Modi called the gathering “a new milestone in India-US ties.”
At a historic event in Houston, Texas — the likes of which has never been seen before, let alone envisioned — leaders of the world’s two largest democracies joined hands in an unambiguous show of solidarity, sending a clear message to one and all about the enduring strength of India-US ties.
The friendship, bonhomie, mutual admiration between President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Narendra Modi were in full view as thousands of Indian Americans cheered them on at an extraordinary rally organized by the Texas India Forum.
“I am so thrilled to be here in the great state of Texas with one of America’s greatest, most devoted and most loyal friends: Prime Minister Modi of India,” Trump told the crowd at what he called a “profoundly historic event.”
On his part, Modi affirmed that “India has a true friend in the White House,” describing Trump as “warm, friendly, accessible, energetic and full of wit.”
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The event, titled “Howdy Modi” — with Howdy denoting a popular greeting in the southwest, abbreviated for ‘How do you do?’ — was held to honor the prime minister. The fact that it drew over 50,000 people to the cavernous NRG Stadium early on a Sunday morning is a testament to Modi’s popularity and the ‘rock star’ receptions he gets on American turf.
“Filling the giant stadium to capacity, the live audience will be the largest gathering ever for an elected foreign leader visiting the US other than the pope,” gushed spokeswoman Preeti Dawra at a press conference, Friday. She divulged that the event will be broadcast to two billion people worldwide.
The theme of the community summit, “Shared Dreams, Bright Futures,” put the focus on the contributions of Indian Americans and the key role played by the diaspora in strengthening the relationship between India and the US. “You all have set the stage for a glorious future as far as India-US ties are concerned,” Modi told the rapturous crowd.
Looking at his counterpart, he said, “Mr. President, you had introduced me to your family in 2017. Today, I have the honor to introduce you to my family – over a billion Indians and people of Indian heritage around the globe.”
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For Trump, who is in his element at rallies, the ‘Howdy Modi’ event afforded a great opportunity to court Indian Americans ahead of next year’s presidential election. He was clearly pleased, more than impressed, by what he saw: an erudite, refined audience, polite to the core.
At the outset, he expressed his gratitude “to be joined by over 50,000 incredible members of our nation’s thriving, prospering, flourishing and hardworking Indian American community.”
“Every day, the Indian American community is helping to strengthen our country and build our future. Indian Americans are pioneering groundbreaking medicines to save countless lives. They are developing revolutionary technology that is changing the world. And they are founding new businesses that provide jobs to thousands of our fellow citizens,” he noted.
“To the nearly four million amazing Indian Americans all across our country,” the president said, “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. We thank you, we love you. And I want you to know my administration is fighting for you each and every day.”
Both leaders got standing ovations from the audience for talking tough on terror.
“We honor all of the brave American and Indian military service members who work together to safeguard our freedom,” Trump said. “We stand proudly in defense of liberty, and we are committed to protecting innocent civilians from the threat of radical Islamic terrorism,” he asserted.
“Both India and the United States also understand that to keep our communities safe, we must protect our borders,” he said.
“Whether it’s African American, Hispanic-American, Indian American, we are going to take care of our citizens first. We are going to take care of our Indian American citizens before we take care of illegal immigrants that want to pour into our country,” he emphasized.
Modi conveyed his message without naming Pakistan. “9/11 in the US or the Mumbai attacks of 26/11 in India, the brainchild is always found in the same place,” he said.
“Some people, who can’t control their country, are having problems with what is going on in India. Their politics is hatred towards India and cultivate terrorism. You and the entire world knows who they are,” he told the gathering insisting, “It is high time we fight a decisive battle against the perpetrators and supporters of terrorism.”
Even as protestors were gathered outside the stadium, Modi staunchly defended the abrogation of Article 370 which, he noted, “deprived the people of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh of development and equal rights. The forces funding terrorism and separatism were exploiting the situation. Now, the same rights that were given by the Constitution of India to the rest of Indians have also been given to the people of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh,” he said lauding the parliamentarians who passed all decisions relating to this issue with a two-thirds vote.
Referring to the title of the event, “Howdy Modi,” the prime minister responded, “Everything is fine in India” and proceeded to repeat his reply in various Indian languages.
“Our languages are a great representation of our liberal and democratic society,” he explained. “For centuries, thousands of languages have peacefully co-existed in India.”
“Unity in diversity is our emblem. It is the basic fabric of our vibrant democracy. This is our power and our inspiration. The 50,000 Indian present in this stadium today are representatives of our great heritage,” he said.
Seated front-center at the event were: some two dozen bipartisan members of Congress including Republican senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz of Texas, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (Democrat-Maryland), senators Cindy Hyde-Smith (Republican-Mississippi) and Kevin Cramer (Republican-North Dakota), and Representatives Raja Krishnamoorthi (Democrat-Illinois), Joe Wilson (Republican-South Carolina), Pete Olson (Republican-Texas), Carolyn Maloney (Democrat-New York), Brian Fitzpatrick (Republican-Pennsylvania) and Kevin Brady (Republican-Texas); Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin; Indian external affairs Minister Dr. Subrahmanyam Jaishankar; Indian ambassador Harsh Vardhan Shringla and his American counterpart Ken Juster; and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner who presented Modi with a key to the city.
Modi called the gathering “a new milestone in India-US ties.”
“This is extraordinary, unprecedented,” he said noting the presence of President Trump. “I admire him for his sense of leadership, passion for America and a strong resolve to make America great again,” Modi said.
The two leaders will be meeting again on September 24 in New York on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) session. It will be their fourth meeting this year within a span of four months. Earlier, they met at the G-20 summit in Japan in June, and the G-7 summit in France last month.
Modi’s week-long (September 21-27) US visit to attend the 74th session of UNGA includes: participating in a Climate Action Summit organized by UN Secretary General Antonio Guetteres at the UN headquarters in New York on September 23; celebrating the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi on September 24; receiving the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s ‘Global Goalkeeper Award’ for his leadership in the field of sanitation on September 25; and delivering an address at the UNGA on September 27.