TIME India

India’s PM Narendra Modi Is Ordering Moguls and Bankers to Clean the Streets

Narendra Modi
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks while meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama in the White House, Washington, D.C., on Sept. 30, 2014 Evan Vucci—AP

The campaign is more than a gimmick, as India contends with a long-standing hygiene problem that imperils the economy, exposes millions to sickness and heightens the risk of sexual assault

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has brought his broom and is on a quest to clean up his country.

On Thursday, India celebrates the birthday of independence hero Mahatma Gandhi, and the nation’s new leader will mark the occasion by giving brooms to the top executives of state-run companies with instructions to sweep the streets. He will also wield a broom himself, Bloomberg reports.

“I urge every one of you to devote at least 100 hours every year, two hours every week, towards cleanliness,” said Modi, in a statement last week. “We can’t let India remain unclean any longer. On the second of October I myself will set out with a broom and contribute to this pious task.”

Meanwhile, Modi, the popular new leader of this nation of 1.2 billion people, will also call on state-owned banks to fund toilet construction. In India, some 594 million people still do not have access to toilets, according to UNICEF, posing a major health hazard. (In April, UNICEF launched a video campaign starring an army of malicious, dancing turds taking over the world to raise awareness about the dangers of defecating in the open.)

The announcement is part of Modi’s broader initiative to tackle hygiene issues that expose hundreds of millions to disease and heightened risk of sexual assault.

About 11 state-run power, coal and renewable energy companies have pledged to build 50,000 new toilets in schools, of which work on 1,001 will begin on Oct. 2, according to a government statement.

TIME India

See the History of U.S.-India Relations in 12 Photos

The United States and India have had a tumultuous relationship over the past six decades. As India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi continues his first visit to the U.S. as head of state, take a look back at the relationship between two of the world's largest nations. 

TIME India

India’s Modi Comes Full Circle at Madison Square Garden

Narendra Modi
Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India waves to the crowd as he arrives to give a speech during a reception by the Indian community in honor of his visit to the United States at Madison Square Garden, Sept. 28, 2014, in New York. Jason DeCrow—AP

Thousands of Indian Americans turned out to welcome the visiting leader at the famous New York arena

Until this weekend, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi had one thing in common with Eric Prydz, the Swedish DJ and electronic dance music star known for his elaborate concerts. Prydz’s shows are audiovisual extravaganzas complete with pulsating lasers, animations and three-dimensional holograms, including one of the man himself. Modi, too, has experience with digital doppelgängers: during the Indian national election in which his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) eventually won a large majority, the 64-year-old used the latest in high-tech wizardry to deploy holograms of himself at simultaneous rallies around the country.

Now, Prydz and the Prime Minister have two things in common.

On Sunday morning, hours after the Swedish DJ finished playing an extended set at New York City’s Madison Square Garden, lines began forming along 31st Street and up 7th Avenue for the next big act at the venue: a “community reception” for Modi, who like Prydz, made his debut at the famed arena this weekend.

Thousands of Indian Americans turned out to cheer the visiting leader, almost filling the giant hall to capacity. Over 18,000 people had been assigned free tickets via a lottery, after more than 30,000 applied to attend. Inside, as the crowd settled in, big screens above the stage flashed stylized portraits of Modi looking out into the far distance that resembled Shepard Fairey’s 2008 “Hope” poster of Barack Obama. Many in the audience wore T-shirts bearing the same image. Accompanying the crowd was a contingent of American lawmakers: New Jersey Democrat and Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair Senator Bob Menendez was there, along with over three dozen congressional colleagues, and also the Indian-American Republican governor of South Carolina, Nikki Haley.

Organized by a newly established group called the Indian American Community Foundation, the whole affair had the feel of an election rally or party convention — so much so that, at one stage, as the crowd anticipated the Prime Minister’s arrival by chanting his name, one of the M.C.s light-heartedly reminded the audience that Modi had already been elected.

