Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India stressed inclusivity when he appeared before a yoga class on the lawn of the United Nations in Manhattan on Wednesday, trumpeting the Hindu discipline as an act of “unity.”
But Indian Americans appeared deeply divided about Mr. Modi’s visit.
“To host him for a state dinner and give a semblance of the two democracies — the world’s largest and the world’s oldest — of everything being well and good in both democracies, that is a charade,” said Sunita Viswanath, the executive director for Hindus for Human Rights, an organization founded as a resistance effort to Mr. Modi’s policies.
She spoke while standing in front of the White House at a protest on Thursday, urging President Biden to call out India’s anti-democratic shift, even while he woos its leader.
“If we are friends, the best kind of friend we can be is one that asks difficult questions — and tells the truth,” Ms. Viswanath said while holding a sign that said “real Hindus don’t lynch,” a reference to mob violence against Muslims in India that has surged under Mr. Modi’s regime.
Still others welcomed Mr. Modi’s visit to the United States — some literally: On Tuesday the mayor of Edison, N.J., Sam Joshi, greeted the prime minister personally at John F. Kennedy Airport in Queens, part of an official welcoming delegation, and later did yoga with him.
In Manhattan, where the yoga session was held, several trucks emblazoned with questions about his human rights records and the hashtag #CrimeMinsterOfIndia drove through Times Square.
In an interview, Mr. Joshi focused on the bridge-building possibilities of the visit, which the mayor, who is of South Asian descent, said he was asked to join by the president.
“I know that this is a step toward the U.S. and India moving in a better direction,” he said on Thursday from Washington, where he was attending Mr. Modi’s congressional address. “That is the reason why I am here.”
A handful of members of Congress, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat from New York City, pledged to boycott the prime minister’s address to Congress, citing Mr. Modi’s troubled record on religious and press freedom.
“I encourage my colleagues who stand for pluralism, tolerance, and freedom of the press to join me in doing the same,” Ms. Ocasio-Cortez said in a statement.
In New York City, three elected officials of South Asian decent called upon their colleagues to denounce the visit to the city.
“Modi is reshaping the nation from a secular democracy into a right-wing Hindu nationalist state,” New York City Council members Shekar Krishnan and Shahana Hanif and New York State Assembly member Zohran Mamdani wrote in joint statement. “Prime Minister Modi’s oppressive and unjust policies run counter to all of the values that New York City holds dear.”
On Friday, Mr. Modi’s itinerary called for him to speak to about 1,100 Indian Americans in Washington. “There are a large portion of us from all over U.S.A. who wanted to see him on this tour,” said Amitabh V.W. Mittal, the general secretary of the United States Indian Community Foundation, a nonpartisan organization created for the purpose of hosting the diaspora event.
Mr. Mittal dismissed criticism of the prime minister’s policies as unfair. Mr. Modi, he said, has championed innovation in the tech sector, added jobs and pushed to modernize the country’s infrastructure for all Indians regardless of sect.
Mr. Mittal said he welcomed other opinions, and that people of different faiths would be at the event his group was hosting. “Every good leader has good opposition,” Mr. Mittal said. “If he doesn’t have good opposition, that’s not good for democracy.”