From Madison Square Garden to ‘Howdy Modi’: A look back at Narendra Modi’s visits to the US

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is in Washington for his first foreign tour in six months to engage directly with the Joe Biden administration in the United States.

Modi, on a three-day visit to the US, will participate in the first in-person summit of Quad leaders, review the India-US Comprehensive Global Strategic Partnership with US president Joe Biden, meet top executives of major American companies and US vice president Kamala Harris and address the United Nations meet on 24 September.

This is not Modi’s first visit to the United States — he has visited six times since taking office in 2014 and his last was in September 2019 when he and the then US president Donald Trump addressed the ‘Howdy Modi’ event in Houston.

2014 visit

After storming to power in May of 2014, Narendra Modi scheduled a US visit in September where he met then US president Barack Obama and enthralled the Indian-American community through his Madison Square Garden address.

The visit assumed great significance as this was Modi’s first since America had denied him a diplomatic visa to the US for his government’s alleged complicity in 2002 Godhra riots in 2005.

During his visit, the two leaders – Modi and Obama – struck up a great bonhomie, which was evident in photographs and even their joint statement in which they resolved to “to broaden their cooperation in various fields including defence, intelligence, counter-terrorism, Afghanistan, space exploration and science”.

The two leaders also wrote a joint editorial for the Washington Post — Forward together we go – chalein saath saath — asking both countries to move forward together for a better world. However, if there was one aspect of his visit that stood out, it was his Madison Square Garden address. In an arena which has hosted Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Presley and Muhammad Ali, it was Narendra Modi, a one-time pariah, who received a superstar welcome from some 20,000 cheering NRIs. In his over hour-long speech in Hindi, Modi promised good governance saying after a gap of 30 years India has got a government at the Centre with a clear majority.

Winning elections brought with it a big responsibility, he said. “Ever since I took up this task (as prime minister), I have not taken even a 15-minute vacation,” he said.

Modi said there was no need for any disillusionment. “India is going to march ahead at a very fast pace.”

The Modi-Obama friendship was also reflected when in a rare gesture, Modi and Obama visited the Martin Luther King Jr Memorial and paid a joint homage to the leader of African-American Civil Rights Movement.

And if all this wasn’t enough, he addressed nearly 60,000 people gathered at Central Park for the Global Citizen Festival, where he was introduced by none other than ‘Wolverine’ himself, Hugh Jackman.

Wooing tech in 2015

Narendra Modi returned to America in 2015 in September to address the United Nations General Assembly and from there to the West Coast and Silicon Valley, home of the intrepid Indian techie-entrepreneur-innovator.

In California, the PM visited the campuses of Google and Tesla Motors. He also took a tour of the offices of Facebook Inc, in Palo Alto and held a Townhall Q&A at the Facebook HQ along with Mark Zuckerberg.

He also addressed the Indian diaspora once again at the SAP Center Arena in San Jose. Organised by the Indian-American community of the West Coast, more than 45,000 Indians expected for the reception for the prime minister.

Modi at the US Congress in 2016

Narendra Modi made two visits to America in 2016.

First, in March of 2016, he visited Washington, DC to attend the two-day Nuclear Security Summit where world leaders from over 50 countries shared their assessment of the threat from nuclear weapons and materials.

He later made a second visit in June 2016 during which he addressed a Joint Meeting of the US Congress.

Modi became the fifth prime minister of India to address a joint meeting of Congress. Earlier, Prime Ministers Manmohan Singh (July 19, 2005), Atal Bihari Vajpayee (September 14, 2000), P V Narasimha Rao (May 18, 1994) and Rajiv Gandhi (July 13, 1985) addressed the joint meeting of the US Congress.

First meeting with Trump in 2017

In 2017, Modi made his fifth visit to the US and this was the first time he met Donald Trump, who had assumed power in America.

During the meeting between the two leaders focused on pushing the strategic ties.

Trump hosted Prime Minister Modi for a ‘working dinner’, in a first, at the White House.

Ahead of the meet, there were low expectations from both sides with Modi not being a golfer and Trump not a yoga enthusiast, one an ascetic vegetarian and the other fond of a well done steak doused with ketchup.

However, at the end of the tour, it appeared that Modi’s “diplohugs” and Twitter diplomacy had succeeded with Trump.

The visit also saw the US State Department designating Hizbul Mujahideen chief Syed Salahuddin as a “global terrorist”. There was also the announcement that US had cleared the sale of 22 Guardian unmanned aerial vehicles to India.

Howdy Modi in 2019

Prime Minister Narendra Modi returned to the US in September 2019 to attend the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

His schedule also included interactions with the business community.

However, the highlight of this visit came in the form of his address to the Indian diaspora at the “Howdy, Modi” event in Houston, Texas. What was even more special was that Donald Trump accompanied Modi to the NRG Stadium in Houston for the event.

Describing the joint appearance of the two leaders as “unconventional and unique”, Harsh Vardhan Shringla, Indian Ambassador to the US said, “the event will reflect the strong bipartisan support there has been for US-India relations.” -(FirstPost)

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