New York’s Madison Square Garden has played host to rock and roll royalty for decades and this weekend, the iconic venue is preparing to welcome a star of a whole new variety.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on his first trip to New York, is set to draw perhaps the largest every crowd by a foreign leader on U.S. soil when he takes the stage at the venue on Sunday at an event that is expected to draw more than 20,000 people.
Thousands more are expected to gather at New York’s Times Square to watch his speech on big screens whilst smaller viewing parties are reportedly being organized by Indian-Americans around the US.
It is a huge moment for the wealthy and influential Indian Diaspora community in North America to welcome their leader who was once barred from the United States and several other western countries over allegations of communalism while he was Chief Minister of Gujarat.
The event at Madison Square Garden will be attended by scores of prominent Indian Americans with emceeing duties given to Nina Davuluri, who last year became the first woman of Indian origin to be crowned Miss America.
“Indian citizens and diaspora over the world are hopeful that this (Modi) administration will cut bureaucracy and focus on people,” said Dr. Dinesh Patel, chief of arthroscopic surgery at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, who arrived in the United States more than 50 years ago.
Patel, who says he was given an award for work in education by Modi, a fellow Gujarati, added: “People are passionate to see the new leader. Another Narendra is coming to this country to let the USA know what India is about.”
The first Narendra was Swami Vivekananda, a 19th-century philosopher and monk who propagated the Hindu faith in the United States.
Modi often cites a speech by Vivekananda, born Narendra Nath Datta, to the Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893, as a source of inspiration.
“Let us remember the words of Swami Vivekananda and dedicate ourselves to furthering the cause of unity, brotherhood and world peace,” Modi wrote Sept. 11 to his 6.5 million followers on Twitter.
Mr Modi swept to power by an overwhelming majority in India’s general election in May and has promised to kick-start India’s stagnant economy.
The former tea boy’s politics is driven by development and an entrepreneurial mantra that many in the United States identify with.
However, tensions remain between the two nations over trade and spying.
Mr Modi, 64, was denied a U.S. visa in 2005 over his alleged role in communal rioting that left hundreds, mainly Muslims, dead in 2002.
He has been exonerated by subsequent investigations.
Mr Modi is expected to meet President Barack Obama on Monday and Tuesday and many, particularly within the Indian business community in the US, are hoping that talks will pave the way for a more conducive business environment for investors.
Despite the rock star treatment that he is bound to receive, Mr Modi is set to observe a strict fast in lieu of Navratri during his US trip.
It will certainly be a test of Mr Modi’s stamina as his schedule also takes in appearances at the UN General Assembly and countless other engagements.
Mr Modi will reportedly restrict himself to a “liquid diet” throughout the Navratri festival, when Hindus worship mother goddess Durga in all her manifestations.
“He will only consume lemonade with some honey and a cup of tea every day,” a senior official in Modi’s office in New Delhi told Reuters.
“He has been fasting for the last four decades and does not want to change this pattern even while he is travelling,” added the unnamed official.
Whilst some devotees restrict their diet to fruit and vegetables others, like the strictly vegetarian Mr Modi, do not eat at all.
During the festival he reportedly wakes up at 4 a.m., meditates, prays and carries a bottle of lemonade with him throughout the day.
One official who worked with Mr Modi in Gujarat said the Prime Minister has even spurned the advice of doctors who have encouraged him to consume fruits as he grows older.
US officials have reportedly been informed about Mr Modi’s fast.
President Obama will not treat Mr Modi to a state banquet as the Indian leader does not hold the rank of head of state.