Howdy Modi event in Houston: Thousands join Donald Trump in rare show of support for PM on US soil

Tens of thousands of Indian-Americans packed into a Houston stadium for a rally with Narendra Modi in a rare mass show of support for a foreign leader on US soil.

Reuters September 23, 2019 01:12:07 IST
Howdy Modi event in Houston: Thousands join Donald Trump in rare show of support for PM on US soil
  • Tens of thousands of Indian-Americans packed into a Houston stadium for a rally with Narendra Modi, joined by Donald Trump, in a rare mass show of support for a foreign leader on US soil.

  • Jubilant supporters dressed in everything from ornate saris to simple dhotis and even a few cowboy hats waved American and Indian flags, chanted 'Modi! Modi!'.

  • Houston is a rare Democratic stronghold in Republican-dominated Texas and serves as the economic anchor of a state that will be critical to Trump's 2020 re-election bid.

Houston: Tens of thousands of Indian-Americans packed into a Houston stadium on Sunday for a rally with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, joined by US president Donald Trump, in a rare mass show of support for a foreign leader on US soil.

Jubilant supporters dressed in everything from ornate saris to simple dhotis and even a few cowboy hats waved American and Indian flags, chanted "Modi! Modi!" and munched on the concession stand snacks that included Indian staples of samosas and naan bread — along with nachos.

Howdy Modi event in Houston Thousands join Donald Trump in rare show of support for PM on US soil

Supporters hold up banners at the 'Howdy, Modi' event. AP

"Today we celebrate our community and its importance in Houston and all America," said Ketan Inamdar, who works in the administration of Houston's Democratic Mayor Sylvester Turner, and painted an American flag on his right cheek and an Indian one on the left.

"Trump is very welcome here today. This event is to build harmony and love," he said, standing just in front of the dais where Trump and Modi would speak. "Race, religion and political parties don't matter today."

Houston is a rare Democratic stronghold in Republican-dominated Texas and serves as the economic anchor of a state that will be critical to Trump's 2020 re-election bid. Polls show tepid support by Indian-American voters, some 75 percent of whom voted for his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, in 2016.

But organizers of the "Howdy, Modi!" event that was kicked off with a 90-minute cultural program featuring 400 costumed dancers, say Trump can expect a receptive audience.

"His presence is an indication of his support and endorsement of the strengthening of India's relations with America," said Preeti Dawra, a spokeswoman for the Texas India Forum that organized the event. "This event is about strengthening those ties."

It will not be the first time Modi has addressed a large crowd in the United States, which is home to about four million Indian-Americans including about 300,000 in Houston and nearby Dallas, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of US Census data.

Some 19,000 people turned out for a similar event in New York in 2014, and Indian-American volunteers living in US suburbs helped run a telephone blitz of voters in India in the run-up to his May re-election campaign.

Kashmir Crackdown

Modi's visit to Houston comes ahead of this week's UN General Assembly in New York and amid a particularly tense time on the subcontinent.

The US-India relationship on trade and tariffs is rocky, though Trump and Modi appear to have strong personal ties.

But Devesh Kapur, director of Asia Programs at Johns Hopkins University, who has written a book on Indian-Americans, said that while the rally has symbolic value for both leaders, "it's unlikely by itself to impact thorny trade issues ... but it can't hurt."

Kapur also forecast little improvement regarding Trump's standing with Indian-Americans.

"The Trump administration's hard-line policies on immigration ... have hardly endeared (him) to the community," Kapur said. "Appearing with PM Modi might mildly help but certainly not reverse the community's overall pro-Democrat leanings.

 

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