The faithful have been at work for weeks to make Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit one that America will remember. The aim is to rival the tea ceremony with Shinzo Abe, prime minister of Japan, and the jhoola moment with Xi Jinping, president of the People’s Republic of China – even if, in the latter case, the swinging went awry.

This is sweet revenge for Modi, who arrives in the US on Thursday. The Bush administration snubbed Modi by denying him a visa for nine years on account of the 2002 Gujarat riots. Now his Indian-American supporters – who have long championed him on their shores – want to extend a giant symbolic hug at a sold-out rally in Madison Square Garden, the iconic New York city venue that usually hosts basketball games and rock concerts.

Modi, in turn, wants the Indian-American community to become the bridge upon which the relationship between India and the US is strengthened. He will meet leaders of the Indian-American community to discuss how to nurture these links and create new ones.

The rally on September 28 will likely be the key public moment of Modi’s five-day American sojourn, despite allegations of in-fighting between the organisers, who have needed firm guidance from the Delhi contingent to keep it all from bubbling to the surface.

Few nays on Capitol Hill

Some detractors will also make their presence felt during Modi’s visit. An advocacy group called Sikhs for Justice plans to protest against Modi outside the White House.

Human rights activists on Capitol Hill are working the corridors, but so far they have been unsuccessful in efforts to get Congressmen and senators to issue anti-Modi statements or sign petitions. Instead, a number of US lawmakers have requested meetings with Modi. Close to 30 senior members of both the Democratic and Republican parties will attend either the rally or the ambassador’s dinner. House Speaker John Boehner will convene a meeting on Capitol Hill with the leadership of national security committees for Modi.

Modi will not be able address a joint session of the US Congress as was intended, because it is in recess to prepare for highly contested mid-term elections. Even the president of Ukraine wasn’t given this honour last week, and Ukraine is at the centre of US foreign policy today.

But a thin layer of Washington – the leftish wing of the Democratic Party – has some discomfort with Modi’s visit. Senator Ed Markey, who has never liked anything significant Washington and New Delhi have agreed upon, including the landmark civil nuclear agreement, has made his disapproval known. He has criticised Modi’s “excessive nationalism” and talks of the Abe-Modi partnership as dangerous and a provocation against China.

Symbolism and substance

Like most foreign visits by heads of state, symbolism and substance are both important, especially if Modi is to win back the confidence of the US business lobby, parts of which turned stridently against India over the last three years over differences on a host of issues.

Modi needs a successful US trip as well after his bruising encounter with Chinese President Xi Jinping, whose goodwill visit was accompanied by incursions along the Jammu and Kashmir border by 500 soldiers of the People’s Liberation Army. The tense standoff in Ladakh continues. Beijing’s intentions are clear: to creep closer on land and sea and eat into India’s zone of influence, even as it dangles investment opportunities. Modi fell for it but hopefully has come out wiser.

Modi must argue India’s case with confidence. He will position himself as India’s chief executive officer, the man who will make the economy hum again. He needs to convince American industry leaders that his promises will translate into policy.

But there is palpable interest. CEOs from some of America’s biggest corporations have answered the call of India’s Ambassador, S Jaishankar, to attend meetings and get a firsthand feel of Modi.

Modi will preside over a roundtable of 17 CEOs and meet six others one-on-one, including the heads of BlackRock, the world’s largest asset management company, Merck, a big pharma and chemicals maker, and familiar giants like Boeing and General Electric. Many of the CEOs are from manufacturing and investment companies, the aim being to get the financing for Modi’s “Make in India” mantra.

The Washington leg also has an evening set aside to address the 300 members of the US-India Business Council.

In Washington

The visit to Washington will begin with a private dinner with President Obama where global affairs will be discussed. The spread of ISIS and al-Qaeda’s new franchise in South Asia is likely to be discussed.

The national security advisers, Susan Rice and Ajit Doval, will meet, reportedly for the first time. The US is just as worried as India about the post-2014 scenario in Afghanistan. They will discuss India’s presence in Afghanistan, and whether it needs to be raised. There is also an attempt to raise the level of bilateral dialogue on Af-Pak to NSA level.

It is worth recalling that the last National Democratic Alliance government, under Atal Bihari Vajpayee, almost agreed to participate in the US war on Iraq. Will Doval spring a surprise and offer a modicum of support for the anti-Islamic State coalition? If he does, it is bound to get the undivided attention of Washington.

Deliverables for meeting

The two bureaucracies are working furiously on “deliverables” for the Obama-Modi meeting. Among the likely outcomes is an agreement between the Indian Space Research Organisation and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, an announcement on renewing the Defence Framework Agreement, which expires next year, a feel-good climate change package that helps India fulfill its commitments in solar technology, and a deal on the Trade Facilitation Agreement under the World Trade Organisation that might see some US concessions on agricultural subsidies.

The powerful agriculture lobby in Washington is already up in arms against conceding any ground to India. US Trade Representative Michael Froman and his deputies are India’s strongest critics in Washington, still smarting from Obama’s India visit, which didn’t deliver on the promise of opening the Indian market to US agricultural products.

But as Senator John McCain, who gets India right, said all last week: “Too often, we have been overly focused on extracting concessions from one another, rather than investing in other another’s success…our strategic relationship has unfortunately devolved recently into a transactional one.”