In campaign-style speeches that appeared targeted at domestic audiences, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and U.S. President Donald Trump touted their achievements and hailed the friendship between the world’s oldest and largest democracies at the vast NRG stadium Sept. 22, where tens of thousands of mostly Indians and Indian-American supporters chanted slogans and cheered.
For Modi, it was a political victory when the leader of the most powerful nation seemingly endorsed his position on Pakistan as a key problem in the fight against global terrorism, as well as the controversial step downgrading Article 370 relating to Kashmir’s special status; For Trump it was an opportunity to join Modi in showering high praise on the Indian-American community and its accomplishments, cashing in on an estimated 50,000-strong captive audience in an election year.
In his speech, Modi lashed out at Pakistan without naming it, for fomenting terrorism in South Asia, and justified his steps to end Kashmir’s special status saying it brought Kashmiris on par with the rest of Indians.
Article 370, “has held back development for people of Jammu & Kashmir. …. People there now have the same rights as everywhere,” asserted Modi at the Sept. 22, HowdyModi! event in Houston, Texas as President Donald Trump and an audience of tens of thousands looked on and cheered.
President Trump said that just as he had promised before his election, “You have never had a better friend that Donald Trump,” in the White House. Cognizant of the large captive audience and an eye to 2020 elections, Trump paid lavish compliments to Indian-Americans. Trump retweeted a short video of the massive crowd at the NRG Stadium in Houston, remarking “Incredible!” He also tweeted “The USA Loves India”.
“I’ve also come to express my profound gratitude to the nearly 4 million amazing Indian Americans all across our country. You enrich our culture, you uphold our values, you uplift our communities, and you are truly proud to be American. And we are proud to have you as Americans,” the President said in language typical of a campaign rally, adding, “We thank you. We love you. And I want you to know my administration is fighting for you each and every day.”
The exhibition of bonhomie with lots of hand-holding and hugs, culminated in a victory lap with both leaders joining hands and intermittently holding their arms aloft, around the track of the stadium to standing ovation. Modi appeared in control of the agenda at the massive gathering, as according to some news reports, the walk around the stadium was unscripted and spontaneous.
For his part, Modi showered exuberant praise on President Trump while introducing him as the first speaker, saying the American President’s “every word is followed by tens of millions,” and that his name “is familiar to every person on the planet,” and even praised Trump for having “left a lasting impact everywhere.”
The Indian leader extended an invitation to Trump to visit India with his family, and Trump in his speech joked that he may suddenly land up to watch the first ever NBA match to be played in Mumbai next month.
Both India and the U.S. stand against ” radical Islamic terrorism,” Trump said.
Describing the HowdyModi! event as “profoundly historic,” President Trump showered high praise on the Indian-American community, after beginning his speech to chants of . “U.S.A – U.S.A” from the crowds which stood up to greet him.
“We’re especially grateful to be joined by over 50,000 incredible members of our nation’s thriving, prospering, flourishing, and hardworking Indian American community. Thank you,” said President Trump. He had more to say in a year when election campaigns are the order of the day.
“Prime Minister Modi and I have come to Houston to celebrate everything that unites America and India: our shared dreams and bright futures,” Trump said.
Indian-Americans are the highest educated, highest earning minority in the country, and their rising importance in U.S. politics was more than clear when Trump sat through Modi’s nearly forty-minute speech after delivering his own.
Modi got his share of praise when Trump said he had done “a truly exceptional job for India and for all of the Indian people.”
Trump went further taking a plunge into the domestic policies of the Modi administration.
“Under Prime Minister Modi’s leadership, the world is witnessing a strong, sovereign, and thriving Republic of India. (Applause.) In a single decade, with the help of Prime Minister Modi’s pro-growth reforms, India has lifted nearly 300 million people out of poverty, and that is an incredible number. Incredible. That’s incredible. In the next decade, 140 million Indian household will rise to the middle class,” Trump said.
Close to 20 U.S. lawmakers representing both parties, jump-started the event by lining up on stage with brief speeches by House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Maryland, and senior Texas Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas.
Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Illinois, was the only Indian-American lawmaker from among the four elected representatives currently in the House of Representatives, and an Indian-American Senator. Among other notable officials who attended were Reps. Carolyn Maloney, D-NY, Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas.
Cornyn said Texas was unmatched among the U.S. states, in engaging with India, and praised the large Indian-American community in Houston; Hoyer introduced Modi saying House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also welcomed him, and in being present, delinked domestic politics from international diplomacy, while keeping Kashmir out of the equation.
Every speaker made mention of “common” values of democracy, the people-to-people ties, and the contributions of Indian-Americans to this country.
