Modi will address a crowd of 50,000 people at Houston’s NRG Stadium on September 22.
Manisha Kumar, a resident of Sugarland, Texas, a city in southwestern part of Houston, has been hearing about the upcoming visit of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in her neighborhood with a frenzy she has never witnessed for a visit by any political figure. The 23-year-old, who has lived almost all her life in the United States, is intrigued by the interest the Indian leader is generating even among elderly Indian Americans, who left India much before Modi came to politics.
But this is the kind of enthusiasm that the prime minister has been able to generate, not just in India where he was re-elected with a resounding mandate earlier this year, but also among the Indian diaspora globally.
As Houston gets ready to host the Modi in a grand event at the city’s landmark NRG Stadium, which is expected to be attended by 50,000 people, the Indian American community is gearing up to show its support. The stadium has a seating capacity of 71,995, with a retractable roof.
Titled “Howdy Modi!”, the event, hosted by the Texas India Forum, is being promoted as a community summit. It will be perhaps the biggest ever gathering of Indian Americans in the United States. Besides Modi’s remarks, special cultural programs are being planned to reflect the US-India cultural ties with a tagline, “Shared Dreams, Bright Futures.”
Billed as the biggest diaspora event ever addressed by Modi abroad, the live audience at the event will be the largest for an Indian prime minister in North America and the largest for a foreign leader visiting the United States, other than the Pope, according to the organizers.
The prime minister had addressed similar events in San Jose in 2015 and Madison Square in New York in 2014, with crowds of 16,000 and 18,000 respectively.
Modi has a fan base among the second-generation Indian Americans, many of whom are intrigued about the appeal he has among their parents.
Neeraj Singh, a student who was born and brought up in the US, is planning to attend the event because of that reason.
“I haven’t yet registered for the event and now it is on the wait-list already,” he said. “But I am hoping to register just to see for real the address of this prime minister who is often the subject of dinner time conversations in my family.”
Singh adds, “We have lived in the US for decades now, but it is crazy that the amount of time my family discusses Indian politics is much more than they discuss American politics.”
From Houston, Modi will fly to New York to attend the UN General Assembly, which begins in New York on September 24. He is also expected to attend some other events during the visit, such as the Bloomberg Global Business Forum in New York, as well as the 150th birth anniversary celebrations of Mahatma Gandhi. But for most Indians, the highly talked about public event in Houston remains the highlight of his visit.
There is an exceptional interest in the visit among the Indian American business community in Texas, as Modi in Houston is expected to meet the leading business, political and community leaders of Texas, as well as leaders of the state’s large Indian American community.
The potential for Texas-based industries in the field of energy, petrochemicals, chemicals, medical technology, aerospace and the space is enormous and the local Indian American community is hoping for direct flight from Houston to Delhi.
Durga Agrawal, CEO of Piping Technology & Products Inc and the founding president of Indo-American Chamber of Commerce of Greater Houston, pointed out the great enthusiasm in the community about the visit. “The Indian American community has reached a tipping point,” he said. “Indian Americans today are not just educated, wealthy, and powerful individuals, but a public service-driven community that is giving back to America, our adopted country, while keeping close ties with our homeland, India; serving both and contributing to both.”
Last year, Agrawal donated money for the naming of a building at the University of Houston, which is now called “Durga D. and Sushila Agrawal Engineering and Research building. The building cost over $51 million and helped boost the university’s engineering, research, and academic experience. As a result of the grant, the annual engineering research expenses will be increased by $36 million and will promote $612 million of economic activity in Houston.
“Houston is one of the most diverse cities in America and has many advantages, including a central location and access to global trade routes, a trained and talented workforce, and a business-friendly regulatory environment, making this region an ideal partner for business and commerce,” said Bhavesh (Bob) Patel, CEO of LyondellBasell, another prominent Indian American businessman in the area. I’m personally proud of the vibrant and welcoming Indian community here, and the work they do to strengthen the ties between our two great countries. We are honored to host Prime Minister Narendra Modi for this historic event.”
There are more than 130,000 individuals of Indian origin in the Houston area, according to the American Community Survey in 2017. Organizers are doing everything from free registration to free parking to ensure that attendees reach the venue in historic numbers.
This will be Modi’s second trip to Houston, where he had earlier taken part in the ground-breaking ceremony of the BAPS Swaminarayan Mandir while he was serving as the general secretary of his Bharatiya Janata Party.