At 7:30 a.m. on June 21, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on his first state visit to the United States (and sixth U.S. trip since his travel ban was overturned in 2014), expounded on the benefits of yoga at the United Nations headquarters in New York City. Outside the gates of the U.N., at the verdant Dag Hammarskjöld plaza in Midtown Manhattan, four groups of Indians had gathered.
The largest one comprised pro-Modi supporters from the tristate area, some dressed in saffron, waving Indian and American flags and vociferously shouting pro-Modi slogans.
Three smaller groups were separated from the pro-Modi brigade and each other by long lines of police tape and dozens of uniformed and plainclothes officers who kept a close eye on the proceedings. The City of New York was clearly taking no chances.
The smaller groups were made of anti-Modi protesters shouting slogans against Modi’s ruling BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party), a group of Khalistan supporters (the Khalistan movement consists of separatist groups fighting for a homeland for Sikhs in Punjab), and finally a group demanding that the Indian PM take cognizance of the civil unrest in the tiny northeast Indian state of Manipur, where dozens have been killed and injured in recent incidents of violence between ethnic groups and the dominant Meitei community.
While the pro- and anti-Modi groups often directed verbal jibes at each other, the protests remained peaceful and dispersed once the crowds realized that Modi had moved to another stop on his packed itinerary in New York City.