Elvis Presley. Muhammad Ali. Narendra Modi? India's new leader is looking to make a splash when he arrives in the United States in September. He's expected to attend the U.N. General Assembly in New York and travel to Washington to meet with President Obama.
Now Modi has instructed supporters in the United States to find him a venue big enough for a grand address to the Indian diaspora planned for Sept. 28. They believe his speech could draw 100,000 people. Trouble is, they can't find a venue in the New York area that they think is big enough — and available.
MetLife Stadium — capacity 82,500 — is out; the Jets are playing the Lions that day. The Yankees are away, but their stadium — which seats 50,291 — has an "event block" that weekend to protect the grass leading into postseason. Modi's planners say they may have to settle for the far-smaller Madison Square Garden — which seats about 20,000 — the arena in the heart of the city where Presley once headlined and Muhammad Ali fought Joe Frazier. Or they may move the event farther south to Philadelphia.
In the run-up to parliamentary elections in May, Modi routinely drew hundreds of thousands to his rallies throughout India. Thousands even showed up to see him speak as a holographic image. Although he traveled to the United States as a younger man, Modi was denied a visitor's visa by the U.S. government in 2005 for failing to do enough to stop religious riots that broke out in 2002 in Gujarat, a state he was running at the time. After that, the nationalist leader was so controversial that even his video-conference addresses to U.S. audiences sparked debate, including one at the Garden.
After Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party swept to power this spring, however, U.S. officials put the visa issue to rest by extending an invitation to him to visit Washington. "This is not a simple welcome," said Chandrakant Patel, a Tampa businessman who is president of Overseas Friends of BJP, but rather "a historic event." He added, using a honorific: "People in the Indian diaspora are very happy Modi-ji is coming as prime minister."