His entrance after a series of musical and dance warm-up acts sent the audience into a frenzy. In his speech, delivered from a rotating platform, Modi reiterated his campaign promises to fix India’s ailing economy and announced measures to simplify visa procedures for foreigners of Indian descent. “Since taking over, I haven’t even taken a 15-minute vacation,” he said, drawing yet more cheers.

It was a date nearly 10 years in the making. In 2005, Modi, then chief minister of the western Indian state of Gujarat, was preparing to travel to the U.S. to address Indian Americans from the same New York stage, when the Bush Administration slammed the door shut in his face. The U.S. denied him a diplomatic visa and yanked his existing nondiplomatic visa under a law barring entry to any foreign government official “who was responsible for or directly carried out, at any time, particularly severe violations of religious freedom,” pointing to the bloody sectarian rioting in Gujarat on his watch in 2002. His absence at the Madison Square Garden event was marked with an empty chair on the podium

But then, in May this year, the BJP forcefully shoved a Congress Party–led coalition off the seat of power in Delhi. General elections gave the Hindu nationalists the biggest single-party parliamentary majority in three decades, a feat that firmly established Modi as the biggest beast on the national scene. The Congress, blamed for a raft of high-profile corruption scandals and for steering the economy into a ditch, was consigned to the political undergrowth. An invitation to the White House soon followed — Modi heads to Washington, D.C., on Monday — and the visa ban was conveniently forgotten.

And so, quite apart from what it means for Indo-U.S. ties, this week’s visit marks “the culmination of the re-imagination of Narendra Modi, from someone who was denied entry onto U.S. soil to a leader who is being feted by the New York and Washington, D.C., establishment,” says Milan Vaishnav, an associate with the South Asia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

The size of the Madison Square Garden rally might also prove politically useful as Modi meets President Barack Obama, says Vaishnav. “It’s a politically savvy move. It sends the message that, in addition to a very large support base back home, Modi also has supporters in the U.S. It says to the American government, Look, I have a constituency among your voters, not just mine.”

But the hype and excitement isn’t just about Modi, says Devesh Kapur, the director of the Center for the Advanced Study of India at the University of Pennsylvania. “It’s a signal from the Indian-American community that it has ‘arrived.’ There’s a part of it which is about Modi, the rock-star politician. But it’s also a signal by the community to the politicians here in the U.S. to take them seriously.”

Not that everyone is celebrating Modi’s visit. While the audience inside cheered and applauded him, a small group of protesters outside Madison Square Garden on Sunday chanted anti-Modi slogans, questioning his record on religious minorities. And last week, shortly before he touched down in the U.S., a New York court issued a summons for him to respond to a lawsuit accusing him of rights abuses connected to the 2002 Gujarat riots. Though officials from both India and the U.S. stressed that he had immunity as a visiting head of government, the summons was an awkward reminder of Modi’s controversial past as the White House prepared to roll out the red carpet for the new Indian leader.

TIME India

Modi Courts Indian-Americans at Madison Sq Garden

India's Prime Minister Modi addresses the 69th United Nations General Assembly at the U.N. headquarters in New York
India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses the 69th United Nations General Assembly at the U.N. headquarters in New York on Sept. 27, 2014. Eduardo Munoz—RReuters

NEW YORK (AP) — A day after addressing a hushed U.N. General Assembly, where headphone-wearing delegates rarely break into a smile, India’s new prime minister is assured a raucous reception as he addresses a crowd from a rotating stage at Madison Square Garden.

Exhibiting unusual glitz for a visiting leader, Narendra Modi takes a star turn at the famous New York auditorium as he courts the Indian-American community on his first U.S. visit since sweeping to power in May.

Modi is no stranger to a big stage. Backed by huge corporate wealth, he was the center of the slickest election campaign India has seen, drawing huge crowds. Indian media quickly gave him the celebrity-like nickname of “NaMo.”

