ever stronger US-India relations, Modi commits to joining US airstrikes against the rising terrorist threat that is the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS). As Modi has made himself more than comfortable on US soil, the question now is on what exciting possibilities the future holds as two powerful nations unite against a common threat.