Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese heaped praise on Indian counterpart Narendra Modi, likening him to American rock star Bruce Springsteen in a gushing introductory speech at a stadium on Tuesday.
Modi is making his first visit to Sydney in nine years as he gears up to contest national elections next year – and as Australia looks to build economic bridges with the world’s most populous market at a time when relations with another Asian giant, China, have soured.
Standing on stage at the Qudos Bank Arena on Tuesday, a sprawling entertainment venue in the capital’s Olympic Park, Albanese played emcee and warm up act.
“The last time I saw someone on the stage here was Bruce Springsteen, and he didn’t get the welcome that Prime Minister Modi has got,” Albanese said.
“You have brought the spirit of the world’s biggest democracy to Australia,” Albanese said of his “dear friend,” adding the Indian leader has helped strengthen Australia’s democracy.
“Prime Minister Modi is the boss!” he added, to thunderous applause from a crowd dominated by Australia’s Indian diaspora.
Originally planned as a summit for leaders from the Quad, which includes the United States and Japan, Modi’s trip to Australia comes as Canberra is trying to bolster its relationship with New Delhi in a bid to grow economic ties and reinforce their strategic partnership, as the West attempts to thwart the rise of an increasingly assertive China.
“In the language of cricket, our ties have entered the T20 mode,” Modi said during a joint appearance with Albanese. “Our democratic values are the foundation of our ties. Our relations are based on mutual trust and respect. The Indian community in Australia is a living bridge between our countries.”
Modi also met with several “prominent Australian personalities,” according to a statement from the Indian government, including international chef Sarah Todd and Australian singer Guy Sebastian.
In a series of videos published to Modi’s Twitter account, several of these personalities were filmed praising the leader.
“He was so warm and so kind,” Sebastian said of their interaction.
His warm welcome is symbolic of his immense public appeal among many Indians living overseas, as well as his emergence as a key player in the global order.
But the leader and his Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have also come under increasing scrutiny for a clampdown on free speech and discriminatory policies toward minority groups in the secular democracy of 1.4 billion, something Western leaders rarely address publicly when Modi visits.
When asked by reporters whether Albanese will press Modi on some of these issues, the Australian leader skirted the issue, saying he had a “respectful” relationship with his Indian counterpart.
“India is, of course, the world’s largest democracy. Here in Australia, of course, people have a right to express their views in a peaceful way, and people, we all have different views about people in politics,” Albanese said. “Australia, of course, always stands up for human rights, wherever it occurs anywhere in the world.”
India has also repeatedly abstained from votes condemning Russia at the United Nations, instead reiterating a need for “diplomacy and dialogue,” while buying up huge amounts of Moscow’s oil despite western sanctions over the invasion of Ukraine.
Albanese said he respected that India “is responsible for its own international relations” and acknowledged the South Asian nation’s history of non-alignment.
“India is a great supporter of peace and security and stability in our region,” he said.