Madison Square Garden, however, takes it up a notch. It is home to the New York Knicks basketball team, and was where John Lennon played his last concert. Muhammad Ali fought his first bout against Joe Frazier there.

Organizers expect about 18,500 Indian-Americans to attend. They are among more than 30,000 across the U.S. who had registered for free tickets. The speech will also be broadcast on a big screen in Times Square.

Modi won a spectacular electoral victory in May and was catapulted into the international arena. This marked a major change since 2005, when the U.S. denied him a visa for his alleged complicity in sectarian violence in his home state of Gujarat.

Now he’s being courted by world leaders, and on Monday and Tuesday, President Barack Obama will host Modi at the White House.

The Indian leader, a Hindu nationalist, hasn’t entirely shed questions about his past.

A federal court in New York on Friday issued a summons for Modi for a lawsuit brought by a U.S. human rights group. It was filed on behalf of victims of the Gujarat violence that claimed more than 1,000 lives, mostly Muslims.

The group offered a $10,000 reward for anyone who is able to serve the summons on Modi, even though as a head of state he enjoys immunity from lawsuits in American courts while in the U.S.

While some anti-Modi protesters are expected outside the venue, the audience inside will be sympathetic — and high-powered too. U.S. lawmakers, Indian celebrities and prominent Indian-American business people are due to attend.

Modi will speak from a rotating platform measuring 15 meters (yards) across. He will speak Hindi, but is expected to give some remarks in English, according to event organizer, the Indian-American Community Foundation.

The foundation says more than 400 partner organizations have helped to spread the word and distribute tickets for the event, with financial support by Indian American people and businesses. They are billing it as one of the largest receptions ever held for a foreign head of state in the U.S.

Although Modi remains a divisive figure, the event is a sign of his appeal not just at home but among the Indian diaspora as a leader who can tackle pervasive corruption and inefficiency, and revive the sluggish Indian economy.

It also reflects the growing clout of the 2.8 million Indian-Americans, one of the wealthiest diaspora communities in the U.S. which can help Modi spur trade and foreign investment.

TIME

Pictures of the Week: Sept. 19 – Sept. 26

From Syrian Kurds fleeing ISIS and the People’s Climate March to synchronized aquatics at the Asian Games and Derek Jeter’s perfect send off, TIME presents the best pictures of the week.

 

TIME India

Floods Have Killed 73 in India’s Northeast

People use cycle rickshaws to commute through a flooded road after heavy rains in Guwahati
People use rickshaws to commute through a flooded road after heavy rains in the northeastern Indian city of Guwahati on Sept. 23, 2014 Utpal Baruah—Reuters

Hundreds of thousands of people have been forced to evacuate their homes

Around 73 people have been killed in India’s northeast, after flash floods and landslides hit two states in the region.

A senior government official in Meghalaya told the Associated Press on Wednesday that 35 bodies had been recovered over the past two days with 15 people still missing. Police in neighboring Assam said the floods had claimed 38 lives there.

Hundreds of thousands of people have been forced from their homes in both states mere weeks after flash floods in Kashmir killed over 400 people, about half of them in Pakistan. Local news channel NDTV reported that the army and disaster-response forces have been evacuating people, with authorities setting up 162 relief camps in the worst-affected areas.

The Assam-Meghalaya floods have so far not seen the kind of backlash against alleged government inaction that marked the Kashmir floods.

“We are taking all relief and rescue measures in the flood-hit districts,” said Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi.

TIME space travel

India Has Sent a Spacecraft Into Mars Orbit

The Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle rocket lifts off carrying India's Mars spacecraft from the east-coast island of Sriharikota, India, Nov. 2013.
The Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle rocket lifts off carrying India's Mars spacecraft from the east-coast island of Sriharikota, India, Nov. 2013. Arun Sankar K—AP

That makes it the first Asian country to achieve the feat and the only country to do so on a first attempt

Indian spacecraft Mangalyaan (also called the Mars Orbiter Mission or MOM) entered Mars orbit at approximately 10.30 p.m. E.T. on Tuesday, making India the first Asian country to accomplish the feat.

