Modi Draws Tens of Thousands to Houston Rally

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Donald Trump both gave speeches at the “Howdy, Modi” rally. (Wikimedia Commons)

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Donald Trump both gave speeches at the “Howdy, Modi” rally. (Wikimedia Commons)

Over 50,000 cheering spectators welcomed Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, alongside President Donald Trump, to Houston’s NRG Stadium on September 22. The event, called “Howdy, Modi” by its organizers, the Texas India Forum, was a reunion between two nations with a long and complex history. It was additionally a celebration of a prime minister who is popular both at home and abroad.

Upon Modi’s raucous entrance, he greeted the crowd, “Howdy, friends!” and then proceeded through the rest of his speech in Hindi. “Here today, we are looking at the creation of a new history and a new chemistry,” he said, speaking positively about the relationship between the United States and India and the future strengthening of ties.

The Guardian reported that Modi also touched on the growing escalation with India’s neighbor Pakistan, accusing the country of “hatred towards India.”

“Whether it is the 9/11 attack in America or the 26/11 attack in Mumbai, where are its conspirators found? ... The time has come for a decisive fight against terrorism and those who support terrorism,” Modi said, referring to Pakistan’s alleged harboring of Islamic terrorists within its borders.

Once Modi finished his speech, Trump took the stage next, reiterating the United States’ friendship with India. “Today we honor all the brave American and Indian service members who work to safeguard our freedom. We stand proudly in defense of liberty and we are committed to protecting innocent civilians from the threat of radical Islamic terrorism,” Trump said, receiving a standing ovation from much of the crowd.

The event was aimed as being mutually beneficial: Trump wishes to extend his influence over the growing demographic of Indian-Americans, who now number over 4 million people and are the fastest-growing ethnic group in the U.S., according to South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT), a civil rights non-profit. The challenge for Trump is that Indian-Americans skew liberal: 77 percent of Indians who voted did so for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election, USA Today points out. Appearing friendly with Modi, who has a 71 percent approval rating, may assist Trump’s election chances in Texas and around the country.

Modi, on the other hand, may seek a stronger alliance with the United States in India’s standoff with Pakistan. The Houston event occurred just a few days before the start of the United Nations General Assembly on September 24, where world leaders will assemble to discuss issues of importance. The New York Times reports that Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan is likely to introduce the issue of Kashmir on the floor, urging the UN to act against what he called India’s “irrationality.”

According to the Hindu, the Indian parliament dismantled the hotly-contested state’s partial autonomy in August, gaining the ire of neighboring Pakistan, which, as BBC notes, claims control of the entire region due to its Muslim-majority population. Khan, along with human rights groups, has criticized India for its lockdown of Kashmir, which included a complete blackout on all communications and internet services, according to Al Jazeera.

Regardless, the audience’s response to “Howdy, Modi” shows that many Indian-Americans approve of the prime minister’s actions. When Modi ended his speech in English, the crowd greeted him with another round of applause as he proclaimed, “Thank you, Houston, thank you, America, and God bless you all.”

Two days later at the UN, however, Trump urged Modi to improve relations with Pakistan, reported Reuters.

Despite the warm images, over 15,000 protesters rallied outside the venue in Houston to voice their concerns over the ongoing situation in Kashmir, reported the Houston Chronicle. Representatives from multiple rights organizations were present at the protest outside the rally.