NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — An unlikely headliner made an appearance at Madison Square Garden on Sunday.

India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, spoke to a crowd of 18,000 from the world’s most famous stage and from the reaction he got; you would think he was a rock star.

As TV 10/55’s Don Dahler reported, the line in Midtown stretched for blocks as people from all over waited to get into Madison Square Garden.

Nearly 1,000 more watched Modi speak on a jumbo-tron in Times Square.

Satish Halemane, 24, traveled from Denver, Colorado.

“We have a leader with vision,” he said. “We have a leader who has ambitions for nation building, which is awesome.”

Part of Modi’s allure is his humble beginnings, Dahler reported. The son of a poor tea seller, he has made economic opportunity a main focus for the 1.5 billion people in India.

According to the World Bank, 32 percent of people in India live on $1.25 a day or less.

“They voted their aspirations, rather than their frustrations,” said Asia Society Policy Institute’s Marshall Bouton. “They voted for jobs, rather than handouts.”

Modi promised to help start businesses and end corruption, Dahler reported.

On Sunday, the prime minister spoke to his audience about India’s future, saying “Even the poorest of the poor wants to participate in the country’s progress and this is what brings a change.”

Protesters outside the Garden, however, reminded the world of the past, highlighting the religious riots in 2002 that claimed the lives of as many as 1,000 Muslims in an area under Modi’s governance.

Before he became the prime minister, Modi was persona non grata in the United States, Dahler reported. Modi was never implicated in the riots, and has said he will work for all Indians.

He’s scheduled to meet with President Barack Obama early next week.

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