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is now the fourth space agency to have successfully completed a Mars mission — joining those of the U.S., Russia and Europe — and the South Asian nation is the only country to enjoy success on a maiden mission to Mars.

Another superlative: Mangalyaan has set a record for the cheapest Mars mission, costing just $67 million. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi earlier claimed that it was less expensive than the Oscar-winning film Gravity, Indian news channel NDTV reported.

In comparison, NASA’s MAVEN, which entered Mars’ orbit a day earlier, cost 10 times as much.

ISRO announced the news of Mangalyaan with this tweet:

Modi was monitoring the mission’s progress at ISRO headquarters as the team behind Mangalyaan — which simply means “Mars craft” — broke into cheers. He commended the Indian scientists who worked on the mission.

TIME Foreign Policy

Obama Names Indian-American Richard Verma as New U.S. Ambassador to India

Holbrooke Testifies Before Senate On Afghanistan And Pakistan
Richard Verma in conversation with the late Richard Holbrooke, U.S. special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, while the latter testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Capitol Hill, in Washington, D.C., on July 14, 2010 Chip Somodevilla—Getty Images

The nomination of the former State Department official comes as Indian PM Narendra Modi is set to visit the U.S. later this month

Richard Verma was announced as the new U.S. ambassador to India on Thursday, according to a statement from the White House.

Verma, a former State Department official, will be the first Indian American to hold the post once he is confirmed by Congress. He has been associated with the Obama Administration since 2008, serving as Assistant Secretary of State for Legislative Affairs under Hillary Clinton from 2009 to 2011, and is currently a senior counselor at law firm Steptoe & Johnson as well as the Albright Stonebridge Group.

Verma’s appointment comes just before Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit on Sept. 29, as Obama attempts to strengthen Indo-U.S. ties to counterbalance to China’s growing power. Modi was denied a U.S. visa in 2005 as chief minister of Gujarat, three years after communal riots killed over 1,000 people in his state.

The previous ambassador to India, Nancy Powell, resigned last year amid a controversy over the treatment of Indian diplomat Devayani Khobragade, who was reportedly arrested and strip-searched in New York City after being accused of underpaying a domestic worker and perpetrating visa fraud.

Verma will not be confirmed before November, however, as lawmakers begin campaigning for the Nov. 4 congressional elections over the next six weeks.

TIME India

Why the World’s Most Powerful Leaders Really Love India

Xi Jinping, Narendra Modi
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and visiting Chinese President Xi Jinping walk for a meeting in New Delhi, India, Thursday, Sept. 18, 2014. Manish Swarup—AP

Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to India highlights the geopolitical contest reshaping Asia

Some of the world’s most important people are wooing India’s new Prime Minister Narendra Modi like teenage boys drooling over the homecoming queen. Less than a month ago, Modi was feted in Japan on his five-day official visit, during which he even received an unexpected hug from usually stiff Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. This week, Modi is hosting China’s President Xi Jinping, who upon his arrival in the country on Wednesday, proclaimed that Beijing wishes “to forge a closer development partnership and jointly realize our great dreams of building strong and prosperous nations.”

Why has Modi become so popular? The reason can be found in how Asia is changing, politically and economically. Ever since China’s paramount leader Deng Xiaoping launched his country’s remarkable economic miracle in the early 1980s, the old Cold War divisions in the region melted away amid increasing economic integration. According to the Asian Development Bank, trade between Asian countries accounted for 50% of their total trade in 2013, up from 30% in 1985. But with China flexing the political and military muscles it has acquired from growing wealth, Asia is becoming split into two camps once again – one centered on China, the other on the U.S. and its allies, including Japan, South Korea and the Philippines. Each side is looking to bolster its support in the region in order to gain leverage on the other. Tokyo, embroiled in a tense stand-off with Beijing over disputed islands in the East China Sea, is looking to build a network of allies to “contain” a rising China. Meanwhile, Beijing is aiming to create a power bloc of its own in the region to counteract U.S. influence.

