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India's Modi scores away victory in the UAE Open in fullscreen

Paul McLoughlin

India's Modi scores away victory in the UAE

Modi was the first Indian prime minister to visit to UAE in three decades [AFP]

Date of publication: 18 August, 2015

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At a packed cricket stadium in Dubai, Indian prime minister Narendra Modi wooed expats and reinvented himself as a Muslim-friendly statesman.
Yesterday, 50,000 Indians packed into a Dubai cricket stadium designed to hold half that number, as Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi give his maiden speech in an Arab country.

The crowd was hyped after hours of live music and dancing on a stage decked with Indian flags, which marked the highlight of Modi's two-day tour to the Emirates.

It followed a "rock n' roll" approach to politics the Indian leader has become famous, which helped him to victory in the 2014 elections.

Maiden visit

This was also the first visit by an Indian prime minister to the UAE, where two million Indians live, for 34 years.

Modi's speech appeared designed to arouse passion and pride in Mother India for Indians in the Gulf.

It was also a way of showing Indians their new powerful status in the world, particularly after Modi outlined a number of rewards he had won from the oil-rich country.

This includes the allocation of land in Abu Dhabi for a Hindu temple. Modi also revealed in the speech that the UAE was preparing to invest $75 billion in the world's second most populous country.

"You are the people who have worked hard... some for 10 years, some for 20 years and some for 30 years. You are not only earning your living, but also making India proud," Modi told the expat crowd.

No doubt, this point will be a boost for Modi's "Start Up India, Stand Up India" entrepreneurship drive, which he revealed on Indian Independence Day, 15 August.

Indians have a long history in the UAE and contributed heavily to the country's economic development. Labourers built the skyscrapers that line Dubai's boulevards, while Indian CEOs contributed to the kick-start of the UAE's service boom.

Muslim-friendly

UAE is home to one of the largest Indian diasporas in the world, but Indian media has hinted at Modi's attempts to paint a more Muslim-friendly image of his leadership on the world stage.

Modi and his Hindu nationalist party have been dogged with accusations of Islamophobia.

He famously refused to wear a Muslim "skull cap" when he visited a mosque in 2011.

India has also pursued close relationship with Israel under his leadership, with joint cooperation on a number of military and technology initiatives.

However, it was the Indian People's Party (BJP) leader's role in anti-Muslim pogroms in 2002, when he was chief minister of Gujarat, which has earned him the ire of many Muslim leaders inside and outside India.

After communalist violence, mostly Hindu rioters' killed hundreds of Indian Muslims in Gujarat. The police, who were under his command, did little to quell the unrest, and sometimes "helped" in the killings.

This saw him become something of an international pariah - being slapped with a travel ban to the US - and Modi has been eager for a reappraisal of his image.

It is why Modi's visit the Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi has been interpreted as a "conciliatory" step.

Others have pointed out that a trip to one of the UAE's landmark sites is hardly unheard of by visiting statesmen, but Modi's "selfie" inside the mosque was promoted on social media.

However, many believe that money and investment where at the heart of Modi's visit, who is known for putting business first.

Times of India editorial cartoon, yesterday.

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