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Screaming fans dub India's Modi a 'rock star' in Australia

SYDNEY: Thousands of rapturous supporters Monday flocked to hear a public address by Narendra Modi on the first visit by an Indian prime minister to Australia in 28 years, many declaring their love for him.

Modi, who won India’s biggest electoral victory in three decades in the April-May polls, was greeted like a pop star on a trip to New York in September and received a similar reception in Sydney, which he is visiting after attending the G20 summit in Brisbane.

“Modi’s a rock star!” screamed one supporter as the Indian premier took the stage to a wildly enthusiastic reception.

“This love, this welcome… I give this to the feet of the children of mother India,” Modi said, observing that many people were still outside, unable to gain access to the packed venue.

Modi 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 Hindu nationalism and Indian independence.

“He is our most charismatic leader and he is going to take our country to the next generation,” Sushil Chaddha, an IT consultant who has lived in Australia for three decades, told AFP in stifling heat outside Sydney’s Olympic Park.

“We all love him.”

Beside Chaddha stood dozens of people wearing “Modi in Australia” T-shirts printed with the Indian leader’s face in the style of Barack Obama’s “Yes We Can” 2008 election posters.

Others chanted “Modi, Modi, Modi!” as they jumped, sang and danced, with drums and music playing in the background.

Some 20,000 people, mostly from the Indian diaspora in Australia, jammed the stadium, although some had travelled from as far as the United States, Singapore and New Zealand. Reports said there were 25 television crews from India at the event.

Scores of supporters arrived on a train decked out in the country’s national colours.

The so-called “Modi Express” saw more than 200 supporters board a train from Melbourne for the 12-hour journey to Sydney, singing and dancing in the carriages ahead of the event.

“After a long, long time, such a phenomenon, such an excitement, such a wave has come, which is unparallelled,” one of Modi’s supporters on the train, Rakesh Raizada, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

“This is a new revolution, you can call it.”

There are around 450,000 people of Indian origin in Australia, including many from the student community, and Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott will be rolling out the red carpet for Modi in Canberra on Tuesday.

His trip Down Under — for the G20 summit in Brisbane and a state visit — comes just two months after Abbott’s tour of India, during which the two countries sealed a long-awaited nuclear energy deal.

Relations between India and Australia have been rocky in recent years with tensions flaring over allegedly racist attacks on Indian students in Melbourne, and two-way trade has done nothing but slide.

But the Abbott government sensed an opportunity when the pro-business Modi won the Indian elections in a landslide in May, and is keen to reignite Australian investment in India.

India’s foreign ministry described Modi’s visit as part of efforts to “re-engage” Australia and its businesses, and he will address parliament in Canberra on Tuesday.

The Indian leader is also set to meet industry leaders and sign several agreements on narcotics control, social security, tourism and cultural cooperation.

While Modi was largely feted, not everyone at the stadium was there to welcome him, with about 100 Sikh protesters lining a street beside the entrance.

“The main message is unity,” Karandeep Singh Chadha told AFP.

“PM Modi and his associates are involved in pro-Hindu movements that are trying to squash minorities.” -AFP

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