Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi

Indian prime minister greeted by lively crowd in Surrey

Thousands gather at Hindu temple to greet recently elected Narendra Modi and celebrate Canada-India ties

Music, singing and plenty of smiles greeted Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi as he arrived at a Hindu temple in Surrey on Thursday.

Accompanied by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Modi was received by thousands of jubilant people at the Lakshmi Narayan Mandir on 140 Street at 84 Avenue.

The leaders’ visit aimed to strengthen ties between the two countries.

“I can’t think of a greater place to talk about relations between Canada and India,” Harper said as he addressed the crowd of about 3,500 people.

Modi’s two-day visit to Canada, which included stops in Ottawa, Toronto and Vancouver, was Modi’s first visit here since taking office

as head of the world’s largest democracy. His Bharatiya Janata Party won an absolute majority in elections last year.

Modi’s trip here is the first bilateral visit by an Indian prime minister to Canada since 1973. The last Indian prime minister to visit was Indira Gandhi and she did not come to Western Canada.

Not everyone welcomed Modi’s presence, however.

A group of about 200 protesters waving banners and placards also gathered outside the temple during Modi’s visit.

Critics have drawn attention to the deadly riots that took place in Gujarat, India more than a decade ago while Modi was a senior minister there.

Several hundred people were killed as a result of rioting and police counter-activity. The violence was due to religious tensions, with Hindus attacking Muslims and Sikhs.

In 2012, Modi was cleared of complicity by a special investigation team appointed by the Supreme Court of India.

This week, Canada and India signed several memoranda of understanding in a range of areas, including civil aviation, rail regulation, education and skills development, space cooperation, and projects focused on maternal, newborn and child health.

Modi also announced that India will begin issuing visas upon arrival, which will make it easier for Canadians to travel to India.

“With its expanding population and impressive economic growth, India represents tremendous opportunities for Canadian companies,” Harper said.

“But we have only begun to scratch the surface of our true commercial potential. That is why Prime Minister Modi and I were pleased by the scope and volume of bilateral initiatives and commercial agreements that took place during his visit. These initiatives will help to further strengthen our relations.”

Earlier Thursday, Modi and Harper also visited the Ross Street Sikh Temple in Vancouver, where again, they were greeted by a crowd of both supporters and protesters.