Thousands of supporters, mainly from the Indian community in Australia, have flocked to hear a public address by India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Sydney, where he is on an official visit.
After the event, Modi flew to Canberra, where he is set to hold bilateral talks with Prime Minister Tony Abbott on Tuesday.
Modi, who won India’s biggest electoral victory in three decades earlier this year, was greeted like a pop star on a trip to New York in September and received a similar reception in Sydney on Monday.
“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.”
Dozens of people stood 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.
Al Jazeera’s Andrew Thomas, reporting from outside the stadium, said the crowd was at capacity and there was an overspill at the Allphones Arena Olympic Park which usually hosts the likes of international singer Katy Perry.
“Tonight it is a political superstar, Narendra Modi, who has taken over the arena,” he said.
About 20,000 people, mostly from the Indian diaspora in Australia, jammed the stadium, although some had travelled from as far as the US, Singapore and New Zealand. Reports said there were 25 television crews from India at the event.
Thomas said that this was the first visit of an Indian prime minister to Australia in 28 years, a point Modi raised at the beginning of his speech.
|About 20,000 people, mostly from the Indian diaspora in Australia, jammed the stadium [AFP]|
“He [Modi] says it is ridiculous you can fly from India overnight to Australia and land in the morning,” Thomas said.
“And he has promised the crowd that it won’t be another 28 years before the Indian prime minister returns.
There are about 450,000 people of Indian origin in Australia, including many from the student community.
Abbott will be rolling out the red carpet for Modi in Canberra, where he will address the parliament.
His trip 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, while trade between the nations has fallen.
However, the Abbott government sensed an opportunity when the pro-business Modi was elected and is keen to reignite Australian investment in India.
The Indian leader is also set to meet industry leaders and sign several agreements on drugs control, social security, tourism and cultural co-operation.
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 the AFP news agency.”PM Modi and his associates are involved in pro-Hindu movements that are trying to squash minorities.”