Senior officials from India’s opposition Congress party this weekend questioned the authenticity of the thousands of expats who have flocked to catch a glimpse of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Australia.
However, the newly-elected premier has built a reputation for being unperturbed about questions surrounding his popularity, particularly among Non-Resident Indians.
Mr Modi was greeted by yet another mammoth crowd at a sports stadium in Sydney on Monday, with many of the supporters traveling hundreds of miles on a train named the ‘Modi Express’, frantically cheering the Indian leader.
“I know that behind this affection lie expectations,” Modi told the excited crowd. “We want to create the India you are dreaming of.”
Modi’s appearance at the 21,000-seat Allphones Arena, which hosted the Rolling Stones last week, underscored the rock star status he enjoys among some Indians abroad.
He promised lifetime visas to people of Indian origin, repeating an offer he made to expatriates in the United States that would seek to strengthen cultural and business ties between overseas Indians and their home country.
One audience member told Reuters that many found Mr Modi “very inspiring” and “made a lot of sense”.
About 300,000 Indians live in Australia, but trade between the two countries stands at around $15 billion a year, or just a tenth of that between Australia and China.
Modi urged overseas Indians to boost investment at home, reprising an appeal made elsewhere, including the United States, where he sold out New York’s Madison Square Garden in September.
He took office in May vowing to create jobs and ignite the Indian economy after years of sluggish growth, launching signature initiatives such as ‘Make in India’ and ‘Clean India’.
Modi often reminds voters of his humble roots as the son of a railway-station tea vendor, in contrast to the privileged circumstances of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty that has dominated Indian politics since independence from Britain in 1947.
Australia is emerging as a key source of thermal coal for India’s growing number of electricity users, as they give up older fuels such as wood and kerosene.
Indian trade and infrastructure conglomerate Adani Enterprises has signed a pact for a loan of up to $1 billion from the State Bank of India for a $6 billion Australian coal mine, rail and port project.
Another Indian conglomerate, GVK, and Australian billionaire Gina Rinehart, have won an environmental permit for a second coal mine in Australia, costing $10 billion.
But Modi still has some way to go in winning over potential investors.
“He is expecting people to contribute,” said Santosh Kashid, who migrated to Sydney 10 years ago.
“However, unless you make India a place to live and work it won’t be possible to attract people back home.”