India has become a key wild card in this new geopolitical power game. As a rising power in its own right, and a huge potential source of new business in everything from espressos to expressways, whichever side manages to lure New Delhi into its orbit will tilt the scales in its favor.

Both camps are making their best pitch. Japan’s Abe took the unusual step of traveling from Tokyo to the historic city of Kyoto to personally welcome Modi to the country. Xi ventured all the way to Modi’s home state of Gujarat on this visit, even donning an Indian-style vest. Abe sent off Modi with a promise of $33 billion of new investment. Xi is reportedly planning to top that during his India visit, dangling an even bigger package of $100 billion.

On purely economic grounds, you’d think Xi has an advantage in his quest for Modi’s favor. Trade between the two has exploded, to nearly $66 billion in 2013 from a mere $1.2 billion in 1996. Their economic links will likely continue to strengthen as Chinese companies become more and more important global investors and Chinese consumers more and more important customers. The world’s two most-populous nations would appear to have many economic interests in common as well. Their companies, accustomed to operating in an emerging economy and selling to emerging consumers, are attracted to the potential of each other’s markets. China’s Xiaomi, for instance, has successfully lured Indian customers to its cut-rate smartphones as it has in China. Wouldn’t Modi be wise to hitch his country to the world’s rising power, rather than Japan, a declining one? That would bring to life the economic power of what’s been termed “Chindia.”

But China-India relations are more complicated than that. After India’s independence in 1947, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru thought his new nation would find a friend in newly communist China. The spirit of the times was captured in the phrase Hindi Chini bhai-bhai, or “Indians and Chinese are brothers.” That hope was dashed, however. India has incensed China by allowing Tibet’s Dalai Lama, who Beijing considers a dangerous separatist, to reside in exile in India. Modi, in fact, invited Tibet’s prime minister-in-exile to his inauguration in May. Relations are also continually roiled by border disputes. In 1962, the two fought a nasty border war, and the causes of that conflict linger to this day. The two countries contest land along their border in India’s far north in Ladakh, while China claims India’s eastern province of Arunachal Pradesh. China perennially irritates India over these unresolved issues. Just last week, only days before Xi’s much-heralded visit, India charged that Chinese troops are building a road in the contested territory in Ladakh. In talks with Xi on Thursday, Modi urged the Chinese President to finally resolve their border disagreements.

Such tensions are clearly weighing on Modi’s mind. He has apparently embarked on a mission to upgrade India’s military capabilities and relationships. Abe and Modi during their recent summit agreed to strengthen military ties, and in August, New Delhi and Washington pledged to do the same during U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s visit to India. One of the first economic reforms Modi announced after becoming Prime Minister was easing restrictions on foreign investment into India’s defense sector, a move aimed at bolstering its technology and production capacities. It is an open secret who is the target of all these military moves. While in Japan, Modi took a swipe at an assertive China when he told business leaders in Tokyo that “everywhere around us, we see an 18th century expansionist mind-set: encroaching on another country, intruding in others’ waters, invading other countries and capturing territory.”

Modi, then, is attempting to have his halwa and eat it, too — playing off both sides to win as many goodies as he can. In his quest to restart India’s economic miracle by building much-needed infrastructure and boosting manufacturing, Modi will need all the money he can get — from China, the U.S., Japan and anyone else who is offering. India has always been wary of trying itself too tightly into any one political camp — during the Cold War Nehru was the leading figure behind what was known as the “nonaligned movement.” The question is how long Modi can play one side off the other. We may find out soon enough. Later this month, Modi will travel to Washington to meet with President Barack Obama. Let’s see what goodies he picks up there.

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser