23 members of Congress attend “Howdy Modi”, but four of five Indian American members stay away.
President Donald Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, addressing a crowd of more than 50,000 Indian Americans in an unprecedented joint appearance at the NRG Stadium in Houston on Sunday, re-affirmed their commitment to strong bilateral relations between the United States and India.
“You have never had a better friend as President as President Donald Trump,” the president said. “Under Modi’s leadership, the world is witnessing a strong, sovereign republic of India.”
Trump, who is trying to win over the reliably Democratic Indian American community in the 2020 elections, said: “Indian Americans are pioneering groundbreaking medicines to save countless lives, they’re developing revolutionary technology that is changing the world, and they’re founding new businesses that provide jobs to thousands of our fellow citizens.”
The president lauded growing investments by Indians in Texas and the United States. “Nations around the world are investing in the United States because they know we have the best economy and best workers in world,” he said. “We want to thank everybody and India has never invested in the US like it is doing today, and I want to say it’s reciprocal because we’re doing the same thing in India.”
On his part, Modi returned the compliment. “Friends, as I told you, we have met a few times and every time he has been the same: warm, friendly, accessible, energetic and full of wit,” he said, adding “India has a true friend in the White House.”
The prime minister continued: “In the coming days, we are going to talk and I am certain that some positive developments will come out of it. President Trump calls me the top negotiator but he himself is great at the ‘art of the deal’ and I am learning a lot from him. Mr. President, I would like that you come with your family to India and you give us the opportunity to welcome you. Our friendship will give new heights to our shared dreams and vibrant future.”
Modi also praised Trump for celebrating Diwali at the White House.
The prime minister, in his address, defended his decision to revoke the special status to the Jammu and Kashmir region.
“The people of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh have been deprived of equal rights,” he said. “The forces fanning terrorism and separatism were exploiting this situation.”
Since August 5, the Kashmir region has been under a security lockdown and communication blackout. A number of political leaders, including three former chief ministers of Jammu and Kashmir, are under house arrests.
Outsides of the stadium, thousands protested, denouncing India’s military clampdown in the Kashmir valley.
Among the protesters were many Kashmiri Muslims and South Asian American civil rights activists. Some activists distributed booklets with articles against Modi and the RSS.
Interestingly, three of the four Indian American members of Congress did not attend the event. Reps. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), Ro Khanna (D-CA) and Ami Bera (D-CA) chose not to attend. The only Indian American member of Congress present was Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi.
Jayapal, a strong progressive voice within Congress, and her Democratic House colleague from Jim McGovern wrote a letter earlier this month to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urging the State Department to “press the Indian government to immediately lift the communications blackout and adhere to international human rights standards in Jammu & Kashmir.”
While three fourths of the Indian American congressional delegation skipped the event — four-fifths when one includes Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) — 23 of their congressional colleagues were present, including four US senators: Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Sen. Kramer Cramer (R-ND) and Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS).
The highest ranking Democrat present was House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD). There were 14 Republicans and nine Democrats.
“Howdy Modi” was the biggest diaspora event ever addressed by Modi abroad and the largest for a foreign leader visiting the United States, other than the Pope, according to the organizers, the Texas India Forum. Earlier community events addressed by Modi in San Jose in 2015 had 16,000 participants and at Madison Square in New York in 2014 saw a crowd of 18,000.
According to Texas India Forum, the group that is hosting the event, more than 1,000 volunteers and 650 organizations are helping it to put together the event.