Prime Minister Narendra Modi began his week-long visit to the US with a bang. His first stop was Houston to attend the “The Howdy Modi’’ rally at a football stadium, filled with 50,000 Indian Americans. It was the highlight of the PM’s visit to the US.
The four-million strong Indian diaspora in the US are among the richest and most hardworking immigrants in the country. The BJP had long understood the importance of the Indian Americans and had cultivated them since the Vajpayee days. But Modi has taken this to new heights. He is perhaps the only world leader in recent times to hold such massive political shows on foreign soil. He impresses not just his hosts but his domestic constituency back home. The Modi bhakts in India, many of whom have little sense of history believe he is the only Indian leader who has has made such a dazzling impact on the world stage.
His first over seas rally was in New York’s Madison garden in 2014, where a crowd of 18,000 greeted him. This was followed by one in London’s Wembley Stadium, attended by the then British Prime Minister David Cameron. But his Houston act with President Donald Trump in attendance is undoubtedly the most dazzling.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has sussed out Donald Trump to the T. Flattery pays. So do business deals. On Saturday, Petronet, an Indian energy major signed an MOU with a Houston-based company to invest USD 2.5 billion for a 20 per cent equity stake on the US firm. It will also import five million tonnes of LNG annually for 40-years. That announcement was the icing on the cake for Donald Trump, who has made advancing American business the hallmark of his presidency.
It was an out-and-out Modi show. The master-of-ceremonies here was not the President of the host country, but Modi the visitor. It was Narendra Modi who led Donald Trump by the hand and took him around on almost a victory lap, waving to a delirious crowd of Indian Americans, who gave Modi a rock star treatment. Trump was clearly overwhelmed by what he saw.
The US President accepted Modi’s invitation to attend the Houston event, with an eye on next year’s elections. The majority of Indian Americans, nearly 80 per cent had voted for his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton. Trump possibly hoped that some of Modi’s supporters would possibly now change tract. And the Indian PM endorsed Trump by showering fulsome praise on him. “He has already made the American economy strong again,” Modi said. “He has achieved much for the US and the world. Friends, we in India have connected well with President Trump.” To this he added “In the words of candidate Trump: Abki baar Trump sarkar (This time, [a] Trump government).” Trump had adopted Modi’s 2014 election catch phrase, , while addressing a small group of Indian Americans supporters calling themselves the Republican Hindu Coalition in 2016.
For the BJP who have demonised Jawaharlal Nehru at home, there is no escape from India’s first prime Minister who is well known across the world. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer who attended the Houston jamboree said during his short address. “India, like America, is proud of its ancient traditions to secure a future according to Gandhi’s teachings and Nehru’s vision of India as a secular democracy where respect for pluralism and human rights safeguard every individual.” That could not have gone well with Modi bhakts back home.
While addressing the crowd Modi make it a point to hit out at Pakistan, without naming it. Linking 9/11 to 26/11 he maintained that all terror acts emanated from one country. When Donald Trump spoke of fighting Islamic terror he got not just the crowd’s loudest applause but a standing ovation from Modi and the Indian delegation. Yet despite the bonhomie with Modi, Trump refused to point a finger at Pakistan as a breeding ground for terror. When questioned, he quickly referred to Iran as the biggest threat to the world. It suits Trump to say so as it coincides with his anti-Iran and pro Saudi strategy in the Middle East. The US leader will also handle Pakistan with kid gloves at the moment because he wants Prime Minister Imran Khan’s help in Afghanistan. Pakistan on its part is hoping to revive the Taliban-US talks. Trump has also asked Khan to talk to the Iranian leadership.
Outside the sanitised stadium an anti-India rally calling for the lifting of restrictions on the Kashmir valley was also on full throttle. Yet New Delhi has succeeded in ensuring that the Trump administration understands its stand on Article 370. Trump has not publicly questioned India on Kashmir. While lending a sympathetic ear to Imran Khan, he has asked India and Pakistan to meet and solve their differences. This despite the fact that human rights violations in the valley has been widely reported in the American press. But then human rights does not move Donald Trump. His treatment of the Mexican immigrants on the Texas border has been severely criticised for separating children from their parents, but so far to no avail.
For Modi the Houston show has been a major personal achievement. From a time after the 2002 Gujarat riots, when he was shunned by the US and European democracies, to come to the point when the US President himself addresses a joint rally with Modi in America is a resounding endorsement of Modi. From pariah status at that time to be wooed and praised by the free world is an achievement indeed for Narendra Modi. Never mind that Donald Trump may soon be facing an impeachment enquiry and on hindsight endorsing him may not have been a great idea. But for now Modi must be immensely satisfied.
The writer is a senior journalist with expertise in foreign policy and international affairs.