PM Modi in UAE: Expat-packed Abu Dhabi stadium sees multicultural splendour of India

Dancers at Ahlan Modi event
Dance performance at the Zayed Sports City Stadium in Abu Dhabi for the Ahlan Modi event on February 13, 2024. Screenshot courtesy: X/@narendramodi

The unity in diversity that India is famous for was on full display at the Zayed Sports City Stadium in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday. The expat-packed arena greeted Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who in turn sprinkled his address with several Indian languages and some Arabic.

UAE Minister of Tolerance and Co-existence Sheikh Nahayan Mabarak Al Nahyan received PM Modi outside the stadium, the venue for the high-voltage event ‘Ahlan Modi’ (‘Hello Modi’ in Arabic). He also joined the prime minister at the community celebrations attended by Indians, some Emiratis, and UAE officials.

PM Modi at Ahlan Modi event
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the Zayed Sports City Stadium in Abu Dhabi for the Ahlan Modi event. Screenshot courtesy: X/@narendramodi

Modi is in the United Arab Emirates for a two-day trip, whose main agenda includes: delivering a special keynote address at the World Government Summit in Dubai; bilateral talks; the ‘Ahlan Modi’ event in Abu Dhabi; and the opening of the BAPS Hindu Mandir in Abu Dhabi.

Pride in being an Indian

Loud and cheerful sloganeering, vibrant, traditional dances, a sprinkling of Arabic and multiple Indian language words, and an evocation of pride in being an Indian was how the ‘Ahlan Modi’ event unfolded.

As Modi entered the open-air Zayed Sports City Stadium, members of the Indian diaspora welcomed him with slogans of “Har Har Modi, Ghar Ghar Modi”, “We Love Modi”, “Bharat Mata Ki Jai”, and even “Jai Shree Ram” over and above the music.

Kathak, Garba, Rajasthani folk dances and Haryanvi dances were complemented by the classical rendition of Vande Mataram, the National Anthem of India. Afterwards, there were some chartbusters with a patriotic flavour that the audience danced to.

Among the audience members were those who had dressed up creatively to attend the event.

Murli, a techie who has been living in the UAE for eight years, came to the event dressed as a king from Tamil Nadu.

Neha Pandey, who has been living in Abu Dhabi for 10 years and runs her boutique, was decked up in colours of the Indian flag.

“Life in the UAE is the best of both worlds, both the UAE and parts of India. I’ve always seen on TV that people interact with the PM at events, but I haven’t attended any such event in person. This is a huge moment for us,” Pandey told the Press Trust of India.

Speaking in Hindi, the prime minister sprinkled phrases about pride in being an Indian in Malayalam, Tamil, Kannada, and Telugu, drawing instant loud applause from the audience.

But the loudest response was when Modi spoke a few sentences in Arabic to highlight the linkages between words spoken in India with that language.

Indian expats greet PM Modi in Abu Dhabi
PM Modi takes a turn around the Zayed Sports City Stadium in a battery-powered vehicle. Photo courtesy: X/@narendramodi

Retired couple Padmanabha Hegde and Asha Hegde, who made Abu Dhabi their home 32 years ago, said that it was a moment they would not have missed.

“We are Hindus and live peacefully in a Muslim country — how many people know about how safe and welcoming it is? The event is symbolic of Hindu-Muslim unity and, of course, watching PM Modi from close [quarters] is a delight,” said Asha Hegde.

Indian school students, who came to attend the event after class, said that they were there for motivational lessons that the PM always had for children.

PM Modi with expats at St Regis hotel in Abu Dhabi
PM Modi receives a collage of photos gifted by an Indian expat at the St Regis hotel in Abu Dhabi. Photo courtesy: X/ @narendramodi

“He is a big motivator and it is a delight to listen to him like a Ted Talk,” said Harshit Pradhan, a Class XI student from DPS Dubai.

At the end of his address, the prime minister took a round of the stadium in a battery-powered vehicle, waving at the crowd as an excited audience clicked selfies and shouted “Modi-Modi”.

Earlier in the day, the prime minister had been greeted in a similar manner at the St Regis hotel, where he reached after a bilateral meeting with Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed.

Men, women and children, all dressed in colourful traditional wear, gathered on a flight of steps at the hotel lobby and also the first-floor lobby, with welcome slogans such as “Modi Hai Toh Mumkin Hai”.

Indians greet Modi at St Regis hotel in Abu Dhabi
Expats gather to greet PM Modi at the St Regis hotel in Abu Dhabi. Photo courtesy: X/ @narendramodi

Modi responded by waving back at them. He also stopped to appreciate two community volunteers who played the piano and sang a soulful song for him.

One of the enthusiastic youngsters presented him with a collage of photos of PM Modi and President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed.

“Incredibly honoured by the warm welcome from the Indian Community in Abu Dhabi today. The vibrancy of our diaspora never ceases to amaze me,” Modi posted on X soon after, along with photographs of the gathering.

Modi thanks Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed for support to BAPS Hindu Mandir

On Wednesday morning, PM Modi attends the inauguration of the Bochasanwasi Shri Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha (BAPS) Hindu Mandir, the first Hindu stone temple in Abu Dhabi. He then heads to Doha to have a bilateral meeting with Qatari leaders.

On Tuesday, Modi thanked Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed for his support and his graciousness in granting the land for the construction of a Hindu temple in Abu Dhabi, saying that it reflected the UAE president’s affinity for India.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi meets UAE President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi meets UAE President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan on February 13, 2024, in Abu Dhabi. Photo courtesy: X/ @narendramodi

BAPS Hindu Mandir Abu Dhabi, located in Abu Mureikhah, near Al Rahba off the Dubai-Abu Dhabi Sheikh Zayed Highway, has come up on around 27 acres of land in Abu Dhabi. Work on the structure has been going on since 2019. The land for the temple was donated by the UAE government.

BAPS Hindu Mandir
BAPS Hindu Mandir in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, is designed as a symbol of interfaith harmony. Photo courtesy: Facebook/BAPS Hindu Mandir, Abu Dhabi

“The construction of the BAPS temple would not have been possible without your support,” the Indian prime minister said to the UAE president.

Modi recalled that in his first meeting with Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, he had just mentioned the land for the temple and the president immediately responded to the request. “Such trust and love itself represent the strength of our unique relationship,” said Modi.

The inauguration of the BAPS Hindu Mandir Abu Dhabi takes place three weeks after the new Ram Lalla idol was consecrated at the Ayodhya Ram Mandir on January 22, an event that was led by PM Modi.

The UAE has three other Hindu temples, which are located in Dubai. The BAPS temple, spread over a large area with stone architecture, will be the largest of all in the Gulf region.