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India’s Controversial PM Narendra Modi to Dine at White House

Image: Indian Prime Minster Narendra Modi

Indian Prime Minster Narendra Modi walks out of the airplane as he arrives at JFK airport in New York on September 26, 2014. MOHAMMED JAFFER / Reuters

President Barack Obama is due to meet India’s new Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the White House on Monday. That marks a huge change from 2005, when Modi was denied a visa to the United States following riots in which more than 1,000 people were killed. Here are five things to know about the leader of the world's second most populous country.

  • Modi was denied a visa after 2002’s brutal riots in Gujarat

Despite being exonerated by a number of investigations, many believe Modi turned a blind eye at the slaughter of more than 1,000 Muslims while chief minister (governor) of Gujarat state. The riots were seen by some as an anti-Muslim pogrom, including mass rapes, mutilations, child killings and the displacement of more than 100,000 people. His visa was denied by the U.S. under a section of the Immigration and Nationality act, banning any foreign government official who was responsible for or "directly carried out at any time particularly severe violations of religious freedom." The American Justice Center is also offering $10,000 to anyone who can serve Modi with a summons by a federal court in New York for a lawsuit accusing him of human rights abuses, according to Reuters.

  • As a teen, he sold cups of tea with his father.

Before entering politics, Modi and his father started their tea-selling trade at their local train station and Modi eventually ran a stall of his own as a teenager.

Watershed Handshake: Pakistan's PM Visits India's Modi 0:38
  • Modi entered politics through a controversial right-wing group

He began his road to government as a teenager when he joined the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a right-wing organization whose aim is to make India a Hindu nation. It was a former member of RSS who assassinated Mahatma Gandhi in 1948 amid accusations he overlooked Hindu interests and was giving too much power to Muslims. Modi’s present party, the nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), is widely regarded as the political wing of the RSS.

  • The number of people Modi governs is only going to grow

At more than 1.2 billion people, India is currently he second most populous country in the world. It is predicted to supersede China’s population by 2035 and Modi is being relied upon to keep apace with the burgeoning numbers and develop the economy of the emerging economic superpower.

  • He has a packed schedule in the U.S.

Modi will enjoy a red carpet reception on his first prime ministerial trip to the U.S. His 100-hour tour will comprise more than 50 speeches and a slew of official engagements, which have already included an appearance in front of a sell-out audience at New York’s Madison Square Garden. There will be meetings with 17 corporate heads of companies including Google, Boeing and Goldman Sachs. In Washington, D.C., he will lunch with Vice President Joe Biden and dine with Obama. However, as a devout Hindu he will not be eating, the trip coincides with the festival of Navratri, which involves nine days of fasting.

Reuters contributed to this report.