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Thousands cheer India's Modi at London mega-rally
[LONDON] Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi received a rock-star welcome Friday at Britain's biggest stadium, packed with some 60,000 people noisily celebrating British-Indian ties and India's growing international clout.
Members of Britain's large Indian diaspora waved India's tricolour flag, wore Modi masks and chanted Mr Modi's name between blasts of Indian pop music that had the crowd dancing in the aisles of Wembley Stadium Slick videos highlighted India's economic prowess, in a muscular production underscoring the country's shift from British colonial possession to a global power courted for its vast markets, deep-pocketed investors and strategic importance.
"We are here to experience the aura of Modi, it is the aura of truth and development. There is no comparison for him in this era," said audience member Mahdu Kabra, 32.
"He increases our proudness to be Indian." The event also underscored Mr Modi's shift from political pariah to - according to his many supporters - India's saviour, after he swept to office last year promising economic reform and less bureaucracy.
Only a few years earlier, Britain and several other countries had shunned Mr Modi due to accusations he turned a blind eye while he was chief minister of Gujarat to 2002 communal violence in which hundreds were killed.
"All great leaders had protests, look at Churchill. This is a trivial and fragile way to bring him down. It's a political vendetta," Mr Kabra said.
More accustomed to football matches than political rallies, the iconic British stadium had been thoroughly Indianised for Modi's visit.
Burger vans had been replaced by kiosks selling chicken tikka and samosas.
Inside, the hallowed turf had been covered with two giant lotus leaf designs, one in Union Jack colours, another in the white, green and saffron of the Indian tricolour.
The Indian flag had also been recreated by covering seats with plastic of the same colours near one goalmouth, where a stage had been set up for the event.
A massive "UK Welcomes Modi" banner showed on screens above the stadium's entrances.
Many of Mr Modi's supporters wore orange bandanas and scarves, the colour of Modi's ruling rightist Bharatiya Janata Party.
"The development Mr Modi has done in the last 10 years, since he has been chief minister over there, has been unbelievable," said Suresh Bhojani, 37, from Bolton.
"We're proud of him. That's why we've come to support him for a better relationship with England."
Mr Modi received a standing ovation as he prepared to address the crowd.
"There is no reason for India to remain a poor country," he said to roars of approval.
Also on stage, British Prime Minister David Cameron garnered applause, telling Indians that they put the "great into Great Britain".
"It won't be long before there's a British Indian prime minister in Downing Street," he told them.