However, the U.S. and Indian head of state, spent a significant part of their speeches dwelling on domestic policies that they said had helped growth, reduced unemployment, and brought out the potential of their people.
Trump began his address like a stump speech, talking about job growth, unemployment levels going down in the African, Asian, and Hispanic communities. He also pointed to increasing Indian business investment in the U.S. that was creating jobs.
“Today we are seeing new history being made,” said Modi who spoke in Hindi. “And a new chemistry.” The presence of President Trump, the bipartisan lawmakers is a sign of the respect they hold for 1.3 billion Indians, he said.
To answer the question — “Howdy Modi,” the Prime Minister said, “Bharat mein sub achcha hai,” meaning ‘all is well in India,’ and repeated the phrase in several different Indian languages.
“Unity in diversity is our specialty. India’s diversity is proof of our democracy. It is our strength and our wish,” the Prime Minister said. “Wherever we go we take our diversity with us,” he added. “In this stadium, the more than 50,000 people represent our ancient history,” he said. “There are many among you who participated in the 2019 election,” which he noted saw 610 million come to the polling booth, two times the size of the American population.
A 21st Century India, Modi said, is impatient to become a “new India” and working to “challenge ourselves, we are changing ourselves.” He then trotted out figures to prove the expansion of electricity, cooking gas, rural road connectivity, bank accounts, to achieve “ease of living.”
“Today, it is said ‘data is the new oil’. I say data is the new gold,” Modi said, noting that 1 gigabyte of data costs 25-30 cents in India, way less than what it does in other countries.
In his concluding paras, Modi spoke of Article 370, which he said had kept development from the people of J & K. “People there now have the same rights as everywhere.” He contended that revocation of 370 was the result of hours of debate in the two houses of parliament, live telecast for all of India to see. “I appeal to you to give a standing ovation to the two house of parliament,” said the Indian Prime Minister.
Then he took a dig at Pakistan.
“Yes, what India is doing is a problem for some who cannot manage their own countries. These people have made hatred of India the tenet of their existence,” Modi said pointing to Pakistan without naming it.
“These are the people who breed terrorism. They have been recognized as such by not just you but the whole world,” he said. “Whether it is 9/11 or 26/11 – where can those who conducted these acts be found?” Modi asked the full stadium. “We must fight the forces of terrorism. I am here to say strongly – that in this fight, President Trump stands strongly against this terrorism.” He urged the crowd to give Trump a standing ovation on that count.
Modi also promised American investors India presented a “great opportunity” for them.
Modi and Trump are to meet on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York later this week. “I am hoping positive things will come out of it,” Modi said. Analysts have noted there may be a trade agreement in the offing.
Outside the NRG Stadium, scores of protesters held placards and shouted slogans criticizing Modi, as did supporters of the Prime Minister. Two opposing opinions were also apparent in social media, and in statements released.
“The presence of Trump is literally an endorsement of the Indian government’s political and economic steps in India,” noted Padma Shri Dr. Sudhir Parikh, chairman of Parikh Worldwide Media. “The Houston gathering was a win-win situation for both the leaders and the peoples of their countries. For Indian-Americans, it was the capping of years of hard work to make their social, political, economic clout felt in the United States, that they could command such a large audience for heads of state of two countries,” Parikh said.
Sampat Shivangi, national president of Indian American Forum, praised the HowdyModi extravaganza, describing it as a “phenomenal experience” and even going to so far as to call it “possibly greatest show of political power display by two world leaders” and a strike against “pro-Pakistani propagandists” and even “pro-Pakistani” supporters in the U.S. Congress including Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, chair of the Pakistan Congressional Caucus.
On the other side, were commentators like Houstonians Swati Narayan, director of the non-profit Culture of Health Advancing Together which works with immigrant and refugee families, and Manpreet K. Singh, director and trustee with the Texas chapter of the Sikh Coalition and the American Civil Liberties Union. They wrote an opinion on CNN, entitled, “Why we won’t be cheering Modi and Trump in Houston,” which condemned actions in Kashmir, saying, .. we want the people of Kashmir to have a voice in their own state, and we want democracy restored. And most of all, we want India to live up to the pluralist and secular society it claims to be.”
In Minnesota, the Council on American-Islamic Relations and the Muslim American Society of Minnesota held a rally attended by a crowd of approximately 400 people, decrying the Kashmir crackdown, according to a report in Sahan Journal, carried by Minnesota Public Radio News (mprnews.org).
Modi, meanwhile, had the day before HowdyModi, posted photos of his meetings with representatives of Houston’s Sikh community, Kashmiri Pandits, as well as Dawoodi Bohras.