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Modi thanks UAE leadership for ‘unforgettable’ welcome


Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday thanked the UAE leadership for extending him a warm welcome and making his first visit to the country memorable.

Addressing a public reception attended by thousands of Indian expatriates at the Dubai International Stadium in Sports City, Modi said the warm welcome that he received from His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, was unforgettable.

“It is not the honour that I got, but the honour that 1.25 billion people of India got and the honour that India is getting around the world with its changed image,” he said.

Speaking of Dubai, Modi referred to it as a microcosm of the world, as well as of India, given the number of Indians who live and work in the UAE.

“People from every nook and corner of India, I bow before you,” Modi said to the crowd. “You are people who have reached the acme of hard work in the search for livelihood, but who have never compromised on the dignity of India [in pursuit of that goal]. It is your collective attitude and behaviour in this country that makes India take pride in you.”

On the expatriate community’s close bond with India, Modi said: “So close are you to India that if it rains there, the UAE resident opens his umbrella and in times of natural disasters in India, it is our brethren here that is unable to sleep.”

Speaking of the close ties between UAE and India, exemplified by the fact that there are 700 flights [per week] between the two countries, Modi took a potshot at previous Indian governments by saying that it took 34 years for an Indian prime minister to visit the UAE.

Earlier in the evening, the enthusiasm of Indian residents to see and hear their prime minister was palpable as tens of thousands of people thronged the venue.

Residents began descending on the stadium as early as noon with heavy traffic hitting Hessa Street on the approach to Dubai Sports City from 2pm. Residents were made to park in sandy areas away from the stadium to better manage traffic flow. Shuttle buses ferried some attendees while those who could not be accommodated in the buses walked to the stadium.

There was a mad rush by the time residents reached the main entrance at around 3pm. Security personnel and Dubai Police officials tried to manage the crowd but, due to the volume of people coming in, those on the left-hand side of the queue lost their cool.

Four metal barriers that were used to contain the crowd collapsed as people pushed their way to the main entrance. An elderly lady fell down when the metal barrier she was leaning on gave way.

“Security was present but [security personnel] were helpless. Most of the men were pushing against each other to get in. Everybody had a pass; there was no need for [pushing],” Anant, 45, who came with his wife and two kids from Abu Dhabi, told Gulf News.

Anant’s wife, Geetha, said she had to scream at the men to behave properly.

“Out of fear of the kids getting squeezed, I shouted for them to stop. After that, the men gave way,” Geetha said.

Namita, a banker based in Bur Dubai, said she was separated from her husband on their way in. She was allowed to enter with her mother, 65, and daughter, 8.

“We were shocked to see the crowds. How can you manage [such large crowds]? But for now, it’s good,” she said.

Arvind Pillai, 60, a jeweller from Ajman, said given the size of the crowd, the people’s eagerness was normal. He said he didn’t have any problems entering the stadium.

“The crowd was very eager to get inside. It’s an important occasion for us so we understand. But the organisers could have segregated the crowds early on so there would be a better queuing system at the main entrance. That would have been an ideal situation. But all in all, it’s OK,” Pillai said.

Inside the stadium, men wearing orange T-shirts embossed with Modi’s picture cheered and waved the tricolour.

Some residents had their face painted in the colours of the Indian flag while others sported paper flags on their heads.

Cultural dances from different parts of India kept the crowd entertained from 5.45pm as they waited for Modi’s speech that began around 8pm.